How to see 3D photos

Photography has an inherent limitation in that cameras typically capture images that don't have any true three dimensional depth. We have two eyes, but with the exception of specialised equipment, cameras only have one lens. There are ways to "cheat" however, and for almost as long as there have been cameras, there have been people trying to find ways to take and view 3D photos. 3D photography is experiencing a rush of interest and innovation, as more people experiment with better digital cameras, and a wave of new 3D movies, including the spectacular 3D epic by James Cameron, Avatar captivates audiences worldwide. 3D is the next big thing, and many want to create and see 3D photography, or stereophotography. This article is not a history of stereophotography. The point is to teach you how to see 3D photos on the web. There are many different ways to see 3D, with just as many gadgets to help. The technique I will be showing you requires no special equipment. All you need to do is train your eyes to look at these images in what you might call an "unnatural" way.
WARNING: It's important to state right up front, that there is a small potential risk to your health with this 3D viewing technique. The risk is very small, but I must cover myself. If you have any known problems with your eye muscles, I recommend that you do not attempt this technique. If you experience any light-headedness, headaches or other symptoms, STOP IMMEDIATELY and rest your eyes. Everyone will likely experience some slight eye fatigue when learning this technique, so it is very important to rest your eyes regularly, and only look at 3D images for short periods of time. Even once you have perfected the technique, do not over-exert your eyes. You have been warned. If you attempt to learn this technique, you agree not to hold me responsible for any ill fortune that befalls you as a result.

Note: This technique will be impossible for some people. If you have poor eye control, a dramatic disparity in eye function or anything along those lines, you may not be able to see the 3D effect no matter how much you practice. Now that we've cleared that up, lets learn how to see in 3D!

Stereo Pairs


3D beach view
To see a 3D image, each eye needs to see a different view. There are ways to take photos like this, but I'll talk about that another time. When the two slightly different images are processed, they are placed side-by-side so that the viewer can use a special "crossed-eye" technique to overlap them, and see both views together in 3D. Below is an animation that simulates what it looks like when you view these images in 3D. The instructions follow.
illustration.gif

How to do it

      Why crossed eyes?
    When overlapping stereo pairs without special glasses, you can get the 3D effect by crossing your eyes or diverging your eyes. I prefer the crossed eye method. I find it easier to control, and it is possible to view larger 3D images than with the diverging technique.
  • Sit square in front of your monitor, with the image directly in front of you, at about arm's length
  • Sitting further back makes it easier - you don't need to cross your eyes as much - but makes the image look smaller
  • Make sure you keep your head level horizontally, tilting your head will prevent you from merging the images
  • While keeping the stereo pair of images in the centre of your vision, slowly cross your eyes
  • The stereo pair will go out of focus and you will seem to see four images, as shown in the animation above
  • If you find it hard to cross your eyes, it can help to hold a pen in front of you and look at the tip with the stereo pair in the background
  • Gradually cross your eyes more and more - if using a pen to assist, start it close to the monitor and move it towards your nose
  • Continue crossing your eyes more, untill the centre two of the four images overlap and you see three blurry images, as in the animation above
  • Try and hold the centre image together - it is possible to "lock" it in place and see it as one image
  • The "locked" centre image should appear in 3D!
  • Now the tricky part, focus - while holding the 3D image in place, relax your eyes - drop the pen from your field of view if you are using it
  • If you can keep the 3D image locked and relax your eyes, it should eventually pop into focus, as in the last frame of the animation above
What you are doing here is causing your eyes to look at a space between you and the monitor, but focusing the lenses on the monitor. Our eyes never naturally need to do this, so it can be tricky to do at first.

Try it!


Try and see the 3D effect yourself with the stereo pair below.
3D Lum Close
How did you go? If you were able to see the effect, congratulations! It really is very striking isn't it? If you couldn't manage to do it after trying for a while, leave it aside and try again tomorrow. It can be tricky to get the first time, but the majority of people can do it. If you find you are unable to see the 3D effect no matter how many times you try, then it may be that you are one of the few who for whatever reason will never be able to do it. I have no idea why, some people can't curl their tongues! *shrug*

Linking to this guide


If you take 3D photos yourself (I teach you how in this article), then please feel free to link to this article to give your viewers a clear, straightforward guide to seeing your 3D images. Just copy and paste the following code into the image description on Flickr or whatever image sharing service you use:
<a href="http://neilcreek.com/blog/2008/02/28/how-to-see-3d-photos/" target="top">Learn how to see 3D photos like this.</a>

Resources

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Some more examples to enjoy


95 comments


  • johnny

    also if any of you do stereophotography, make sure your images are the size of antique stereocard photos, wich are optimaly sized for 3D viewing.

    June 25, 2010
    • piyn

      October 14, 2011
  • David

    I find it astonishing that, despite a comment from last November that pointed out (correctly) that the stereo pairs are all reversed, they have not yet been corrected. This is clearly apparent in the Emma Pointing photo pair, without having to view in 3D. The photo on the right side shows the finger more to the right in the image, so this is clearly the left-eye view and should be on the _left_ side.

    Please fix these!

