Introduction: DIY Stero Card / Steroscopic Slides (3-D Photos!)

Nota Bene: This Instructable will lead you through the process of making 3-D photos for free (no extra equipment needed outside of some kind of camera, even your phone camera will do), as well as a few processes for editing and printing them for use with a Stereoscope. You can still use this 'ible even if you do not have a stereoscope for making 3-D photos. In addition, I will share tips for novice photographers and intermediate skilled photographers for composing these images. Finally, I will even GIVE YOU, for freesies, a few of the images I've taken that you can print out and use as a test and then enjoy forever. What is on the table here are modern Stero Cards though. I will not cover how to antique photos or make Sterocards that look like they belong to the 1850s. Let's make some memories of today that will antique themselves soon enough!


One of many of my fond memories of my grandmother centered around the stereoscope. I would sit in her lap and look at 3-D images from before the age of cinema of the cavernous terrain in Bali, trains in Brooklyn, tourists driving through redwood trees, recreations of the stories from the Bible, and even series of practical jokes. You can travel around the world with these things, which may not mean a lot in the age of the internet, but you could do it *lowers voice to a whisper* in 3-d!

While I have become something of a collector since my grandmother passed, and I inherited one of the two stereoscopes she had, I always wanted to create my own. My research into this process initially led me to believe that you need a lot of specialized equipment to capture these photos. That simply is not the case. With one camera, some practice, and a little time dedicated to properly aligning and cropping the photos, you can create picture-perfect stereo cards. Don't believe me? Skip ahead to the last step and print those puppies out as 5 x 7s (13 x 18cm) and see for yourself.

While I used a Canon T2i DSLR, I have also created these with my iPod touch 5.

A quick "how does it work?" You normally see in 3-D because your brain combines the images each of your two eyes capture to form one image. Your left eye sees things as positioned slightly to the left of where your right eye sees them by a certain distance, usually about 5-7cm. See pic above. The cookie fiend sees the cookie in 3-D because each eye is seeing the cookie from slightly different angles, and the brain interprets the two inputs as 3-D.

These cards mimic that by presenting two images, one slightly to the left of the other to its right and both pointed at the same thing. The stereoscope crosses the two images, as though you were crossing your eyes, and presents to your brain the same sort of stereo view it uses your eyes to see in the real world.

While it's a blast to look at old stereo cards, it's so fun to make our own as well.


First in this 'ible, I cover the basic technique. Then, I delve into basic composition. Third, I go into how to edit the photos so they are not hazy or nauseous. Then I'll discuss how to print these puppies. After that I'll give a few more in-depth composition tricks that I've learned for intermediate photographers, and finally, I'll finish off with some sweet free samples I've taken with my compliments.

Step 1: Basic Technique

Around Halloween this past year, KEH Camera Blog posted instructions for taking 3-D photos by shifting your weight from one side to another. I tried it out and was not impressed. But I saw potential. At first I thought it must take a really steady hand, but now I know that the problem is lining everything up perfectly, which is much easier to do in editing software than it is to do while snapping photos.

That is to say that you cannot skip the next step and expect decent results. Steps one, two, and three are all necessary whether you use a Stereoscope, print the images or not.

Basic Technique (See photo):

Stand in front of your subject.

Shift your weight to your left foot. Take a picture.

Keeping the center of the photo in the center, not panning, tilting, or changing the focus, shift your weight to your right foot. Take a picture.

Now you have two images that you can combine. It works for some people to cross their eyes on the combined photos and boom, 3-D!

But usually this will not work as the images need some editing to be perfectly aligned.

Step 2: Basic Composition

Now that you know the how, let's cover the what.

As any landscape photographer worth their salt knows, you typically want to have something in the foreground that indicates scale and something impressive worth looking at in the background.

However, you don't want something right up against your face. If something is too close to you, it will blur in the 3-D effect unless you are really careful. If something is too far away and not a particularly dramatic shape, it will seem flat and uninteresting in 3-D, even if it is breathtaking in 2-D.

So something like Mount Fuji with a cherry blossom branch reaching over the left side of the photo, a stream running over rocks disappearing near the horizon point leading up to the peak, obeying the golden ratio and law of thirds might win you a photo-contest in 2-D land, but it's a sorry excuse for a 3-D photo. Back up. Get most of the Cherry blossom in the photo, and something else, maybe a very slow moving cart, to give your 3-D photo a sense of scale.

