The Photo is Bad. The Dress is Blue. Your Brain is Lying.

The internet is losing its collective shit over the color of this dress. It is, as most internet rows, a solved problem.

Some people see a blue and black dress, others see a white and gold dress. The truth is that this is clearly a terrible photograph that contain none of the above colors and your brain is lying to you.

In case you do not believe me, for some absurd reason, I have also included the same image with the colors sampled as swatches. Note the distinct lack of black, gold or white. The image is shades of faded blue, violet and brown.

Source: reddit

Source: reddit

what color 1

So why are people seeing different colors. The solution that seems most likely that it is a variant on the checker shadow illusion that most of us are familiar with. The trick of the shadow convinces our brain, in no uncertain terms, that A and B are different colors.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

The major difference is that in the above illusion, we can see the shadow, and in the image we have to work backwards from what we can see to sort out the lighting.

Our brain autocorrects for lighting. Most painters out there learn this pretty quickly, especially when painting landscapes. Trees are not brown, snow is not white, grass is not green. Depending on the lighting they can be any number of hues. Our brains learn these rules really young and work out how to determine the “actual” color of something based on the lighting.

Problems arise when the lighting is ambiguous, though, as in that photo. Is that a dress the is overexposed and front lit? In which case it is blue and black, or a dress that is backlit, nearly in silhouette? Which would mean it is gold and white.

Let me try to exaggerate the effect

black and gold

source:guitar world (sort of)

source:guitar world (sort of)*

The actual dress was found on amazon and it is very clearly blue and black.

*This came up as a key result when I searched for “overexposed photo” I had to use it.

*Edit, XKCD did a better job than me with the image comparison, using

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Ryan Consell is a skeptical artist, tap-dancing armorer, juggling scientist, rock-climbing writer, sword-fighting math teacher, uni-cycling gamer, fire-spinning academic and devout nerd. He has a Masters in Applied science, most of a bachelors in Fine Arts, and a very short attention span. He is the author of How Not to Poach a Unicorn and half of the masochistic comedy duo that is Creative Dissonance. Follow him on Twitter @StudentofWhim


  1. February 26, 2015 at 11:47 pm

    Thank you for writing this so that I didn’t have to 🙂

  2. February 27, 2015 at 12:03 am

    Did I miss anything important? I wrote it really quickly.

  3. February 27, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Wait, which picture is supposed to be blue and black, the one with the guy? I still see white (with a blue tint) and gold.

  4. February 27, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    It can be really hard to get your brain to switch context once it’s set. I know a few people that can get it to bounce back and forth between the two at will. I’m pretty stuck on the blue/black

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