A Plea for Analog Stereo Photography

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. 

Light­board set­up with a film cut­ter, stereo pairs and a plas­tic mount
Film chips inside an RBT real­ist mount held in with plas­tic pin bars
Fin­ished 35mm Slides

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. 

Plas­tic Ray­dex view­er with a dual LED clip light
35mm Real­ist Red But­ton Viewer
3D World Medi­um For­mat Viewer
3D World Mod­i­fied LED front panel

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. 

Stereo TDC Vivid and TDC Col­orist II
Cus­tom built Yashica‑D Twin Rig
ISO Super Duplex 120
3D World TL-120 Medi­um For­mat camera

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.

Insta­gram-pro­file: stereo.matt
Web­site: www.stereomatt.wixsite.com