#WhiteandGold: How to view the correct colour of any image

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For some strange reason, a dress of has nearly broken the internet today.

As the story goes, Caitlin McNeill posted an image of a dress online, soliciting comments from friends and family as to what colour the dress actually was – her mother wanted to wear it to a wedding, and McNeill was sceptical of its true hue.

But the internet seems divided on whether the dress is white-and-gold, or blue-and-black in colour. Whatever the colour may be, there is a quick way to tell the correct, original shade of any object: White Balance, something which we wrote an extensive article on, is at fault here and it’s causing an (almost) optical illusion.

By using open-source image editing tool like GIMP, the white balance can be automatically set by aligning the image with something that is known to be white or black in the image, or letting photo retouching software do the whole thing automatically for you.

Here is the original image posted by McNeill:

The original image of #Dressgate.

And below is the image that we colour-corrected using GIMP. The White Balance has been set to automatically correct to another white sources in in the image – we chose the white space between the cow print on the bottom left.

To do that in GIMP (and most editing tools will be similar), once the image loaded click on ‘Colour’ in the top ribbon and select ‘Levels’.

Once the dialogue box pops up, have a look at the four squares with pipettes in right above bar that read ‘Edit these Settings as Curves’. Select the furthest pipette to the right and click on a spot you know to be white – like the cowprint dress behind the star of the scene. This will set that tone as being true white, and adjust all other colours accordingly. (For reference, the first pipette is for selecting a black point, the middle one for picking a grey point).

Dress set to white
We used GIMP to colour correct the original image.

For the image below, we chose a black point, as there’s more obvious ones of those in the scene. As you can see, the dress is starting to look more black and blue, than white and gold.

dress - black
Is it more black now?

This can be done for any image, not just #Dressgate, and it’s a really useful way of determining what the true colour of something is. (Of course, one can use professional software editing tools like Adobe Photoshop, but GIMP a greet free alternative.)

Here’s what happens if you balance the whole scene by using the white balance pipette on the dress itself.


Which is pretty definitively wrong. There’s still bits of the dress fighting to be blue, for a start.

As it turns out, you could just ask the photographer. McNeill told Business Insider the whole story as to how the dress ended up on the internet. Remember the wedding that her mother wanted to attend while wearing the questionable garment?

“I got to the wedding and the mother was wearing the dress. Obviously it was blue and black,” she said.



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