I’m a professional lighting designer; I have worked with light and the perception of color for over over 25 years. Here is – explained in a clear way – why #thedress sometimes seems to be white and gold even though it is black and blue.
This does not happen when we take the photo. It does not happen when the image is rendered on your display. It happens in your brain. Thank God our eyes + brain combo is a system that can only measure” light and color relatively. We don’t interpret absolute color values or anything like that. We only compare. And our brain adds what seems to be missing.
You want to have a proof? Take a look for some time at this flag. It’s not having the right colors. After you have stared at it for some time, look at a white wall. What do you see? Exactly, the colors that complementary to the ones of the flag. We call this chromatic adaptation. Your brain makes up for what’s missing.So, which color you see, depends on your own visual context. Your environment, that is, the light sources that radiate their light into your eye. In very simple words: you see the image of #thedress relative to that.
Every light source has a “color temperature”; a number that describes how blueish or how warmish the light of that lamp is. When you have been watching blueish light – light with a high color temperature that is – then your brain adjusts for that and will “add” amber to the image of the world around you. That way, you see things naturally. And when you have been in an environment lit with warmish light – light with a low color temperature that is – then your brain adds some blue to render everything naturally. You start to understand what happened when people who were looking at a blue light source, watched the image of #thedress, right?
Their brain added amber, to see everything naturally. And their brain thought it had to do so with the picture of the dress as well. So the blue in #thedress became white, and the black became golden. This happened of course to people who had been looking at their computer screen or phone for some time because the displays radiate light with a high color temperature, and it did not happen to those who were looking at their environment in light from a lamp with a low color temperature.
Thanks to the fact that we only see things relatively and that our eyes are not an absolute measuring instrument such as a photo camera, we can see the world around us as beautiful as it appears to us, with all its shades, hues, colors and brightnesses… And that we sometimes see a dress different than what it really is… It’s well worth it!