3D Stereoscopic Photography

About: My name is Jason Poel Smith. In my free time, I am an Inventor, Maker, Hacker, Tinker, and all around Mad Genius

3D photography or stereoscopic photography is the art of capturing and displaying two slightly offset photographs to create three dimensional images.

The 3D effect works because of a principle called stereopsis. Each eye is in a different location, and as a result, it sees a slightly different image. The difference between these images is what lets us perceive depth. This effect can be replicated with photography by taking two pictures of the subject that are offset by the same distance as your pupils (about 2.5 inches or 63 mm). The two images are then viewed so that each eye sees only the corresponding picture. Your brain puts the two images together just as it does for normal vision and you perceive a single three dimensional image.

This project will give you a brief introduction to the methods for taking and viewing 3D photographs.

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Step 1: How to Take Stereoscopic 3D Pictures

Taking stereoscopic pictures is simple. All you need is a camera and a tripod. Set up your camera and tripod on a level surface. Compose your shot with the main subject in the center and take a picture. Then slide the tripod 2.5 inches (about 63 mm) to either the right or the left. If necessary adjust the direction of your camera so that the subject is again in center of the shot. This should only be necessary for close up shots. Then take a second picture from the new position.

This method works great for subjects that are still. But if you want to capture 3D images of moving objects, then you will need some additional hardware. If you have two cameras, then you can construct a simple two camera rig that mounts onto your tripod. In this kind of setup, the cameras are mounted 2.5 inches apart from center to center. To see a good example, check out this rig by user ciscu92. Then when taking the picture, you need to activate both cameras at the same time.

If you don't have two cameras, you can construct a mirror splitter like this one by user courtervideo. This rig uses mirrors to split the image and space each part at the appropriate distance. This lets you capture both views with a single camera.

Step 2: Methods for Display and View 3D Images

There are many different ways to display and view a stereoscopic 3D image. Here are some of the most common forms.

3D viewing systems with glasses: These systems superimpose the right and left views on the screen. The observer wears glasses that filter the image so that each eye sees only the appropriate view.

Color filtering glasses: The picture is displayed in two colors (one for each view). These glasses use a colored gels to selectively filter out the opposite color image. The most common colors used are Red/Cyan, Green/Magenta, and Blue/Yellow

Polarized glasses: Polarized systems use two sets of polarized light filters. The picture is projected through one pair of polarized filters. The right and left view have opposite polarity. The viewer wears glasses with another pair of polarized filters. Each filter lets the image with matching polarity pass through but blocks the opposite polarity. This system has an advantage over colored filter systems in that it is able to display full color pictures. The disadvantage of this system is that it either requires two projectors (like you see in movie theaters) or your resolution is limited (such as in interleaved television displays).

Active shutter 3D glasses: These systems switch the display between the right and left views every other frame. The glasses are wirelessly synced to the display and use LCD's in each lens to black out the appropriate eye at the appropriate time. This requires the displays to run at 48 frames per second instead of 24. These systems give a superior picture quality but cost substantially more than other systems.

3D viewing systems without glasses

Wiggle 3D: The picture is rapidly switched between the left and right views about every 0.10 seconds. This approximates a 3D effect without glasses. However, many people find it disorienting to view these images and the rate of frame switching makes it impractical for viewing moving images.

Mirror Split: This system uses one or two mirrors to virtually overlap the images. One of the views is often mirrored horizontally.

Parallel: The two views are displayed side by side. The easiest way to view these pictures is with a tool called a stereoscope. I will discuss this in more detail in later steps.

Cross-eyed: The two views are place side by side like with the parallel viewing system. However, in this system the right view is placed on the left side and the left view is placed on the right side. They are viewed by the observer crossing their eyes to look at the appropriate image. I will discuss this in more detail in later steps.

Step 3: How to View Cross-eyed 3D Images

The simplest method of displaying and viewing 3D images is the cross-eyed method. This is the only method that doesn't require any additional viewing tools. To display these images, the two pictures are positioned side by side with the right view on the left side and the left view on the right side. Occasionally, a small dot is added above each picture to mark the center point.

To view these images, place the pictures centered in front of you. Then gradually cross your eyes so that the pictures appear to overlap. Eventually you will see three images. Try to bring the center image into focus. When in focus, this center image will appear to be in 3D. This is techniques is also used to view many Magic Eye puzzles.

Unfortunately many people find the cross-eyed viewing method uncomfortable to maintain for more than a few seconds. If you experience this problem, you may wish to use the parallel viewing method detailed in the next step.

Step 4: How to View Parallel 3D Images With a Stereoscope

Parallel 3D images are typically viewed using a tool called a stereoscope. This device uses lenses to help the observer to focus one eye on each picture. There are many different styles of stereoscopes. You are probably most familiar with the View-Master that is produced by Fisher-Price. Older styles such as the Brewster stereoscope and the Holmes stereoscopes can still be found in many antique stores. The viewing cards (called stereographs) can also be found at some antique stores or you can make your own. Just print off a pair of stereoscopic pictures so that each image is about 2.5-3 inches in width (depending on the style of stereoscope).

