An optical model is established to investigate the effects of refractive index changes on the measurement of interfacial tension by the pendant drop method with axisymmetric drop shape analysis. In such measurements, light passes from the pendant drop through a surrounding bulk phase, an optical window and air to reach the lens of the camera system. The relation between object and image size is typically determined by calibration and, if the refractive indices of any of the materials in the optical path change between calibration and measurement, a correction should be made. The simple model derived in this paper allows corrections to be calculated along with the corresponding contribution to the overall uncertainty of the interfacial tension. The model was verified by measurements of the interfacial tension between decane and water under two different calibration conditions. Neglect of the correction was shown to cause errors of up to 6 % when the bulk phase changed from air (during calibration) to water (during measurements) and of about 9 % when the system was calibrated without the optical window used for the final measurements. The refraction changes due to high pressures and supercritical fluid states can also lead to measurement errors. The proposed model can facilitate more accurate interfacial tension measurements and reduce the amount of repetitive calibration work required.