The Blue and Black Dress

Published on: 2nd Mar 2015

The question "Is That Dress White and Gold or Blue and Black?" went viral on the internet in the past couple of days. SAfm Radio asked my opinion in a 3 minute life interview on this question.

On 26 February 2015 Caitlin McNeill posted a photo of the mother of the bride's dress on Tumbler with the following request: "guys please help me - is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can't agree" The question went totally viral over all the internet social media. Today I received a request from SAfm for a 3 minute interview to give my opinion on this question. The Blue and Black dress that went viral on the Internet [239]

I recorded the interview and you can listen to the (very short) interview here:

I think by now everybody knows that the dress is blue and black (the dress maker also confirmed it), but even with this knowledge, some people will never be convinced, and they are not wrong because of the phenomenon called "first impressions last". Your brain is so entrenched in it's first interpretation of the scene, that it will always "look" that way to you.

This issue is not a physiological issue at all, it is a result of how we see. Our eyes are just the light gathering organs, it is our brain that needs to interpret the data and tell us what we see.

This is an excellent example of colour (and brightness) constancy. Colour and brightness constancy is how our brain interprets the clues to create a visually acceptable scene. The problem with this specific dress is the fact that it is so large in the photo that it becomes an abstract object. If we then combine this with the personalities of people, we will definitely end up with different interpretations of the scene.

In this case I would like to divide the people into the "Detail Orientated" people and the "Big Picture" people.

Typical Detail Orientated People will notice that the background is totally over exposed, which will give an indication the dress may also be over exposed. They will also notice that there are yellow lights in the scene based on the brown shadows in the background. Their brains will therefore compensate for the yellow cast and over exposure and therefore ended up in seeing the dress as blue and black.

Big Picture People will only see the abstract dress image and notice the blue tint on the light fabric of the dress. This blue tint could be the result of a reflection of a nearby blue object, and their brains will therefore compensate for the "blue cast" to see the dress as white, which will then render the "brown" as gold.

I don't think any one of these groups are wrong. But this is a good example why we need to use a coloury meter to correct our computer screens and projectors to ensure that our images will look the same on our computer screens as on anybody else's screens. It does not help to subjectively guess the colour accuracy of your screen.

The Photographic Society of South Africa (PSSA) also supply a set of "test" images, which - over time - becomes so familiar to everybody that one can easily pick up if an image looks different on your screen at home from your buddy's screen or from the club projector.

This viral controversy could not come at a better time, we, at PSSA is busy creating a new updated tutorial about screen calibration and why it is imported to use an "objective measurement" to ensure your photos will always look as intended.


Some stats about this dress post (after 5 days - the original post was on Thursday):
  • 73 million: Total number of page views on the original dress post on tumbler.
  • 140,000: Approximate number of page views per minute between 10:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. on Thursday.
  • 483,000: Number of notes on the original post by the end of Friday night.
  • 5,000+: Number of fan mails and asks swiked had received by the end of Friday night.

(If you have read up to here and did not click on a photo yet, do so to see them in larger format and also to browse through the rest of this gallery)