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What Is 3D Photography?

L.S. Ware
L.S. Ware

Three-dimensional (3D) photography, or stereoscopic photography, is a method of taking photos that presents the images to the human eyes individually, mimicking what the brain does as it compiles imagery from the left and right eyes to interpret depth. There are multiple ways to capture the desired images, different ways to view the images, and a myriad of software available to enhance, process, or display the images. Three-dimensional (3D) photography can be accomplished with a single camera of any variety or with a dual-camera setup and with little to no specialized training.

Action shots are virtually impossible utilizing a single camera for 3D photography. Stationary 3D images can be created, however, by taking one exposure immediately after another with a single lens camera. Utilization of two lenses, whether accomplished with two cameras or a customized dual lens camera, is preferred so that the images can be taken as simultaneously as possible. Two cameras, ideally held together in a chassis, allow for 3D photography of moving scenes. The effect of the images can be enhanced by taking one of the pictures at a different distance or by using a downward angle.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

There are a number of ways to view the images created by 3D photography. Sir David Brewster developed the first stereoscopic viewer in 1849 and displayed it at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London. Viewers and various methods of presenting stereoscopic images have evolved since then and have expanded to include digital projection and viewing on a computer screen.

The images can be presented side by side, overlapping, or alternating and are viewed with a binocular style viewer, specialized glasses, or the naked eye. The two most common naked eye viewing methods of 3D photography are cross-eyed and parallel. Other naked eye methods include lenticular and wobble, which is also referred to as wiggle. Binocular viewers allow for the display of images in stereoscopic pairs and can be found in a variety of designs.

One of the most commonly known methods of viewing 3D photography is via the use of anaglyphs. Anaglyph images are composed of two identical images presented in overlapping, or superimposed, red and blue color schemes. These images are viewed using glasses designed to converge the two color schemes to create the 3D impression. Polarization and digital projection are additional viewing methods that require specialized glasses. Viewing 3D imagery on a computer screen can be done utilizing a number of the above mentioned methods, including naked eye, anaglyphic, and polarization.

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