This is where you'll have to ditch a few rules you've learned if you've learned them. So clutter is okay, not too close, and subjects with depth and shape are more interesting than subjects that typically spark enthusiasm. Looking at the old cards, some of the photos that seem to have the worst sense of composition in 2-D, shine in 3-D.

So in the case of Ms. Squirrel in the pic above, (and overlooking the fact that the focus is sharp on the nose rather than the eyes), this would not make a good 3-D photo. Even if the live subject cooperated, which sometimes squirrels will, especially if you are respectful and have sunflower seeds on you, the depth of field is shallow, the subject is positioned on an object that is quickly obscured off frame, and there isn't a lot going on in 3-D land. There is a squirrel head and that is about it.

However, take the second photo as an example of one that doesn't look great in 2-D, but would shine in 3-D. Lido-Girl is hard to see, and the photo doesn't pay much attention to lines or thirds in 2-D land. But for 3-D, we have several layers, and a great demonstration of thirds, depth-wise! We have the bridge support near us, plants and Lido, and the bridge itself leading back somewhere. In 3-D too, contrast is less of an issue as Lido's head will pop free from the bridge. Of course, to capture a moving subject, you'd have to be Flash Gordon or else have a two cam set up, which is a project for a different day.

Experiment, play around, but first, learn from my mistakes. So:

* No mise-en-scene or objects eking onto the photo directly from the side.

* Use a long depth of field (or hyperfocal focus if you know how to do that). When using an SLR or DSLR, bump that aperture number up to 16 or even 22 (closing it down). Put a longer distance between you and what you are shooting (what some people call the "subject") than you might be used to for maximum sense of depth.

* Remember to keep the center centered. So if your focus is not in the center, keep an eye out for what is in the center and keep the center there.

You'll notice in the cards I give you on the last step that I broke many of these rules because the only real rules in life are be safe, don't hurt anyone, and have fun!

Step 3: Editing the Photos

This step may seem involved, but it's not that hard. Also, you can typically skip this step if you use a tripod and distance the two shots the same as you would in step one.

There are two basic steps to editing these photos so that they will look perfect. First, you have to align the photos, then you must crop them. Any photo-editing software that allows these two steps will work. I'll use Photoshop 6 because A) I'm poor/cheep and haven't upgraded and B) Anything you can do in PS6 you can do in a number of freeware programs like Gimp.

Remember that if you "fix" anything in one photo, it will need to be treated the same way in the other photo.

The first thing I like to do is to rename the files. So if I have 20 photos on my card, numbered 0001-0020, I'll rename them 01L, 01R, 02L,02R on up to 10L and 10R. Then I'll make a new file with a canvas size larger than twice the width of one photo, and with enough length to give me some wiggle room. I'll name this one simply the number of both photos, so 01L and 01R are imported to the new 01 file. Now if I make any global changes (levels, contrast, etc.) I can easily apply them to both layers at once. Now I'm ready to align.

Alignment: Find an object in the photo and orient both photos to follow that line. It's that simple. Often I'll put one photo on top of the other and reduce the top photo's opacity, and then line up the subject from one side using free transform. Remember, it's never going to line up perfectly. Otherwise, it wouldn't be 3-D. So don't sweat the alignment or cropping so much that you are left without a photo.

Cropping: Start from the center of focus and crop a square. Easy. Once the two photos are aligned and cropped as squares, place the right and left sides beside each other.

Now we talk dimensions. The classic stereoscopic card is just shy of 7" x 3 1/2" (or 17.7cm x 8.8cm to be specific) though there is wiggle room. Many companies and printing houses made these cards. 7 x 3 1/2 works fine. The photos themselves are square (though sometimes the corners are artistically vignetted). Some of the publishers made them 2 3/4" (73mm) square, and some made them 3" (7.6cm) square. I make mine 3". Some companies put a slight space between the two photos, but most do not. The ones that do not seem better when viewed through the stereoscope.

To crop the two images at the same spot, assuming you followed the rules for basic composition, position the photos side-by-side, select the rectangular marquee tool, go to the top left corner of one photo, hold shift, and make a square the size you like, usually the entire length or width of that photo (depending on whether you shot portrait or landscape). Note the pixel dimensions in the info box. Don't worry about the measurements yet.

