DIY Hallowe'en: The Grayscales


From the Boing Boing DIY costume thread, an anonymous reader says,

"For halloween last year we were in black and white (grayscale). It was AMAZING and everyone loved it."


  1. An incredible concept, but before I accept it as genuine I’d want more info. Seriously, because I’d like to give this a try next year.

  2. This costume is too awesome; it has to be a fake. They must have time traveled from the past before color was invented.

  3. I agree that maybe the photo has been desaturated over the figures, but I think it is mostly for effect, I do believe that they probably had powder or paint on to pull off the costumes. Next year, technicolor?

  4. Silly! You guys are such sourpusses. no– I don’t believe this is fake.

    It’s a brilliant idea, which is why I posted it, but trivially simple in execution; wear nothing but white, black or grey clothing and accessories, and use grey/white/black bodypaint and facial makeup.

    1. I don’t think it’s that easy- at least, I remember that when they did a similar thing for the movie Pleasantville, it was a big deal, and I think that was even only for one scene.

  5. We did a play where I got to airbrush a lady with grey body paint every night so she could play a ghost, and it gives a very creepy effect. It’s so smooth and even, it looks very weird.

    I love all these costume posts. I wish I had time to engage in creative stuff like this. But it’s fun to see what other people come up with!

  6. 1980 just called: The Blues Brothers want their costume idea back.

    What’s next? Dress in regular clothes and claim you’re going as CMYK?

  7. Look at the cabinet door between the guy’s right hand and the middle girl’s hip. That shows the color of white in the ambient light.

    Even if they were wearing white or light gray body paint, the ambient light wouldn’t be perfectly neutral. As someone else said, it looks like it was selectively desaturated.

    1. Nah. I don’t buy your theory at all. Open the image in photoshop and measure the color values in other areas, it checks out. And seriously, we’re truthing a halloween costume snapshot? WTF?

    2. Kosmoid, that’s the color of the ambient light six feet behind them, in light from a fixture that they have their backs to. Examine the white stove behind his right hand, which does in fact perfectly match his makeup.

      You can see the effect of the warmer light on the hair of the woman wearing glasses.

  8. I believe it’s real. Look at the girl on the right’s hair. If they’d shopped the photo, they would have fixed her hair

  9. So, I’m a clarinetist, not a photoshopper, but doesn’t the black glove against the yellow bag look kinda “off” around the edges? If I’m totally off-base and there’s a logical reason for that, please let me know! :)

  10. Xeni, I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s Halloween parade, it’s just that when I first looked at this picture it seemed shopped.

    There appears to be only one light source, which is behind and to the right of the people. You’re telling me that there’s a fill light that just so happens to produce neutral gray shadows? I think that the stove was desaturated also.

    It would be very hard to produce neutral grays without manipulation, *especially* in a snapshot. You might not see a color cast in the highlights, but the middle values would be the problem.

    I still say desaturated.

    1. But, seriously, why does it matter? Does it somehow reduce the coolness of the idea? Make it less acceptable a costume for next year? Or do you just want to be right and have everyone acknowledge your leet shopping-detection skills?

      Fine. Here ya go: OMG Kosmoid! You’re totally right! We’ve all been had by these nefarious shoppers! Someone might have attempted to recreate this costume next year only to find it impossible to match the level of saturation and consistency exhibited here. They would have been humiliated! You have saved the world.

      Now that you’ve been properly recognized for your contribution to the thread, can you please let the rest go back to enjoying a lovely costume idea and execution? Please?

      Thank you.

  11. It’s a real costume. The grayscale thing became popular after a lady did it for a Christmastime Santa parade two or three years ago. Her Santa suit was all gray and white, her face was done in gray body paint, I think she wore a wig… it’s not that complicated, but the effect is brain-twisting.

  12. I designed a stage play once in black and white – sets, costumes, make-up – looked much like this, and the illusion was wonderfully noir…..until the actors opened their mouths. : )

  13. @Anon #23: Yeah, I remember that grayscale Santa. The effect was pretty amazing next to all the regular colored Santas in the parade. It’s available to view on flickr.

  14. I’m a guy who uses Photoshop pretty regularly…
    This looked awesome but fishy too me, so I opened the picture in Photoshop and dragged the eyedropper tool over various parts of the figures while looking at the Hue-Saturation-Brightness levels in the Color Picker. There’s actually a lot of subtle blues, violets, and browns in the figures, no “pure” neutral grays at all. So looks legit to me. Good job!

    1. ” There’s actually a lot of subtle blues, violets, and browns in the figures, no “pure” neutral grays at all.”

      JPEG compression artifacts. And, subtle color could easily added back in with color noise, but not necessary. This picture is pretty compressed.

