By now, the only excuse for not knowing about #TheDress would be if your Internet’s been out for the past twelve hours. While some viral memes are said to be breaking the Internet, this one is breaking people’s brains—a grainy photo of a dress is splitting the world into those who see it as white and gold and those who see it as blue and black.
Rumor is that the dress is, in fact, blue and black, but those in the white-and-gold camp believe this is some sort of truth-masking conspiracy, like the lone gunman and the moon landing. Wired has even published a scientific account explaining what’s going on here—it involves the cones and rods in our eyes that receive color and translate images in the visual cortex for the brain. Because of this, sometimes our brains can be tricked, which isn’t exactly news—who hasn’t been dumbfounded by optical illusions like this?
But besides taking attention away from llama drama, #TheDress controversy has another big benefit—it’s showing everyone just how powerful and important the use of color can be in an image. The students in New York Film Academy’s filmmaking school and cinematography school programs know this all too well—one of the first things they learn is how to properly white balance their digital cameras. White balancing calibrates a camera to read white light as pure white, allowing the rest of the spectrum to fall properly into place. An improperly white balanced image may leave whites looking blue (or gold.) Filmmakers may intentionally warp the colors of their image. Blues can create a downbeat tone, much like minor keys in music. Orange and Reds are considered warm and can be used for the opposite effect in filmmaking.
It’s not just filmmakers who benefit from playing with the science of color. Our students in New York Film Academy’s graphic design school programs learn how to change the way we perceive images with Photoshop and other software—tools that can break down an image into its very makeup of reds, blues and greens. Right now, they’re the ones everybody is looking to for a final, definite answer to #TheDress question. Of course, we’re all going to listen to our guts—and our eyes—no matter what they tell us.