Once you have the square the size you want, hold down shift again on the same corner of the other photo. Make a square of the same dimensions.

Using the move tool, move the marquee boxes where you want them to go. Invert the selection (cntrl+shift+i in Photoshop). Select the layer with one of the photos, hit delete, then select the layer with the other photo and hit delete. Now you are left with the two squares.

Put them right up against one another, the left on the left, the right on the right.

Crop to just the two photos side-by-side. Size down the image so that the width is the closest multiple of six. If your image is currently 144" (as Canon's crop sensors at 18mp, Large or Raw will give you with two images side by side) then you are golden at 6 x 24. If you are at 72 inches, then drop it down to 70, or 6 x 12.

So we have to make some choices here that depend on how you'd like to print and mount these, which is the next step. But if you want a card you can print whole and mount on card-stock, divide the multiple of six (24 and 12 in the example above) and increase canvas width size by this amount (so 24/6=4" or 12/6=2") with the image remaining centered. Increase canvas length by half the amount of the increased width (2" or 1" from above). Create a background layer and fill. Print at 5x7 at your nearest photo printer place (even Target is okay) in landscape mode. The width should be perfect, printing at 7" with 6" of photo, but you'll have to trim the top and bottom. Alternatives in next step.

Step 4: How to Print and Mount

From the previous step where I said you have some choices to make, you could follow those instructions for a quick stereo card, or you could do some other things instead.

But first you have to decide how you want to mount these. You can print out two separate photos and mount them side-by-side on card-stock, you can print them already side-by-side without a border, to frame on the card-stock, or you could design them to be printed, cut out and done, with the borders and info right on it.

1) One advantage to printing the two photos separately is that you can print more cheaply, usually, and still have at least 3 x 3 photos.This method creates a rather crafty and personalized feel, and it has a few advantages of its own. What's more, you can actually print taller photos. The photos of the Ginkgo trees in the park with the fountain you see in the cover pic is made from two 5 x 3.5" prints set next to one another. Wider than 7 inches won't fit in most Stereoscopes, so two 3.5s next to each other is perfect. Longer than 5" isn't easily viewable using the stereoscope, but 5" stretches just to the limit.

Other than the fact that you have to be more careful while mounting, the drawback to this method is that, if you have a collection of cards, these larger cards will not fit with the rest, however, the result of long portrait pics can be quite breathtaking. But longer cards or no, yes, the drawback to this method is that you have to be very exact while mounting them to make sure they line up as perfectly as possible.

2) A few advantages to designing your cards borders and all in the photo-editing software is that it looks pretty smooth and you don't have to fiddle with the alignment of the photos on the card-stock. Just trim off the excess of, say, a 5 x 7 printed as a landscape, and mount to card-stock. This option is also the most potentially expensive, depending on your set-up.

While it does have a very clean look, it tends to look too clean to me, corporate rather than intimate and homemade. If corporate stereo cards are what you are going for though, hey, don't let me stop you.

3) The finial option I've tried (there are many options, I'm sure) is to print both photos side-by-side without a boarder, trying to fit as many pairs into a print as possible. So using photo-editing software, combine at many of the 3x3s into your printed area as will fit. So in a 10 x 12 you could fit four rows of three columns, two pairs per row.

I recommend trying each way. If you have a photo-printer at home (lucky duck) you'll only be limited by your available print sizes, ink, paper, etc.

(Non-American friends should skip this paragraph) If, like me, you have to queue at Target or some such place, Kodak's machine prints 3.5 x 5" for a quarter a pop, 5 x 7" for $1.50, and 6 x 6 for $1.49. So the first option is the cheapest, rendering one card for 50 cents (each print offers enough room for one 3 x 3, so combining two is 50 cents), even if it takes some craft sweat-equity. The Second option can be done on a 5 x 7 as mentioned above, or two can be done on a 8 x 10, etc. The third option can be done on a 6 x 6, printing two pairs, one on top of the other, making each finished card cost about 75 cents to print.

If you decide to get children in on this action, I recommend the third option as it needs some craft, but is still likely to result in something magical.

The only other note about printing is that if you have the chance to print in matte, do it.


