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What Is 3D Photography?

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3D photography isn’t a new invention. Photographers soon realized that with two lenses, you could create hyperrealistic pictures. Humans see the world in 3D due to the stereoscopic nature of our visual system having two inlets.

Read here on the brief history and definition of 3D photography. We also explain how to capture 3D photography.

An antique device with two lenses

What Is 3D Photography?

We can create 3D photography by taking and displaying two offset images. This follows a principle called stereopsis, where we experience a change in perspective depth.

The pictures don’t need to differ. Our eyes see them from different distances and perspectives. With3D glasses, the subject in the scene changes somewhat, creating depth in a 2D image.

3D photography, especially videography, has been a popular trend over the last decade. There was a massive movement in the 1950s when the Stereo Realist camera was released. The 135 mm film made it accessible and easy to use.

Even before this, 1839 saw this technique used for stereoscopy or stereoviews. Users would see an enhancement with the illusion of depth by looking at a stereogram – two images seen by each eye. The brain combines the two to create a perception of depth.

With video, camera techniques enriched the experience of viewers. Films such as Titanic were revamped with a 3D look. IMAX cinemas showed footage from IMAX cameras that created the 3D effect. This was especially great for scaring children sitting in the seats.

3D photography is making a comeback due to the simplicity of digital photography. Even smartphones can create 3D images. Sometimes they are preferred due to their size and range of capturing and editing apps.

A vintage camera

Common 3D Photography Questions

What Are 3D Photos?

A 3D world comes naturally to us, as our eyes show us a different perspective from any scene. Most cameras use one lens, which means they capture a flat 2D scene.

Viewers of these images lose out on the realism of the scenes. They feel less natural than if we were there. Depth is the most important aspect of 3D photography.

A 3D image is created by taking two shots of the same scene, where one is a little offset to the other. This slight difference is enough to trick your brain into thinking you are looking at an image with depth. But in fact, you are looking at a 2D flat picture.

How Do You Make a 3D Picture on Facebook?

Creating 3D images for Facebook can be complicated. You need JPEG images alongside hand-drawn depth maps. That is, until you use a smartphone with a 3D photography option or an app that can create it for you.

Facebook has the option to post 3D images, as long as your phone can capture them. Currently, the supported models are iPhone (7 plus, 8 plus, X, XS, or XSMax, 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max). Samsung Galaxy (Note 8/9, S9+, S10, S10E, S10+, S10 5G, Fold) and Google Pixel (Pixel, XL, 2, 2XL, 3, 3XL).

The first thing you need to do is open your smartphone’s camera app. Shoot an image in Portrait mode (try to go for a single object or subject in the foreground).

After shooting the image, add a post and click on ‘3D photo’ which should be above the usual Photo/Video option. And that’s it!

If you want to turn a 2D image you already have into a 3D picture; you’ll need to create a depth map. You can’t do this from your mobile. You’ll need an editing platform that allows for layers and grayscale editing.

Phone screens showing the process of creating a 3D image via Facebook on smartphone
Leif Johnson for Macworld

Who Discovered Three-Dimensional Photography?

Back in 1839, photography was a relatively new technology. People across the globe were experimenting with the possibilities it allowed.

One of these techniques was 3D photography in the form of stereoscopy. Here, a viewer would look at two images held on a stereoscope. This device was brought up to the face, where each eye would look at an image independently.

This binocular vision created a 3D image. Due to this process, many believed that the corresponding eye governs the two sides of the brain. The left side of the brain only sees through the left eye, and vice versa.

It was Sir Charles Wheatstone who documented this technique after his investigations. They were published the year before William Henry Fox Talbot created his own 3D stereo image through his own process.

In 1939, Edwin Eugene Mayer and William Gruber created the View-Master. They decided to work on updating the stereoscope device with a circular card that held tiny Kodachrome transparencies.

An antique View-master

This circular card held 14 slides, split into seven pairs. Each view would show two of images of the same scene, seen by each eye separately. This would simulate the binocular depth perception needed to turn an image into a 3D photograph.

It was released during the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The View-Master went on to sell in photography stores, stationery shops, and attractions. The two main subjects were Carlsbad Caverns and the Grand Canyon.

This device was redesigned for many decades after and still exists in one form or another. Productions stopped in 2008. Due to digital photography, the View-Master became an outdated analogue toy.

