Category Archives: Photography Techniques

“The Dress” (The Only 100% Accurate Explanation)

(Originally written in February of 2015 as /archives/date/2015/02)

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The original image.

Would black look gold without an optical illusion?

Some are saying that it’s a color constancy illusion. I will attempt to prove that’s not the case.

Bleached-blue could look white, and bleached-black could look golden-brown.

Each pixel may have a different color, but Photoshop’s color picker can do a 51 x 51 pixel average for us to get a more accurate estimate. In this version of the image, the golden section of the darker-colored stripes’ RGB values are:

  • Red: 121
  • Green: 106
  • Blue: 71

These values are like “shadow”, which is a golden brown. If our perception matches the actual technical colors, then we are not dealing with an optical illusion.

Why are the colors wrong?

Here is where the real problem lies:

Most people say that it’s white and gold.

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The original image.

On Buzzfeed 68% say “white and gold”, and 32% say “black and blue”.

Color Calibration?

Monitors are not color calibrated from the factory, so many people are not seeing accurate color.

Was the image white balanced?

We would hope to find white balance information in the image’s EXIF, but it’s not there. So how do we white balance this image? The dress in the background looks white and black. I loaded the image up in Lightroom, and used that assumption to white balance it. If you would like to try this out yourself, here’s how to do it. The black I used is in the lower left corner. We can all agree-that that’s supposed be black: correct? 🙂

With the white balance "fixed".
With the white balance “fixed”.

Is the image accurately toned?

Lightroom shows us that we might have blown out colors. How do we know that this is real clipping, instead of a false positive? The light has softened the edges of the dress so much that it looks foggy in there. So, yes, this a blown out image. If we were there, then we would have a well-exposed the image, but we weren’t, so we are going to adjust tone to even out the histogram.

With the tone "fixed".
With the tone “fixed”.

So what is our best guess for the color? Black and Blue

Each pixel may have a different color, but Photoshop’s color picker can do a 51 x 51 pixel average for us to get a more accurate estimate.

The lighter colored stripes have a lot of blue:

  • Red: 8
  • Green: 77
  • Blue: 206

In other words: blue.

The darker colored stripes RGB values are close to zero:

  • Red: 1
  • Green: 8
  • Blue: 49

In other words: black.

Conclusion

A skilled photographer would could set its white balance and its tone. Once we do that, it’s blue and black. Here’s the final word:

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