In this section, we bring to you detailed methods and techniques related to sterephotography, from beginners and seasoned photographers alike. The aim is to share tips and notes on how to get started on specific methods. In other words, your personal DIY stereo guide.
written for the stereosite by Matt Infante, USA
I was first introduced to stereo photography a few years ago by a camera operator named Craig Haagensen, who shot with a 35mm stereo camera. After speaking with him and seeing a few of his slides, I was convinced making stereo photos on film was the way to go. It also made sense to me as I had already been shooting and developing photos on my own for a while. I’m not a purist by any means. I also understand it’s 2021 and I’m talking about shooting on film. From an educational standpoint though, the limitations it imposes forces you to learn the basics of exposure, composition and how to be more intentional with your artistic choices. Especially with stereo photography, every step of making and viewing an image is much more involved and expensive on film so you really have to ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing.
I personally love street photography and meeting people so as I’m walking around, I constantly ask how depth would add to a certain moment or scene. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But thinking in that way has naturally influenced what I pay attention to. I also shoot mainly with Kodak slide film. It is rated at 100 ISO, which means my day is planned around where the sun is going to be. Having a less sensitive film stock has forced me to observe different qualities of light during the day and gravitate towards parts of the city I otherwise might not normally visit. I sort of just follow the light and see how it plays off of buildings, windows, and crowds of people. I’ve grown to love shooting in harsh lighting conditions and in areas that have lots of contrast and reflections. I’ve even found a few pockets in New York City where at a certain time in the day, sunlight bounces off multiple windows of surrounding buildings, casting this unusual, artificial look to a street corner.
A prerequisite of making a good stereo photo in addition to an understanding of depth, composition and lighting is the precision that comes with the mounting process, which demands a level of commitment and attention to detail. For those who haven’t tried it, it will seem like a big time commitment but again this is also part of the appeal. Spending an hour or two mounting slides is definitely an exercise in humility as you reflect on all the things you wish you did right. As you get familiar with it, there’s a rhythm that develops with the tactile experience and it’s pretty relaxing. The secret is just taking the time to research the technical understanding, searching for the gear (mostly on eBay), asking questions from those who’ve been doing it for much longer, and being patient with the whole process until you end up with your first stereo slide. When I couldn’t find a piece of gear I was looking for or if it was too expensive at the time, I improvised.
For a year, I showed people slides with a cheap plastic Raydex viewer and a dual LED clip light and it worked great. If you’re handy, make your own cameras or viewers. Developing your own film is also probably cheaper in the long run, but I found a trusted lab and a New York apartment doesn’t accommodate the space for a dark room.
Below are some of the film cameras I shoot with. The 35mm Stereo TDC Vivid is an entry level camera that has a coupled rangefinder, which I find easier and faster to focus when walking around. It has its downsides like a maximum 1/100th shutter speed and an issue of slightly overlapping frames. But, it is cheap and easy to find online. The Colorist II is similar and has a slightly faster shutter speed which helps with scenes that have a lot of movement. The Stereo Realist is a great first camera as well. The dual Yashicas and the TL-120 are really rewarding to shoot with as they are medium format and viewing the larger frame size is quite something to experience. The ISO Duplex is fun because it’s really small and I can get closer to my subjects because of the narrower stereo base.
Overall, I think the learning curve is pretty steep and has been trial and error, resulting in mostly errors, wasted film, and sighs of disappointment. But that’s part of the process and it’s worth it to capture those moments that you feel really proud to share with people. I think in a time where a lot of our creative consumption takes place on a phone, it’s a refreshing and unusual experience for most people to be given a viewer and a tray of slides. It’s a form of photography that’s meant to be shared in order to enjoy and requires you to stop what you’re doing and give your full attention to it even for just a few minutes. The responses and encouragement I’ve gotten from others has been rewarding enough to continue pursuing it. I’m also grateful to have found a vast community online and on social media. My buddy Dave Ross, who has been a mentor in many ways, makes some pretty wild stereo photos and has been a great inspiration and source of guidance when I fall into a pit of despair about one of my cameras not working properly. I would encourage anyone interested in getting into stereo photography to start on film and see it through to your first mounted slide. You’ll learn a lot very fast. After that, see how you feel and build on it!
Matt Infante (New York City, USA)
I’m a photographer and filmmaker based in New York City and I have been taking stereo photos since 2018. My main role is working as a camera assistant on television and movies. Because of that, I love making images and experimenting with stereophotography has been very rewarding in that regard. The best feeling is sharing slides with someone and seeing their reaction of joy and wonder as they put their eyes to a viewer. I hope to continue to learn more and meet other talented stereographers along the way.
written for the stereosite by Pascal Martiné, Germany
When I started to take my first own stereo photos I soon realized that I can kind of adjust the amount of depth by shifting the camera more or less between the two shots. Like most of us it took me quite a while to develop the right feeling and reduce the amount of stereo pairs that were not really satisfying. But capturing landscapes was still a challenge when I first heard of so called hyper stereo photos. After my personal discovery of stereoscopy this opened a whole new world once more. During the summer of 2020 I had the long awaited opportunity to take stereo photos with a drone. But to tell you all about the magic of hyper stereos it’s best to start soon after the birth of stereoscopic photography.