The next step was Virtual Reality, which started to become the latest trend for the masses. The idea is similar; the user wears a mask that covers their eyes and gives each eye an image to look at, of the same scene.

Two images layered on top of each other with green and red coloring

How Do I Take 3D Photos on my iPhone?

Capturing 3D photos on your iPhone is a simple task, and can be done in two ways.

You can capture an image using the Portrait mode, and then turn it into a 3D photo by posting it on Facebook.

This doesn’t give you the image to work with, and you can’t edit it. If you want to post to Facebook as the end result, then this method is for you.

To capture a 3D image without using Facebook, you’ll need a 3rd party application. The three that you can use today are Fyuse, Slide and Seene. All three work in a similar way.

The idea is that you move your camera as it records so that it can pick up all the details from different perspectives. A quick pan and you have yourself a 3D image.

How to Make 3D Photography?

You can create 3D photography in many ways, ranging from pretty easy to complex. There is an analogue method of using a Stereo camera, where the negative shows two different perspectives of the same scene.

You can also use digital photography to capture a scene, and then create a duplicate with small differences.

The easiest way is to capture a still or static subject. Things moving in the wind, for example, won’t work well as a 3D image. If you want to capture a moving subject, then you’ll need two cameras. Let’s look at a few methods.

NB: All the following methods will give you two images that need to be placed next to each other in a single photo. From here, you’ll need to view them using the cross-eyed method (exactly like Magic Eye pictures).

Three images of trainers placed next to each other

Rocking Method

There is a simple method you can use with your DSLR, Mirrorless camera or even smartphone. Find a subject to capture, and take two shots of the same scene. The first you take while putting all your weight on that foot, for example, right.

Then you rock over to putting all your weight on your left foot. Keep the scene the same while aiming to keep the points of reference in the same place. Use the grid view if you find it helps.

You need to place these images next to each other in the same photo. You can use Photoshop to do this. You might find that Stereo Photo Maker and the AutoPano plugin will give you the best results.

With these two, you can align the images correctly and minimalize the keystone distortion. Happy shooting!

Moving the Tripod

The above method is suitable for handheld shots where there is enough light to use fast shutter speeds. If you’re working in a studio, you’ll want to use a tripod. Product photography or fashion photography are two great ideas you can use 3D photography with.

Start with your subject in the centre of your frame. Capture a shot, and then move the tripod right or left, parallel to your subject. You want to move between 1.7-2.3 inches (43-58mm) as that is the average distance between the pupils of an adult’s eyes.

Take another shot with the subject in the centre of the frame. You might need to adjust the direction to get the same framing.

Mirror Splitter

One of the oldest ideas of the stereoscope involved mirrors, allowing two eyes to look at one image with the same scene replicated. This is the best way to create a 3D photograph when using one camera with one lens.

The idea here is simple, yet building one yourself will take some DIY skills, materials and time. Here, the view from the camera is split into two, where half of the scene looks left, and the other half looks right.

How does it do that? I hear you ask. Well, with mirrors, of course. Think of two periscopes, but working horizontally. This gives you two shots of the same scene on one digital image, cutting out the editing in the middle.

A diagram of zero convergence

Tips for Shooting 3D Photography

Now you have an idea of how you can create a 3D photograph, let’s look at a few tips.

  • Keep the subject centred. You ideally want to shoot one object with it in the centre. This gives you play to show the different sides. It also ensures that your subject is the centre of focus, cutting out any distractions.
  • Go for a subject with depth. Stay away from walls, as that will help you create a 2D image and missing the vital extra D needed. You can have other elements in the background, and they might even help maximize the 3D photography effect.
  • Always capture more than what you need. This lets you choose from the best when you get home. More often than not, I find that images look sharp on my 3″ LCD screen, but not on my 24″ screen. No one takes one picture of their favourite place and goes home.
  •  Don’t change camera settings. You want to have everything the same across the two images.
  • Shoot your subjects close. The closer the subjects are, the less separation in the final image you will need.
  • Use the distance between your pupils as a reference. With 3D photography, we are trying to replicate the two images that our eyes see of everything we look at. It makes sense to use our pupil distance as a guide of how far apart the centre of each image needs to be for the same effect.
  • Go from left to right. When we read (in the western world), we go from left to right. It feels natural. It will help you create a habit of capturing the scenes in the same order every time. This is helpful when you come to edit, knowing the first image is the left perspective.

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