So, the internet’s been blowing up today because of this picture of a dress:

http://swiked.tumblr.com/post/112166688660/bellasfault-swiked-katze-geht-meow

No one seems to be able to decide if it’s white and gold or black and blue. Well, okay, the resounding evidence is pointing one way, but it might not be the way you think, and that’s what’s tripping people up.

Because when you look at this–it definitely looks one way. Everyone has strong opinions on what colors this dress is. It is either black/blue or white/gold, but definitely one and not the other. The mere idea of it being the other isn’t only preposterous, it’s literally unthinkable. We cannot comprehend how anyone would see it as anything other than blue/black. Or white/gold.

What’s happening here is that our brains are processing the image and getting tripped up. On the one hand, the picture was taken with a smartphone camera, and smartphone cameras tend to give things a bit of a blue skew. Our brains attempt to correct that by interpreting the image as more gold than it actually is. Additionally, the background is blown out, so we don’t have many context clues for where light, shadow, and midtones exist in this photo.

If you’re in Team Gold/White, you see this as a dress in shadow. The darker spots of the dress, including the band at the very top and the band in the middle, are a goldenrod color, while the lighter stripes are the bluish-gray of something white that’s in the shadows.

If you’re in Team Black/Blue, you don’t see this as a dress in shadow, but rather, a dark dress that appears lighter because the whole image is washed-out. The dark bands at the top and middle are black (though they appear lighter because of the exposure), and the lighter stripes are a washed-out royal blue.

Let me attempt to bridge the gap between these warring factions with a visual demonstration of what the image looks like to others.

The infamous ambiguously-colored dressOn the left, we have an image of the dress that I heavily edited to indicate what Team Gold/White is seeing. Remember, that’s caused by our brains trying to compensate for the cold light, so I dropped out all of the blue from the image.

In the middle is the original dress.

On the right is an image that I edited to represent Team Black/Blue’s perception. The black-blue view comes from our brains attempting to compensate for the weird exposure of the original photo, so I brought the levels back down to a more normal baseline. As a result, it looks more blue, and you can see how it might look kinda black, right?

So there you have it. Now that you have them all in a row, you can look at the original photo and see for yourself… and yup, it looks like Team Gold/White has this one. If you look at the exaggerated image on the far right, you can see the blue, but it’s hard to see it in the original in the middle.

Except I lied to you.

Look again at that triptych above. Look at how blue the edited image on the far right is.

That’s actually the original image.

Original photo of The DressAs artists and designers know, there’s no such thing as absolute color. What looks like a cool grey on a blue background might look like a vivid blue on an orange background. Our sense of what color we’re seeing is heavily context-based.

Because I told you the middle image was the original and the right image was edited, your brain set the middle image as its midpoint. This, combined with the yellow cast of the two images on the left, made the image on the right–the original image–seem exceptionally blue.

Below is the same series of three images, with an extra one on the far right that’s actually edited to bring out the black and blue:

Four variations on The Dress

From left to right: Heavily exaggerated (yellow), mildly exaggerated (yellow), original, exaggerated (blue). Honestly.

If you’re on Team Gold/White, now that you see this series of images, the original one is probably back to looking more like how you originally saw it, rather than the blue-black it was above. Meanwhile, if you’re on Team Black/Blue, you’re probably having a hard time seeing how any of these look gold or white. Even the image on the far left, which I have manually edited to remove all blue tones, might still look blue to you.

And that’s the crux of the biscuit. Perception is a damn tricky thing, and it’s not something you can control. It’s possible that even despite all my tricks and explanations in this blog post, you still aren’t seeing the other side’s colors. Your brain has latched on to an interpretation, and there’s not a magic button you can press to correct it–even if it’s wrong.

So, like all optical illusions, the real thing to take away here isn’t that the dress is filled with sorcery. The real lesson is that our brains are fallible and easily fooled. Don’t trust them.

As for the color of the dress… it’s black and blue.

That is, if you even believe in colors anymore.

If you’re looking for more visual explanations of this wizardry, check out this blog post by Fucking Recipes and this xkcd comic.