Why the 'color' of "The Dress" is important. Especially if you're a photographer

If you're not a photographer, the 'color' of the dress is important because it shows us how two people can look at the same object and see something different (wars have been started for less).

But if you're a photographer the 'color' of the dress becomes extremely significant...especially if you don't know the science behind why people are seeing different things. Yes it is a science...and as a photographer you should not only know why the photo is color-ambiguous but also how to use your photography knowledge to simulate similar scenarios and to solve problems that could arise for your client…without use of excessive Photoshop.

Okay back to the dress. People are either seeing “White and Gold” or “Blue and Black”. Those seeing one color or the other are not color blind or a tad mentally retarded. No they are not trolling you. They are ‘seeing’ what they are seeing. Some even see a different thing at different times, and what they see at any particular point in time is not exactly within their control. As a photographer, you should be able to see both colors at will. And yes we know the real color of the dress but for scientific/educational purposes, it is immaterial. A knowledgable photographer can simulate these scenarios using simple lighting and white balances without the use of photoshop. Ends up being as subjective as a science can possibly get eh?

Now to brass tacks:

If you want to see white and gold, first imagine that there is blue-tinted shade cast over the dress (and only the dress)...or that there is a tungsten white balance where deeply orange lights are being used to light the rest of the scene (and, somehow, not the dress).

If you want to see blue and black, imagine that most of the bright background is literally white or close to white (or a daylight color of sorts).

Explanation: if you shoot a bride in her wedding dress with Tungsten white balance, everything that is white in the image will appear blue. The eye (well the brain) is able to tell when something is actually white based on the color of everything else in the image. For example, the bride’s skin will be tinted blue also. However if you use a tungsten (orange) gel over a spotlight that only hits the bride’s face, her face color will appear 'normal', while her dress still appears blue. If a photographer were  somehow able to use orange spotlights to recolor everything else apart from the dress, he will have successfully, for all intents and purposes, changed the dress color from white to blue.

Check out Neil van Niekerk's blogpost (actually, check out all his blog posts) http://neilvn.com/tangents/review-litepanels-sola-4-led-fresnel-light/

In the first image on Neil's blog post, the model seems to be standing in a completely blue colored background but her face seems lit by daylight-balanced light. That’s because he used a tungsten white balance in-camera and an orange gel to spotlight her face.

It might be possible that the background is actually blue in color, but what gives it away is the blue tint of the model’s skin in areas that the spotlight does not hit.

Both views are possible in the controversial serendipitous image of “The Dress” because of the amount of dress shown relative to the surroundings and because we cannot see the rest of the dress showing the human inside it. It would have been easier to 'see' the original color of the dress (because her skin would be tinted blue or not). Also, if you zoom in on certain parts of the image, it's sometimes easier to see one color over the other, depending on what color is in the background.

This is similar to the Spinning Dancer illusion where the perceived direction of the girl's spin depends on what you see first.

Granted, in this particular controversy, if you look closely, you can find evidence that points to the actual color of the dress (blue not white) because you can see many areas around the boundaries of the dress that have absolutely no fall-off of blue tint or light. This implies that the blueness we see is not from an external source (or ‘wrong’ white balance) but from the dress itself.

I know there are people out there in the Twitterverse saying, "who cares?", but as photographers we ought to care because this is really what we do for a living.

Now the actual color of the dress is not important, it's just a dress for Pete's sake. What's important is why healthy people can see different things when looking at the same image. Calls to question the objectivity of our perceptions and how much we can truly trust our convictions.

Rant over.

How was your week? :)


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