Color Dilemma

We just held a workshop on Adobe Photoshop the other day and discussed colors, capture and display devices, and the potential problems in the beginning of the session. Seeing that the internet is a little confused about the color of a dress, here’s my answer to that problem: the dress is blue and black.

original image

#thedress posted by Tumblr user “swiked” is seen as white-gold or blue-black by the internet.

Why? For one, colors are complicated, and two, cameras and screens displaying the images aren’t perfect. But this time, the fault lies mainly on the camera. I won’t repeat the nice scientific explanation Wired Magazine has written, but if we spend a few minutes investigating the story behind of the image (it was taken at a wedding store), we can assume it was probably an upscale environment lit with incandescent spot lights. The problem is that the store is dark and any resulting image will look underexposed, so the camera (probably a smartphone) compensates the sensor’s limitations by brightening the scene via software, but it goes too far and made the image look overexposed and the colors  washed out. Then, the software probably assumed the colors were white balanced so it didn’t bother compensating for the incandescent orange light. For some people, their eyes try to fix this overexposed/washed-out image and end up seeing the dress as gold-white.


Original cropped image on the left, white balanced image on the right. Photoshop curves on the far right.

In order to properly fix this photo, we  “borrow” the dress behind it as a reference to white balance the photo. However, we have to make the assumption that the dress is black and white. The crop of the original photo shows an overall orange cast on the image. So I bring the image into Photoshop and adjust its color channels and increase the blue curve, reduce the red and green curves, and then darken it a little bit (the white line) to counter the software’s overcompensation.


Original image on the left, and corrected image on the right. The dress is blue and black.


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