While stereoscopic photography always had more technical requirements, including the camera as well as viewing devices, the viewing experience surpassed that of mono photography. This may not apply on portraits but does certainly on travel photography, where you could step right into the scene depicted in a stereo view.
But when it comes to wide and distant landscapes their flatness is an undeniable drawback for the stereoscopic effect when a stereo camera with lenses spaced at the same distance as human eyes is used. Watching the following slides through a Brewster stereoscope would offer a little more depth than free viewing them. Nevertheless, one can see that the lack of 3D is already quite boring compared to the two stereo slides shown above.
If you ever took your own stereo photos and referred to the distance of your eyes when shifting the camera between the two shots you may have encountered that all distant objects appear as one single flat background. The same effect explains why we cannot estimate the different distances of clouds when we look to the sky.
To understand why this is not possible we need to consult some theory. The ability of extracting depth information from our binocular vision is called Stereopsis. One of its conditions is related to the fact that our eyes have a certain distance to each other. Now, if we look at an object (F) both our eyes will immediately turn towards the object, leading to a vision of the object right in the center of both retinas, resulting in one single vision for both eyes (Fig. 1).
The vertical orange line represents the distance between us and the object. The horizontal orange line is called baseline in the context of stereoscopy, i.e. the distance between our eyes, or the distance between the two camera lenses.
One could assume that every object which is as far away from us as object F would cause such a single vision. But this is not true. If you would draw two rays from equal points on both retinas through the two lenses you would find out that their intersections rather create a circle. This circle is called Horopter (Fig. 2).
Note that this is only the theoretical horopter. There also exists an empirical horopter and a certain neuronal tolerance, summarized in the so called Panum’s fusional area. But we will now focus on stereopsis again.
If an object O (red) is closer than the horopter its vision will have different positions on each retina (Fig. 3). Those different positions on the retinas cause a double vision which enables our brain to sense the distances of objects. We also use additional techniques such as comparison of size, movement, etc. to enhance that sense, but we can ignore that for the discussion of stereopsis.
Let’s take a closer look at Fig. 3. For the right eye, the red object will hide point 3. This means that there will be no vision of point 3 on the retina of the right eye, i.e. it would not appear at all on the right image of a stereo photo. But this does not happen on the retina of the left eye. Moreover, it’s shifted even beyond the vision of point 4. If you would place an object behind the horopter you could easily find out that you would have the same result vice versa.
Unfortunately, the double vision method works only for close objects. Here’s why:
Fig. 4 shows what happens if you increase the distance between us or the camera and the object we are looking at (vertical orange line). The baseline and the distance between the horopter and the closer object are the same as in the previous figure. It’s just like you were stepping back to take a look from further away. As you can see, the left vision of the red object moves closer to the vision of point 3. Ultimately, this is what happens:
The former double vision of the red object transforms into a single vision. This means stereopsis is not possible anymore and we are thus not able to sense the different distances of the two objects — we are just too far away now.
This problem affects stereoscopic photography even more. If you want to take a photo of something that is just too large to fit entirely on your lens — like a building, a mountain, a landscape or a city panorama — the only way is to get farther away from the subject and loose the stereo effect. Furthermore, we sometimes wish to get closer to particular object but we can’t — like a ship on the sea, an animal or the clouds mentioned above.
Wait! Didn’t we conclude that it’s just impossible to sense depth in distant clouds? Yes, that’s true on one hand, but obviously clouds are also as three dimensional as a mountain. Luckily, we are not only able to bring back the depth, we are also able to make it visible in a way that we have never seen it before. That’s why the title of this article speaks of magic.
While magicians work with illusions or distractions we will actually not do anything more than revealing reality. That means making stereopsis possible for distant objects. In theory it’s quite simple to bring the double vision back. All you have to do is increase the baseline (Fig. 6).
If you want to examine the effects between distance and baseline on your own you can access this figure as an interactive GeoGebra file online here.
The effect might seem poor in the example above because the double vision on the last figure is far less than on the first. But as I said you will use that technique for large buildings rather than for a still life on a table. So, if you increase the distance to your subjects, their inner distances will grow likewise (while the distance between the red object and the horopter remained the same through all figures).
