How to take 3D photos

How to take 3D photos

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a tutorial on how to see cross-eye 3D stereo photos on your computer screen. Today I’m going to tell you how to take your own 3D photos.

The process is really very simple, and the basics can be explained in less than a minute, but to become good at taking and presenting 3D photos take a bit more time, and it’s something that really develops with practice. I hope you’ll take what you learn here and get out and get lots of practice taking 3D photos.

The typical and easiest single-camera 3D photography technique is commonly called the “cha-cha” technique, for reasons which will soon become obvious. Here’s the technique in a nutshell:

Taking the Photos

  • Always take photos in portrait orientation
  • Set the camera to full manual and choose the correct exposure and focus
  • Put your feet square on to the subject of your 3d photo
  • Put your weight onto your right foot, without lifting your left
  • Take the first photo
  • Put your weight onto your left foot without raising your right
  • Unless your subject is very close, you don’t need to turn your camera to keep it in the centre
  • Take the second photo

And you’re done! As simple as that. Simply by shifting your weight from one foot to the other, you move your viewpoint by several centimetres, sufficient to get a 3D effect. The “cha-cha” name refers to the side to side sway you do when taking the photo.

Processing

StereoPhoto Maker screenshot
StereoPhoto Maker screenshot

Now you’ve got two photos, but you need to make one. I use a fantastic piece of free software called StereoPhoto Maker. It’s not the prettiest software, but it does a fantastic job. It can be used in conjunction with a plugin called AutoPano, that can analise the two images and automatically correct for many of the problems that can come from shooting two separate images. This includes tilting and twisting, moving forward or back between shots, and the “keystone distortion” that occurs when you turn the camera to centre the subject for close 3D photos.

Step by step

  • Drag both photos onto the StereoPhoto Maker shortcut icon
  • Zoom out a bit with your mouse’s scroll wheel if you need to to make it easier to fuse the pair into 3D with the cross-eye technique
  • If the 3D effect seems reversed, click the swap button to swap the images correctly for a crossed eye view
  • Click on the auto align button to use autopano to correct for any distortions
  • Click on the Easy Adjustment button to fix the 3D images position relative to the 3D window (see below for more information)
  • I find adding a border helps, so if you like, in the menu go to View – Border Options
  • Check “Show Border” and adjust the border settings to your liking
  • Save the image by clicking in the menu File – Save Stereo Image
  • Enjoy your new 3d photo!

The 3D “Window”

The edge of the image is more than just the boundaries of the 3D photograph. In a 3D photo, it is also a “hole” into which you look and through which 3D subjects can appear. A good way to think of the edge of the image is as a literal window in your computer screen. This is one of the reasons why I find a border around both parts of the 3D image helps me, it more clearly defines the edge of the 3D window.

Just like a real window, you expect to look through it, and rarely do you expect things seen beyond it to come back through it at you. One nasty optical illusion that can happen with 3D photos is when part of the 3D subject “touches” the window, or worse, appears to overlap it. Have a look at the two examples below:

Bad 3D window

The subject is placed too far forward in the 3D window, and appears to overlap the window’s edge, creating an uncomfortable optical illusion. This is most obvious on the left of this stereo photo.

Good 3D window

Here the photo has been corrected, pushing the 3D subject back in 3D space beyond the window frame.

StereoPhoto Maker easy adjustment
StereoPhoto Maker easy adjustment

This problem is easily corrected in SteroPhoto Maker with the “Easy Adjustment” button. Clicking on this will show both images overlapped and tinted red and blue (if you have an pair of red/blue 3d glasses, you can do this process in 3D!). Using the slider above the image, you can adjust the separation of the two images, thus moving them backward and forward in 3D space.

It can be tricky to get the hang of how changing this slider will affect the final image, but as a tip, look at the bottom edge. Move the slider so that the red and blue images exactly overlap where they touch the bottom edge, that means that part of the image will appear at the same distance as the frame. This tip will only work, obviously, if part of the subject touches the bottom of the photo. With some practice you’ll get the hang of it.

A rule of thumb is that it’s ok for part of the image to protrude through the frame, as long as no part is “touching” it.

How to View

Now that you’ve got a whole bunch of awesome 3D photos, it’s time to share them around. Hopefully you’ve already read my tutorial on how to view cross-eye 3D photos on your computer screen, but if not, you can read it here.

