Friday, February 27, 2015

White and gold dress...on an airplane on a treadmill

There's a picture going around now of a dress. And there's a surprisingly firm split in how people perceive it. Some say the dress is "obviously" white and gold, others say it is "obviously" blue and black.

I think, like the airplane-on-a-treadmill one, the problem lies not with esoterics of color perception, but in definitions. Do you mean the colors that are in the picture, or the color the real object is likely to be?

The latter is, of course, not possible of derivation from the image supplied. It is obviously taken in strong backlight, the lighting and tones are strongly suggestive of outdoors in sunlight on a clear day, and the trim appears at the least of a satin finish, possibly even shinier.

But you don't know the response curve of the CCD or what adjustments the image has been through. So, based on what evidence is available, the conservative hypothesis is white or off-white with a trim that is somewhere between gold, metallic copper, down to a light coppery-brown with a slight sheen to it.

But that doesn't mean that "is" the color of the dress. Like so many things, it depends on image steps and local effects (the gamma and color balance of the computer screen you are viewing on, the lighting environment you are sitting in while viewing it, etc.) Given these, a wide range of individual colors is possible. Up to and including black trim if you define "black" as a satin finish with a surprising amount of yellow sneaking in.

It's like the problem of the color of the Martian sky. To what color perception? Your eyes naturally gray-card in every environment they are in (up to a certain range; they can't compensate all the way down to candle light, and strongly saturated color environments -- like viewing the world through rose-colored glasses -- will retain a tint even after an hour of adjustment.) If you were transported instantly to Mars, you might see the sky as one color. If you were standing out there all day, adjusted to the sunlight there, you'd see another.

And it is absurd that people who work every day on computers, people who often are involved in art and image as part of their jobs, don't even see the need to point this out when discussing the dress.

This underlies one again this lacunae that much of my profession hits over and over again. When I do lighting or sound I have no choice but to grapple with what is actually there. And to do my best to shape the audience perception in the directions I want.

The vast majority of the people I work for and around can only work on the level of what they perceive, and conversation stops dead on that bottleneck. Because I am well aware it looks dark or sounds soft, and I am taking steps to ameliorate this, but those steps have little or nothing to do with turning up the lights or the microphone feeds.

1 comment:

  1. There's a picture going around now of a dress. And there's a surprisingly firm split in how people perceive it. Some say the dress is "obviously" ...