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This is why people were divided on the colour of *that* dress

To be fair, there have been stranger internet debates.

YOU MAY HAVE missed it but there was a heated debate over a dress last night.

Specifically, this dress right here.

tumblr_nkcjuq8Tdr1tnacy1o1_1280 Source: Tumblr

Starting out life as a Tumblr post, most people couldn’t agree on what colour it was. Some people saw a blue and black dress, others saw a gold and white dress and somehow that divided everyone into two camps.

DE poll A poll on the subject over on The Daily Edge. Source: Daily Edge

So what colour is it exactly? And why were people so divided on this?


Let’s start off with the obvious problem with that photo: it’s horribly overexposed. The background (or what you can make out of it) is almost impossible to make out and everything around the dress is hidden by a bright light.

Chances are this photo was taken very quickly or it was made to focus on the dark parts of the dress, either way, the camera overcompensates for this and it messes up the composition of the photo. More importantly, it messes up how we perceive the colours of a photo.

To give a quick example, here are two photos we took in the office. The first one here shows how it looks when the camera is left to auto (This is taken just after 7:30am for those wondering).

Normal photo Source:

Now here are two photos with different focus points. The left photo focuses on the background (the windows) while the right photo focuses on the foreground (in this case, the chair with the black backing).

Focus one Source:

It’s an extreme example but there’s a significant difference in how these colours are presented, and more importantly, just how bright they appear to be. The autofocus is to brighten up shadows so you can see the entire room but when it focuses on a dark surface, it brightens it at the expense of everything else around it.

So here’s the original compared with an edited version on the right which effectively reduces the brightness (and a small bit of RGB adjustment using Darkroom).

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Dress original and new

It’s clearer now, but the reason why some see it as white and gold relates to how we perceive colours. As a quick example, this optical illusion below called the checker shadow illusion asks what colour squares A and B are.

800px-Grey_square_optical_illusion Source: Wikimedia

The answer is they’re both the same colour and shade. The reason we see differently is because we’re not very good at determining brightness and since we’re trying to determine the grey shades of the checks from the floor, our expectations tend to mess that up. We expect paint has sharp edges while shadows are soft, but that’s not the case here (there’s a much longer explanation here for those interested).

Here’s another diagram proving this.

Same_color_illusion_proof2 Source: Wikimedia

So in short, the dress is black and blue. Now let’s never speak of this again.

(Also, if you want further detail about the science behind that image, Wired has a great piece detailing how we perceive objects and colour).

Read: The colour of this dress is driving the internet absolutely insane >

Read: Pre-binging: Everything you need to know before watching the new House of Cards >

About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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