If you’d like to share your new 3D masterpieces, and I encourage you to do so, there’s a Stereophotography Flickr group, and one on Yahoo too. I’d love you to put links to your 3D photos in the comments to this post, so I can see how you’ve done! I’m relatively new to 3D photography, so I’m sure there’s much you can teach me too!

This is a quick and easy method for 3D photography and has a number of advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages

creek-071004-004-3d
  • You don’t need expensive specialist 3D equipment
  • Each eye’s image is captured on a full frame, so the resulting 3D image can be very high resolution
  • There is no blurring or ghosting at the edge of the frame, which can be seen in many “beam splitter” attachments where the two views join
  • You can take a 3D photo with any lens in your SLR kit, including macro, for extremely close 3D photos
  • Many 3D attachments have very limited control over focus and aperture, with the cha-cha technique you have complete control over the settings
  • You can do this with any camera, if you forget to take your 3D attachment or camera, you can still take 3D photos this way

Disadvantages

  • The most obvious and critical shortcoming is that this method only works with still object that don’t move between shots
  • Any movement between the two shots will cause a distracting 3D error, so people, animals and even trees in a light breeze will be difficult or impossible to shoot
  • You need to take two photos for every 3D image, which takes twice as long, and uses twice as much space
  • It is easy to introduce errors such as twisting or tilting the camera between shots which can cause distracting artifacts
  • You need to shoot with manual settings so that there’s no accidental variation in exposure or focus
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95 comments


  • @Nellie Thank you for your kind words! I hope you continue to enjoy exploring 3D photography. I would love you to share links to some of your photos!

    @Charles Very intersting concept for the site. I only had time for a brief look, but I’ll definitely come back for a closer look in the future. The Fuji 3D camera certainly has caught my interest, especially with the supposed 3D display on the back. I’m sure it, or a future variation will end up in my hands one day :)

    January 8, 2010
  • frobella

    Can you not just duplicate the photo rather than taking two images?

    March 23, 2010
  • Craig

    No you need two different photos to represent the two images you get from your eyes. If you look at something and keep your left eye open and close your right eye then open your right eye and close your left eye you will notice there is a differance between what you see with each eye your brain gives you stereo vision from those two images.

    March 23, 2010
  • Russ McClay

    Wow Neil! Thank you for this tutorial. It was all I needed to start taking great 3D images!

    April 25, 2010
  • cai

    Hi, is it possible for me to alter photos and pictures that I already own and make them look 3D ? I would really like to do this for a project

    April 26, 2010
  • Craig

    Yes it is possible to convert a single photo into a 3D photo Brian Wallace wrote a tutorial on using StereoPhoto Maker to convert 2D to 3D the document is in the files section of the
    http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/3D-StereoviewXchange/

    April 26, 2010
  • Great technique. For the first time I was able to see a still photograph in 3D. Infact, the girl’s photo pointing her finger was the first pic I saw in 3D (using your cross eye technique) :D I owe you a beer for an awesome experience.

    May 28, 2010
  • [...] 19 August, 2010 by aldo Baru nyoba-nyoba edit foto biar ada efek 3D. Dari situs ini. Neilcreek [...]

    August 20, 2010
  • alexey

    Photo viewer 3D epic photos http://www.epicreal.com Only for photos 2D.

    September 24, 2010
  • [...] finally gave up but I'm sure it was my limited computer skills but he has some neat 3d pictures. How to take 3D photos I think this will be fun has anyone else tried 3d pictures? HappY Trails Bill ^v^ Attached [...]

    November 6, 2010
  • thinks for the insight great read

    November 17, 2010
  • [...] no artigo How to Take 3D photos de Neil Creek [...]

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    February 8, 2011
  • I really enjoyed your post. Very informative.

    I have been taking these type of photos for years now and would love your feedback on my work.

    It can be viewed at http://3dcruiser.blogspot.com/

    Thanks

    April 5, 2011
  • Well I’ve never come across this technique before in my time of being a photographer?!

    I’m intrigued and am going to give it a go.

    Your examples look great, and one could have a lot fun with this…

    Thanks for sharing!

    April 7, 2011
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    May 28, 2011
  • I loved your write-up on 3D photography. I would like to start using the software you recommended, but the problem is that i recently bought my new laptop which is Windows 7 Professional (64 bit) and when i visited website of stereophoto maker, it says it will work upto Windows Vista version only.

    do u have any other recommended software or any idea if stereophoto works on Win 7 (64 bit) too?

    Thanks.

