The Dress: Explained

The internet blew up yesterday over a dress.

We got a ton of questions about how it’s possible that two people can look at the same image and see two different sets of colors.

The answer is both simple and complicated. We’ll try to explain in a straightforward way.

First thing you should know is you don’t need to have your eyes checked. This is not an issue with your eyes, but rather the way your brain is interpreting what your eyes see.

Human eyes are not particularly apt at seeing color, we see color information (what hue and saturation something is) at a significantly reduced capacity compared to simple luminance information (how bright it is). So our brain is constantly filling in the blanks. This is what makes our jobs as colorists somewhat more tricky.

For reference, here is the original image:…/photo/the-dress-85528c8f9745d8…

We suspect most people will, correctly, see the dress as being black and blue. 

If we isolate the dress and remove the influence of the glare you can probably more clearly see the bands of blue/magenta light material, and reddish/grey dark material.
(first image below)

If we simply adjust the exposure and remove some of the glare, we get a much clearer picture of the dress.
(second image)

The tricky bit happens when our brain kicks in, our brain is constantly trying to compensate for the colorcast of the light we are experiencing. Evening daylight is very, very blue, and the tungsten lights we used to use in our homes are actually very, very reddish, but when in those environments without any reference we experience both as white light. Why is that? 

Our brain tries to constantly adapt our perception of the color of a scene to the expected value of the ambient light. In warm (yellow) light, our brain boosts the blue. In cool (blue) light it boosts the yellow/reds.

So when some people look at that particular image, through a trick of the light and the influence of the glare, their brain interprets the blue in the lighter part of the dress as white, and boosts the yellow/reds, making the glared raised blacks seem gold. The same trick your brain is doing we’ve done electronically on the third image attached.

All if this is to say that color perception is a tricky business, and experience and expertise can be a great value when dealing with it.