The definitive explanation about #thedress (is it blue and black or white and gold) and why many of the experts are WRONG.

Published in Interesting

I'm not much of a blogger, but today I wanted to weigh in on #thedress, you know, the one that's either blue and black or white and gold (depending on who you are).

I would have left it alone thinking some people see it a bit darker than I do. Until last Wednesday, when I sat next to a "blue-and-blacker" and realised he wasn't seeing it wrong at all and there was nothing wrong with his eyesight or his colour peception (I'm a white-and-golder btw).


So because I am an expert in digital imaging and colour theory (I've worked for over twenty five years professionally as a digital artist, designer, photoshopper, signwriter, art director, marketing manager and also studied the science of colour theory), I thought I might be a reasonable person to explain why some people see the dress as black and blue and some see white and gold.

I'll break it down like this:

  1. Is the dress actually blue and black or is it white and gold?
  2. Who is right (the blue-and-blackers or the white-and-golders)?
  3. The "experts" are wrong
  4. Why do we see the dress differently?
  5. Why is it so hard to see the other perspective?
  6. Are the "others" colour blind?
  7. What should I do now?

*** But before I go into this, if you liked the dress you might like this video of me showing a

(opens in a new window, so you can continue reading).

Let´s start with the burning question:
Is the dress actually blue and black or is it white and gold?

There are two answers to this question. First; What colour is the actual dress in reality? Answer: It is blue and black. That is the colour of the dress. But the most important question is actually the second one: What colour we do see the dress as it appears in the photo? This is this interesting question that skyrocketed the white/gold/black/blue dress to intenet stardom.

The photo is an anomaly and doesn't really capture distinctly the real colours of the dress, so the answer is not so simple.

I hate to say it, because people really like (excuse the pun) black and white answers, but the answer is: both, and also: neither. Technically, if you measure the colours, you will see that the colour values seem to be more white and gold. But the wonder of this photo is that the tones in the photo, in same amazing random occurrence, sit kind of on the fence between the two possiblities forcing our brains to choose a side and resulting in two types of people: white-and-golders and blue-and-blackers depending on what they see.

So why are their two camps of thought? Surely it's either blue and black or white and gold, right? It can't be both? Can it?

Yes it can and it is. Because: people. Let's start with some simple logic. Two people sit in front of a screen. On the screen is an image. On person sees a blue/black dress the other person sees a white/gold dress (this happened to me this morning). Obviously the screen is pumping out only one image and if we setup any number of scientific devices to measure luminosity, saturation, hue, photons, wavelengths (bla bla scientific bla) we will end up proving that both people are receiving the same image in their face balls. Ergo the difference is because of perception not colour origin. And really all that matters to "us" is how "we" see the dress (if a tree falls in the forrest and nobody is around to hear it...).

Who is right (the blue-and-blackers or the white-and-golders)?

As I said, both and neither. Regardless which way around you see it, for the other people the other version is clear to them. For example if you see the dress as white and gold the other people don't see it as a blueish version of that, they are not seeing the image more or less in the same way you are. Or if you see blue and black in the dress the others aren't seeing a lighter version of what you see, they see white and gold.

To understand the way people see the dress I made a new picture which I hope might help people understand each other. Other people are not seing a darker version (or lighter) of what you see and seeing it badly, they see something different.

How the white and golders see the dressHow the blue and blackers see the dress

(I'm using my best guess with the the black and blue, because I'm a white and golder)

The experts are wrong.

You might have seen people use the word "whitepoint". You may have seen people adjusting the image with an image editor. You've probably seen images that have been measured for colour values and also images that have been brightened or darkened. That's all bullshit and beside the point. The image is not a good one. Correct. Poor white balance. Check. It's just a very poor capture of light. What makes it interesting is that THIS particular crappy image seams to have such a weird effect on the way people perceive it. Playing with the colour values would be a cheap way of trying to explain the effect. Here is a better explanation:

Why do we see the dress it differently?

We don't see the world as it really is. We see it the way our brain chooses to recognise it based on the culmination of our life looking through the two eyeballs we have plonked in the front of our head. Our brains are amazing machines and they can make decisions fast, well, pretty fast (I'm guessing this was an evolution necessity which stems from the need to identify predators before we got eaten and only the brains with quick image processing ability survived.. but I digress). So how do we achieve this speed? By taking all the information we can, not just light information. We also rely on of context and assumptions. As soon as we lock on to an image our brain tries to recognise it, we use any info we have to get the job done. In the case of the white/gold/black/blue dress the image (as we have already established) is not a very good one. The tones evident in the image aren't strong enough for the brain to make a clear distinction so it relies (as we always do) heavily on context.

In every part of our lives we rely heavily on context. If I said "I like to eat babies" I might be considered a monster until it became clear I was talking about gelatin sweets (ok, I might still be considered a monster). Our brain also relies heavily on context to interpret images and indeed colours and what we "see" is the a just image after it passes trough our contextual filters.

Lets look at how this directly affects our perception of #thedress:

Imagine you have a white block in black space with no light source and then you shine a pure blue light on it. The result will be that the white block appears the colour of the light because there simply isn't any other light to reflect. Our eyes will only see blue. Now imagine the block is blue and instead and the light is white. The result is the same, this time because the blue pigment in the object absorbs all the other colours in the white light and only reflects blue. The same light makes it to our eyes. So, a white block bathed in blue light is blue and a blue block bathed in white light is also blue.

But don't take my word for it here is proof:

Below are two screenshots of a 3D program which is normally used for modelling and animation. I set up the two scenes as described above. One with a white block and blue light, the other with a blue block and white light. Wouldn't you know it? The block always looks blue. Nobody reading this will see otherwise, because there is no context.

white object blue light in 3D scene

blue object white light

So let us add some context. The next two are set up the same way one with white object/blue light and the other with blue object/white light. You can tell easily what the light souce is by the way the rest of the scene is lit. Although it's hard to tell because this is an extreme example, you could at least imagine the block is white, because you can see the only light available in the scene is blue.

3D scene with blue light

3D scene with white light

Soooo, back to the dress. Not only is the image not a very good photo but there are very few contextual clues to help the brain decide. That's what make this image so amazing. Visually it seams to sit in an area right between two possibilities:

  1. The dress is white and gold and sitting in a blueish shadow.
  2. The dress is blue and black and adequately lit.

But you brain can't see them both ways, it has to choose. So it takes it's best guess and then goes with it. Then comes the last stamp. Amplification. Once your brain chooses, it evaluates the image with that context and amplifies the effect. Boom your either a gold-and-whiter or a blue-and-blacker and it's very difficult to change. A few people can swap, but its very hard, something akin to reverse the direction of this turning dancer.

Turning dancer silhouette opticla illusion

Are the people who see the dress differently colour blind?

No. If other people see the dress in blue and black or white and gold, that does not mean you are right and they are colour blind. No doubt they see colour just fine as do you.


The truth lies in between and were we able to view the world without our contextual filter, we might be able to see how it really looks, but arguably, in this instance we might not even see colour at all. So both people are right, because the brain interprets either white and gold in a bluish shadow or black and blue in normal light. Both perfectly acceptable, but also in a way, both wrong because our brain is pushing us in that direct away from the truth that is somewhere in between,

What should I do now?

Go on with your life. Let us NEVER SPEAK OF THIS AGAIN. ENOUGH! Go to bed, you have an important day tomorrow and it doesn't involve that Blue and Black (or White and Gold) dress!