This fucking dress

What painters can learn from a shitty cell-phone picture of a dress.

The dress that causes divorces. Oh my god. This dress is breaking the internet. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, take a look at this picture. There are some people who swear it’s black and blue, and some who swear it’s white and gold. Marriages are ending. Parents are accusing their children of drug use. Friendships are getting trampled into the dirt.

What we’re really seeing here is a visual trick caused by contrast. The very strong, warm-tone backlighting messes with the white balance on the camera to shift the shadowed white area way over to the blue end of the spectrum. That’s what gives the white portions their bluish hue. Then, the gold parts are pushed, by our brains, towards the darker end of the shades because of the contrasting white stripes. According to other sources, it actually IS a black and blue dress and the colors are washed out, over exposed, and shifted in the opposite direction. Due to the fuckery of internet trolls, there is actually not a clear consensus on what color the real dress is in real life. Since I’ve been painting models for so long, I’ve seen a ton of white shaded with blues and I think that may have skewed my perception of it.

So what does this mean for us?

We paint models. Obviously. The first thing we can learn is that color can be very subjective. The color of the dress never changes, but people’s perception of it can vary wildly because our brains are engineered by evolution to detect patterns and fill in the blanks. So, what you think is a perfectly acceptable tonal variation in your color scheme might look muddy or flat-out wrong to someone else. Second, colors can be skewed wildly by the other colors around them. We’ve all seen trompes l’oeil (tricks of the eye) before and been surprised by them. Contrast can do very strange things to our perception of brightness and tint.

Taking photos of models.

The most important lesson isn’t in color theory, it’s in photography. There are some great tutorials out there about photographing miniatures, so I won’t go too far into it. I will say, however, that white balance is incredibly important to reproducing accurate images of your models if you plan to share them with the world. I’d like to work on my miniature photography myself, and this dress thing really has me thinking about it. Maybe we all need a buddy to check over our pics and make sure we’re not confusing our readers/viewers. People really are freaking out about this dress…

Informal poll: Comment below if you think it’s white and gold or blue and black. No judgment.

I just touched on color theory yesterday, in a more positive light (see what I did there?). Funny how things have a way of becoming more relevant than you might expect. Since we can be creative with color, we need to keep ourselves in check as well. “With great power over other people’s perception, comes great responsibility to not make their brains hurt.”  I think Julius Caesar said that or something.