    July 9, 2010
    • Steve Parkes

      Silly girl! These images are all intended to view using the ‘Crossed Eyes’ method – which requires the left-eye view to be on the RIGHT, and the right-eye view to be on the LEFT – hence, they don’t need correcting at all, they are already as they should be!

      August 14, 2011
  • David (or is it Bruce), thank you for your opinion. I myself, and the vast majority of people I have shown in person, and who have visited this page, and the thousands of others using the crossed eye method report seeing the 3D effect correctly with this method.

    When I view these images with the parallel eye technique, the 3D effect is clearly reversed. When I swap the images and view parallel the 3D is correct. I, and many others, find the crossed-eye technique easier and more comfortable, and the images are displayed here in the correct configuration for that technique.

    July 9, 2010
  • I have a really hard time keeping my eyes crossed. Sometimes It just hurts to hold it there.

    July 13, 2010
  • Keith Taylor

    For people who cannot do this, there is a very simple way: get up as close to the picture as you can without losing focus on it. Now measure the distance between the picture and your forehead. Take a piece of stiff card and cut it so that one pair of opposite sides equals this measurement and the other two area about eight inches. Hold this card between the two stereo pics and place your forehead lightly against the card. Look straight ahead. It’s as simple as that!

    July 13, 2010
    • dwilly

      Yes, the cardboard trick between the eyes is very simple and effective. Thanks a lot. Much easier on my eyes too!

      November 25, 2012
  • Vinimay Kaul

    after trying the cross eye and getting it the second time, i got too excited ad started clicking pictures in 3D… but a lot of people I know found it difficult to use the cross eye.. So I developed a technique which is very simple… here are the steps…

    Step 1:
    Get a cardboard or a sheet of A4 paper or a chart paper. It would be better if it is dark in color but even white paper would work. The size should be somewhere around A4

    Step 2:
    Cut a square hole in the middle of size 1″x1″

    Step 3:
    Sit in front of your computer screen at a distance of around 1.5 to 2 feet.

    Step 4:
    Place the sheet between your face and the screen [around 1/2 to 3/4 feet away from your face] such that your right eye can only view the image on the left side, and the right eye can only see the image on the left. [see attached image to get the idea.] you can move the sheet forward or backward a bit to adjust.

    Step 5:
    Close you right eye and see that your left eye can only see the image on the right and then focus on the image.

    Step 6:
    Close you left eye and see that your right eye can only see the image on the left and then focus on the image.

    Step 7;
    Start blinking repeatedly (not very fast) while you try to focus on the image in the middle of the hole. pull the sheet around 2-4 cm towards yourself while to look at the center and try focussing on the center of the image/video. stop blinking and see if you can see the 3d image. IF not, repeat from step 5.

    The blinking causes the eyes to auto focus the nearest object… just like the handycams/digicams autofocus functions, but you need to have your eyes relaxed.

    NOTE:: INSTEAD OF THE SHEET OF PAPER, YOU CAN USE YOUR HANDS TO BLOCK IMAGES AND VIEW FROM THE WINDOW CREATED BETWEEN YOUR PALMS

    hope this helps

    watch this image for assistance. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=2056763&l=548218cbe3&id=1070114097

    July 19, 2010
    • me

      thank you so much dude :D your’e the man

      February 2, 2012
    • Person

      Hmmm… when I do this, and i’m looking through the square, my eyes see two squares…..???????

      February 22, 2012
  • For people who have trouble visualizing these 3D instructions,

    Here’s an easy to understand fully animated anime tutorial by some cute anime characters i made;

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvShotHl1As

    (It also includes bonus maths to calculate your optimal 3D viewing distance and how to create simple 3d glasses).

    I hope it helps!

    July 28, 2010
  • jav

    awesome!!! it took like five minutes but i could see the image in 3d!!

    August 15, 2010
  • Alexander

    Thanks a lot it works!!!

    September 10, 2010
  • GuyofSpades

    I got it but I think my eyes are messed up now. Gonna go rest. My eyes almost got stuck in the 3D dimension

    September 14, 2010
  • Tobi

    FINALLY!!! It took me about 40 minutes to get it but I did! I couldn’t do it without the pencil in front of my face but since I was only looking at the pencil lead, it didn’t matter much. I found out that looking at the black border around the middle picture really helped with the focus and relaxing part. Hope that helps others

    January 1, 2011
  • Ambro

    i find it much easier if i put my hands like this: like when you mime a gun, then put them close, cross the fingers after the second, couple the thumbs and put the index fingers at about 3-4 centimeters (1.5 inch) – this is for viewing images on standard size Flickr – so that if you close your eyes one by one you see one time one picture in the space, the other time the other picture. my problem is still focus, btw.
    i can’t twirl my tongue: it’s a gene.

    January 9, 2011
  • Nathan Pabon

    my god! How is this physically possible? IT WORKS!

    January 16, 2011
  • Nathan Pabon

    This 3D viewing technique actually works. It’s amazing! How is this physically possible?

    January 16, 2011
  • Nathan Pabon

    This 3D viewing technique actually works. It’s amazing! How is this physically possible? I think this is a very good technique.