    June 2, 2011
  • Craig

    StereoPhoto Maker runs on windows 7 no problems. Normally if a program run on Vista it will run on Windows 7

    June 2, 2011
  • Diane Soall

    I have read your article on taking 3-D photos and would like to give it a go. I am always a bit wary of downloading free software, so can you vouch for the safety of Stero Photo Maker and Auto Pano and if so does it tell you how to link the two.

    Many thanks

    Diane

    June 2, 2011
    • Craig

      You are right in being suspicious of free software but StereoPhoto Maker is perfectly safe it doesn’t load extra crap on your computer the current version of SPM has internal code to do the alignment so you don’t need autopano.

      June 2, 2011
    • Diane Soall

      Hi again,

      Well I tried your method as suggested and I have had some lovely results. Interestingly enough I personally am able to see them better in 3-d without my glasses or contact lenses. Has anyone else noticed this?

      June 29, 2011
  • terry

    Will this work if I make large prints to exhibit?
    Terry

    June 29, 2011
  • Nathan

    Nellie, I once saw a B&G photo of a building and as you walked the shadow change according to your position. Do you know anything about this form of art? Thanks
    Nae

    August 17, 2011
  • Craig

    What you are describing sounds like a flip Lenticular.

    August 17, 2011
  • Ayan

    I know I’m posting too late though I want to know do you know how to do the same using Photoshop….

    October 3, 2011
  • Thanks for your instructions. I tried it and it works great. I have a problem with Autopano on my pc, but I haven’t needed it to make some great images. :-)

    Some samples are at:
    http://www.facebook.com/tskinner.photographer

    October 13, 2011
  • Matthew

    Is it dupicate and crop images in lightroom or photoshop to create the same 3D technique?

    November 15, 2011
  • Matthew

    Is it possible to dupicate and crop images in lightroom or photoshop to create the same 3D technique?

    November 15, 2011
  • Tim

    How do you capture a fall leaves and the light streak i saw one of the sample? By the way the Autopan link doesn’t work anymore any ideas?

    March 16, 2012
  • Anthony

    Do you have an updated link for the Autopan plugin? Getting an error 403, that it doesn’t exist on the server anymore.

    April 27, 2012
  • Man, I’m excited to try this! It sounds like so much fun! And I found this post just in time too because I will be traveling to Japan this weekend and I can take some new 3D pictures while I’m there. Thank you!

    May 23, 2012
  • Good luck with your attempts Chris! Please link your 3D photos once you have had a chance to upload them!

    Regarding the missing Autopano plugin, I’ll look into that soon. I’m a little busy at the moment. Thank you everyone for your patience. Stereo photo maker should still work without it, just missing the auto align feature.

    May 30, 2012
    • Hey Neil, I also get the error message. Hope it gets sorted out!

      June 27, 2012
  • Big F

    Brilliant bit of work, but the link to the Autopano software seems to be broken … have you a new one?

    June 10, 2012
  • Yann

    Nice tutorial but so much work! Now some digital cameras allow direct shooting in 3D, like the Fuji W3, pictures are as we can find here: http://www.voyage3d.com

    June 26, 2012
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    July 4, 2012
  • I savor, cause I found exactly what I used to be looking for.
    You’ve ended my 4 day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye

    July 6, 2012
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    August 23, 2012
  • Bill J

    Okay, I’m having an absolute blast with this. Taking photos for the newspaper this morning, of National Police Officers standing at attention with Sokehs Rock (Pohnpei, Micronesia) in the background. Since they were still (for the most part) I took my first stereographic photo. While it is not perfect (one officer moved) it’s great to see the 3D effect of the offices in front of the lagoon and Sokehs rock rising behind them. The net effect is that I am looking for more 3D opportunities which means that I am thinking more “photographically”. I had lost that for a while. This is fun if nothing else!

    October 30, 2012
  • The broken link to Autopano-SIFT has now been fixed. Sorry for taking so long to address this!

    March 6, 2013
  • My partner and I absolutely love your blog and find nearly all of your post’s to be precisely what I’m looking for.
    Would you offer guest writers to write content for you personally?
    I wouldn’t mind creating a post or elaborating on a lot of the subjects you write about here. Again, awesome website!

    July 27, 2013
  • Steven

    Yes can any 3d glasses be used to view these images in 3D. I ask because it seems all manufacturers sell there own 3D glasses

    Thanks steven

    July 29, 2013

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