Historical hyper stereos
It’s time to leave theory behind to prove that the technique works. And how it works! When I looked through my collection of glass slides I can easily conclude that hyper stereoscopic photography is no new discovery, but was used for the same purpose as today as it was in the 19th century:
There are a few requirements to take satisfying hyper stereos such as an empty foreground, equal ground, and space to move sideways. This results in typical situations suitable to take hyper stereos:
Walk along the riverside
Walk over bridges
Look down from large buildings
Take photos while you’re in a moving vehicle, …
… a plane or watching a movie.
Don’t move at all, but let the scenery move.
In my experience, it does not matter if your baseline is a little too big — at least in most cases I don’t have time to calculate, or I just don’t know the distance between the camera and the subject. That’s why I always shoot a horizontal sequence of 4 to 7 photos, and choose the final stereo pair afterwards. If I take simultaneous stereo photos I leave one camera where it is and increase the distance to the other camera multiple times. That way I can choose the best pair afterwards as well. For more information about how to choose the baseline I recommend David Kuntz’s article Getting the Right Depth in 3D Photography.
Hyper stereos taken by a drone
A few years ago, a great possibility for stereoscopic pictures went rather unnoticed when drones became available for everyone at a moderate price level. Here are a few examples that I took together with Ihab Zaidan who flew the drone:
Castle Waldthausen, Mainz, Germany
Russian Orthodox Church, Wiesbaden, Germany
Flying high obviously enables you to have an empty foreground wherever you are, and lets you choose the perfect perspective. But one of the most important benefits is that the remote control allows you to move exactly sideways — no slope of a road, no accidental circular movement.
Of course, there are also drawbacks and limitations such as strong wind, flight restricted areas, and the battery of the drone. The conditions of sequential stereo photos also affect drone stereos – but since you are quite far away and can move rather quickly this is not a big problem. I would say it has never been easier to take satisfying hyper stereos than with a drone.
A series of more drone stereo photos can be found in the corresponding gallery Castles along the Rhine.
written for the stereosite by Vanessa Grein, Germany
Ready for a journey into deep space? Then why not create your own universe by drawing it?
Space and galaxies have always fascinated me and when I started painting some years ago I created several galaxies in the classical way — in 2D on canvas. But when the book Cosmic Clouds 3D by David Eicher and Brian May was released in 2020, I got the idea of converting my paintings into 3D by using a depthmap. And I realised that the result was far from satisfying. So I switched from canvas to digital artwork, which has the advantage of being easier to convert into a stereoscopic drawing than a traditional one.
But how can you create your own 3D universe? My deep space drawings were made on an iPad using Photoshop and Procreate, but basically any program which provides different layers will serve the purpose. The layers are the key to creating the 3D-effect.
After starting with a dark background, it is time to add the clouds. The easiest way to draw them is by using cloud or fog brushes that come with the program. But I recommend the use of different brushes to create a more realistic look. There are plenty of free presets for Procreate available, or you can just design your own brush. Be adventurous and mix different colours and shadows to achieve more variety.
It’s important to not draw all on one layer; rather, divide it onto at least two or three layers, which will be moved sideways at the end to create the stereoscopic effect. Once the nebula is finished you can put in some stars: Place them using different sizes and opacities on different layers. I use at least five or six layers because I have found that the more layers you can move, the more depth you get.
When you are happy with your drawing you can start the conversion into a stereoscopic drawing. Don’t forget to save the original one because this will be your left image. The right one is created by moving the layers some pixels to the right. The individual amount you should move the various layers depends very much on the subjects and the effect you want to achieve.
Once you have moved everything you can save the right image. Place left and right image side by side onto a new layer, or just use the StereoPhoto Maker or the i3DSteroid App which works perfectly on an iPad. I prefer the app because you I can easily check if the 3D effect is good enough or if I have to change something. I am lucky that I can freeview stereoscopic images (parallel only), but of course you can use a stereo viewer as well.
The advantage of SPM or the iD3stereoid app is that you can easily save the image for parallel and cross view. But I discovered that sometimes the same stereopair looks satisfying with both viewing methods. These are the final results.
There is not one right way of doing it, especially because my galaxies are artistic images and not photographs. Sometimes it is just trial & error until I´m satisfied with the result. And sometime I just delete it and start a new one.
Start your own space journey and always remember: There is no boundary in art. Enjoy the process of creating something new!
Want to see more? The space shuttle is waiting for you to take you to another Journey Into Deep Space!
Vanessa Grein (Aachen, Germany)
I am Vanessa Grein and I work as a spokeswoman in Aachen, Germany. My stereo journey started about five years ago but my photos had never seen the light of day until last year. Encouraged by Dr. Brian May, I shared them on Instagram and experienced a lovely warm welcome by the stereo community. Many of the photographers have their signature styles and I was looking for something new. After experimenting a lot I decided to combine my two passions — painting and stereoscopy — and came up with deep space drawings. But it might be just the beginning of a new adventure.