    January 16, 2011
  • Very cool 3d without glasses :)

    February 9, 2011
  • It’s awesome, but it was difficult to focus.

    February 9, 2011
  • Superguy328

    holy (#&) how do u make the picture like that they r exactly the same right but like how do u edit them

    February 12, 2011
  • Neill Horton

    Once you get the focusing down, you can make it happen quick for nay of the examples. Pretty slick – it makes perfect sense, but I would have never thought of it. How well does it work with large prints – say 2 20x30s side by side on a wall? I think I will be testing that out!

    February 13, 2011
  • Mike O'Sullivan

    Can’t do it.
    If I look at it cross eyed I just see three images instead of two, but no 3D.

    February 14, 2011
  • masterHex

    February 18, 2011
  • Pierre Savoie

    Yeah, I got a lot of practice in the “crossed-eye” technique 25 years ago. Chemists were printing up a lot of molecular structures in chemical journals with pairs of photos, to help visualize the exact 3-D structure. It’s second-nature for me to do so now. Of course, you must keep your head level, not tilted, and make the features on each of the pair of photos match up.

    February 21, 2011
  • Pierre Savoie

    By the way, anyone can make their own photos like this. Get a camera with a tripod. Sight the photo subject the way you want to take it, but then move the camera to the left 2.5 cm for every meter away the subject is. Then take another picture of the same subject 2.5 cm to the RIGHT of the central position instead. Print the pictures and put the left-position picture on the right side, and the right-position picture on the left. Crossing your eyes will give each eye a different view, the pictures merge and appears 3-D.

    February 21, 2011
  • Shane

    how do you convert them to 3d? with photo shop or somthing? please email me the instructions at soulheart.hatena@gmail.com

    March 16, 2011
  • john

    I’ve done it in only FIRST time………….

    May 12, 2011
  • john

    Are there any side effects to viewing cross eye 3d?

    Reply FIRST……………………..

    May 14, 2011
  • No mention is made that some people cannot see crosseyed. If you are a parallel viewer this site is not for you. You may see a stereo effect but the layers will be inverse depth.

    May 22, 2011
  • mariel anai

    wow

    June 20, 2011
  • jeffrey

    cool i can see it!!!!

    June 24, 2011
  • yousef hamza

    i got to that 3 images
    “um using pen :D”
    BUT it still BLUR … how i should pop it up without focus on it !

    August 3, 2011
  • JAYANT

    I WASNT ABLE TO SEE FIRST BUT I READ YOUR TIPS AND TRIED HARD THEN I GOT IT AND NOW I CAN HOLD IT ALSO. JUST KEEP PATIENCE. YOUR TIPS ROCK!!! THANKFUL TO YOU. RESPECT

    August 14, 2011
  • V.C.

    dear Author,
    you are a very awesome person.

    thank you so much

    regards,
    V.C.

    August 20, 2011
  • kashan danish

    i is awsum. it is mind blowing. totally

    December 30, 2011
  • pavol

    Hi Neil, nice article. I do know so called “stereographic” 3D images, where in the jibberish of various shapes is hidden 3D picture. Some news papers where publishing it regularly as competition in “fun” section, and you needed to guess what’s hidden there. And I even created small programs to render such images during programming classes, but it never occur to me that same effect could be achieved by camera ;)
    I do have small hint for you about the technique to learn how to see “3D”. I had problems to learn it using the same steps you describe and then I found out “my way”, maybe it could help others:
    – sit in front of monitor as described infirst step.
    – then lean forward and slightly touch the screen with your nose.
    – do not focus your eyes on screen, but do relax them so you will see strongly blurred picture (we call it “looking to dumb” ;))
    – start to lean backward and keep your eyes out of focus
    – at some distance you will start to see the 3D image
    – what helps if you have problems: try different picture with something really simple (too complex shape/too many colors are harder); try different distances from screen (depends on how good you can cross eye); train with smartphone (much easier to move in/out of screen)
    …in any case everyone will look dumb learning this “view” :D
    cheers & thx again, Pavol

    January 9, 2012
  • Really nice!
    Great job author :)

    February 2, 2012
  • This is fucking shit

    April 22, 2012
  • Wow! This is so nice! My eyes are a little tired, but this is so small thing in comparition with what its saw. Thank you very, very much!

    May 9, 2012
  • Arash

    I did it @ the first time!
    awesome!

    November 12, 2012
  • shaun

    what’s missing from the cross-eyed viewing technique is blinkers to block the unwanted image from each eye. Try this: close your left eye, now place your hand(or other object ideally with straight vertical edge) beside your right eye and gradually move it across until you can only see one image(on the left of screen). Now do the same for the other eye: close your right eye and cover the left half of your left eye so as to block the image on the left of the screen. Now open both eyes and you should see one image clearly. So I am suggesting using blinkers, in stage lighting they call them “barn doors”. Or try a pair of clear or lensless glasses with the outside half of each leans frame covered with dark tape or painted, like half an eye patch.

    January 31, 2013
  • It worked but it looks like the picture behind the screen it doesn’t pop out

    February 7, 2014

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