      The thing is with blacks and white clothes, is that there are no black and white clothes. Blacks are all really dark and really saturated colors. If you’ve ever tried to assemble an all black outfit, I’m sure you’ve found that matching the black clothes can be very hard. For example, you might end up with pants that are just a bit lighter, and just a bit greener, than your t shirt which might have a warmer cast and/or appear darker. Whites are a little easier but the same problems occur. Some whites are warm, some are cool. Some are slightly saturated. or have a darker value.

      These people’s blacks are all uniformly the same black. Very hard to do with one outfit, let alone across three outfits, with many accessories, not to mention their hair. The light brown sheen on the womens’ hair could easily have been taken from the non altered color in the original photo, not an expert thing to do, so that doesn’t prove to me that this is real. Or it could have been missed by the lasso tool’s feathering setting. There is also insufficient spill from the color in the room into their clothes and specifically the shoes and the black glove in front of the yellow thing. The anti aliasing around certain areas of the figures also looks too sharp in places.

      My theory is this: they did in fact dress up as black and white, and it probably looked really cool in real life. But when a photo was taken, all these subtleties that aren’t perceived when emotionally appreciating the costume in real life, became evidenced in the photo. So, they used photoshop to make it look better in 2D.

      1. “My theory is this: they did in fact dress up as black and white, and it probably looked really cool in real life. But when a photo was taken, all these subtleties that aren’t perceived when emotionally appreciating the costume in real life, became evidenced in the photo. So, they used photoshop to make it look better in 2D.”

        I think you have the best explanation, but let me make these points:

        1. It not about accusing these gray guys or the boingboing staff for evil and deceptive intent. I do PP on every digital photo I think is important. If I had shot this, I’d also try to keep gray people neutral without it looking phony.

        2. Perception is different for everyone. There are clues in this photo (why isn’t that intensely yellow bag being illuminated from behind kicking back on the woman’s skirt?) that say shopped to me. The trick in PP is to not be obvious to the vast majority of viewers. Maybe this is a false positive, and I’ve been fooled.

        3. BB has to be open to dissenting opinions without getting all huffy. I say this with love and respect for TPTB.

  15. I don’t understand how anyone could look at this and think it’s photoshopped. People can be so cynical :(

  16. I’ve done this and there’s no way you can do it without some color around within the eyes. The eye muscle around the tear duct, in particular. Which, in this example are wholly greyscale. Though really small, these spots of color scream when the rest of the face is pancake grey.

  17. The figures are all yellower on the right side (their left).

    Calling “sh0pped!!1!” isn’t any less lame just because you REALLY MEAN IT MAN.

  18. Doubt it’s a fake, my girlfriend went as a black and white photograph back in 2002. Looked very similar, but she was totally from the 20’s.

    It was just body paint, a black wig, and a black and white outfit. Easy to pull off – if you can stand body paint.

  19. So, then, let’s get back to my original post. I’m not doubting it to cast aspersions on anyone’s costume; I simply want to know how it was done so well so I can give it a try next year!

    I’d just like a little more info on process so that I can look as cool as this trio, and not like a middle-aged guy with clumps of grey paint in a colorless suit, fending off comments like ‘Nice zombie outfit. How about some blood or green and purple bruises next time, huh?’

  20. So it sucks that everyone is so skeptical about photo modification, but OTOH it is a reaction to news articles being shopped by major news organizations.
    Sad that we don’t trust, good since we won’t fall for any picture anymore.
    Horay for skepticism!

  21. Not ‘shopped. I can tell from the hues since I´ve done a bit of make up work for dinner theater and the like.

    I´d say the most important part would be to use an even layer of a glycerin-based compact as your foundation, because if you take the cheaper option and apply greasepaint over a larger area of skin it will make you look, well, greasy. Also, compound is water-solution so it´s easier to apply.
    A medium gray, like Kryolan’s Aquacolour no. 30-32 would probably do the trick.
    Then you have a darker tone of grey for shadows, and a lighter grey for highlights, much as you would do any ordinary facial make-up, and presto!

  22. I watch a lot of black and white movies, and came up with this idea a few years ago too (independently, before the Santa Claus which I did see). Problem is, I haven’t been in a situation where dressing up for halloween was called for since high school. No parties to go to and no trick-or-treaters. Sad I guess.

    Also I think for those wondering how to pull it off effectively – you have to get the clothes right. Note that in this photo, the guy is even wearing pleated pants – they look awful these days, but were standard back then. The fit of his shirt is good too, although perhaps a little more baggy than it should be (the right cut, but probably not the right size for him). I wouldn’t be surprised if they are wearing actual 50’s vintage clothing. If you tried this with modern clothing, you’d just look like you’re trying to be a vampire or something, as someone noted.

  23. Photo alteration or not, I think this is a really cool idea that I’ve never seen or heard of before. I’m writing it down for next year as my costume!

  24. A few people in Santa Cruz dressed up liked this this year. They had an old fashioned film camera as a prop and were acting out a silent film.

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