Anywho, mounting them is easy once you've decided how you'll do it. Simply make a 3.5 x 7" template with a centered (vertically and horizontally) 3 x 6" cutout. I provided a template template that you could print, cut and put over some stiff board to print and cut your actual template. Use the outside of the template to cut out card stock or cereal boxes, or any kind of heavy cardboard (acid-free card stock if you want these to last) and mount them using acid-free double-sided tape or photo adhesives. If you have two prints, you can place one directly over the other while trimming off the unneeded parts of the print if necessary.

Once mounted, you can write a note (do this while editing if you are printing out the whole card) on one side identifying the photo or captioning it, etc. Avoid letting the text go to both halves of the slide as the text will then confuse the eye when the slide is viewed through the stereoscope.

Free tip: I cut a 7 x 3.5" plate of Plexiglas and use a binder-clip to preview the pairs to make sure 1) they are worth mounting, and 2) I have the left on the left and the right on the right. I used Plexi because I had it sitting around.

Step 5: Composition Tricks for Photographers

Part of the thrill of this project is that anyone can do it with the most basic equipment. But you can get more from better equipment. Even the most basic SLR/lens setup can give you great results that will make people say, "wow, Alan, you're a genius, aren't you?" assuming your name is Alan.

Couple of thoughts. First, 3-D does not really make group photos look good (but then what does?).

Using this principle, consider shooting with plenty of clutter. Those good, clean lines we've been raised to praise from all our heroes from Ansel Adams to Henri Cartier-Bresson, bend in 3-D. So whether you are shooting landscapes or nudes, what I've found leads me to believe that the secret is to think less like a painter and more like a sculptor.

If you are shooting portrait, think Mapplethorpe or Mann, heck, think Rodin. Say you want to offer this as part of a wedding package (which would be awesome by the way if the couple owns a stereoscope) don't pose them from afar against a barn in the morning light. Well, keep the light, but see if you can get a hay-bail, the tractor, and pose the couple dancing or something, something with depth that normally doesn't make it through in 2-D.

On that note, working with live subjects of the non-plant variety poses a few challenges when using this method. If your model is a belly-dancer, for example, you have to make sure s/he holds her or his breath between shots. Make sure models' eyes don't follow you but stay fixed on something else. If you are shooting a street corner, you can use long exposure to erase traffic, but remember that this method makes tripods a bit tricky to use. Consider how you'll compensate. A homemade slider or bracket for two cams could work, but that's another 'ible for another day.

I've found working with animals to actually be less hard than people or children (yes, I typed "or"). Prey animals will freeze if they think you might be spotting them, allowing you a precious few seconds to snap, rock, snap. Domestic animals have their moments when they are trying to figure out what you want when you can find your window.

Pre-storm conditions, when lighting changes rapidly require a quick eye and quick foot.

Sense a theme?

And always remember that you are shooting squares, so the golden ratio could use a strong line to start it off, rather than the edge of the photo. And, yeah, the golden ratio has to account for 3 dimensions. You think that's tough, wait until someone comes up with an easy way to do this in video and we're all shooting in 4-D with time as a factor. Woof! (Shortly after I published this I'ble, I found out that this is a thing. We're living the future.)

I guess, what I really want to say here is don't be afraid to experiment. And knowing the photographers for the roudy group we are, anytime I mentioned technique or rules in this I'ble, you've taken a mental note to prove me wrong. Please do and post what you find.

One more note: some of the most mundane 2-D photos are fantastic in 3-D so this is a great thing to shoot once you lose your light and/or you aren't feeling particularly inspired.

Step 6: Free Samples

I hope you enjoyed this I'ble. This method is addictive, you've been warned, and I feel it has uses from kids' groups (like the scouts or 4-H) to professional photographers. I hope you enjoy, and please share what you come up with!

As for the samples here, please enjoy them. The first six are the standard 7 x 3.5. I have released them for non-commercial use, as it says on the pics themselves, but if the printers give you any hassle, feel free to direct them to this page. I am Alan Blair, and I give anyone full permission to print these photos for non-commercial use (that is, they aren't planning on selling them, because I want them to be free for anyone).

The last pic has the same permission, but I've maximized it so you can see how a straight up 5 x 7 looks in your stereoscope.

Click on the photo, and once it loads, click on "original," save, and go to your place of printing to print. Print all pics 5x7 on landscape. Then cut out the white area on top with the text on it.

Enjoy and please remember to share any techniques or helpful hints you learn along the way in the comments section.

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