These viewers are quite simple to operate. You just place the picture card in the picture holder and look through the viewing lenses. Some models let you adjust the position of the picture to be more adaptable to different users.  

Step 5: How to Make Your Own Simple Stereoscope

To make a simple stereoscope, all you need is a pair of reading glasses and a small machine screw (at least 1/2 inch long). When choosing a pair of reading glasses, there are two traits that you want to look for. It needs to have a high magnifying power (preferably 3.0 to 3.5), and it needs to have temples (the bar on the side of your face) that are wide enough to fit a machine screw through them.

Start by cutting the glasses in half at the middle of the bridge. Then use a file or grinder to round off the cut edges. Next, cut each temple about 1/2" past the hinge. Again round off the cut ends. Drill a hole in the centers of the remaining temple pieces that is just large enough to tightly fit the machine screw. Position the two eye pieces so that the temples are about 1/2 inch apart. Then screw the machine screw through one temple and into the second temple. Now you have a simple pocket sized stereoscope.

To use your new stereoscope, hold it up to your face with the temples and bolt sticking out on the side that is nearest to your face. Position it so that the lenses are about two inches away from your eyes. Then hold the stereograph card about 12 inches away from your face. You will probably need to make adjustments to make it is easier to view based on your eyes and the lenses that you are working with. Play around with the spacing between your eyes, the lenses and the card. You can also adjust the spacing between the two lenses. I have found that the temples can be spaced anywhere from 1/4" apart to 1" apart and it still works. The spacing that you use will depend how what you find more comfortable. 

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    20 Discussions


    2 months ago

    Thank you for the insights!! Can you mention some other unique genres of photography to create trippy/psychedelic images. Thanks in advance!


    12 months ago

    This is a simple and elegant solution for a quick and cheap viewer. I see that several people are having difficulty, and are hung up on only one variable -- the lens diopter. Your ability to see in 3D depends on several factors, including the interocular distance (the distance between your pupils); the focal length of the lens (in this case, diopters of 3 or 3.5); the distance between the lens of your eye and the image (through the lens); and the ability to tolerate some visual ambiguity.

    What might help first is to close one eye and look through the lens at the stereo image. Move the card forward and back until the image is in sharp focus; then open both eyes.

    If you still have trouble resolving the 3D, you might cut a piece of cardboard that is the length of the distance where you have the best focus and hold it between the bridge of your nose and the center of the two images. You might also practice free vision stereo without the lenses by simply looking at the card until you can resolve the image so that you get a feel for the 3D version.


    1 year ago

    I recently saw a video on how the iPhone 8 uses 2 side-by-side cameras to work out the depth of the photo and then use that data to selectively blur certain parts of the image to fake a shallow depth of field. Is there any way I can use two offset photos to create a depth map so that I can blur the background more?


    2 years ago

    Please help me out.

    Which lens power should we use to a Stereoscope FOR THE DISTANCE 30-40CM?

    How many Diopters? Please answer me.


    4 replies

    "It needs to have a high magnifying power (preferably 3.0 to 3.5)"

    anw, which diopters did you use in the guide???

    No, I cant! With the lens of some VR glasses I have, they just work for the mobile screen, and the distance just 8-10cm.

    I cant see anything with this lens for SBS Picture on the Laptop screen.

    So I ask you for the diopters of the lens which can work with far distance and large pictures.


    2 years ago


    A simple way to create stereo pairs is by use of the method cha-cha. You can find a very user-friendly app ChaCha3D for that on Google Play.

    Hope this is useful


    4 years ago on Step 5

    I tried making this and it didn't work. Do you know what could be wrong? Reading glasses power is 3.5+

    1 reply

    5 years ago on Introduction

    I like rendering 3D images with Carrara Studio. How would I go about with the camera settings to make stereoscopic images? About how many degrees of rotation around the center of the scene would be needed to make images I could use for cross-eyed veiwing?

    1 reply

    Different angles will make different kinds of images. The greater the angle, the more the 3D effect will be exaggerated. As a guide, human eyes are about 5.5cm apart. So the angle would be 2 x arcsine(2.75/(the distance to the object)).

    Or you can just try out different values until you get one that you like.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you! do you have any tips for how I can make my own stereoscopic images for a viewfinder reel? Do you have any measurements or tips?

    1 reply

    If you are talking about a View Master style reel, you can find some instructions online. They used to sell kits, but they are pretty expensive to buy now.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you SO much! There was a 3-D camera set-up that I saw at the Exploratorium in San Francisco many years ago, & I've always thot about doing it myself. This is a nicely done instructable - can't wait to try it.

    Great article, and genius using reading glasses for viewers! I've searched for years for a cheap alternative to stereo viewers, and now with this article, I can stock up at Dollar Tree and be able to use these in my workshops! Thanks ;-)


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Pictures do not have to be shot 2.5" apart (the baseline). If it is more, objects will appear smaller but closer, with a more obvious 3D effect. For macro shots, it should be less. There should never be anything in the picture closer than 5X the baseline, and nothing that is in one picture but not the other. You can take 3D pics of clouds from a plane by taking a picture, waiting a second, and taking another. Don't get the wing in the shot.