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Stereo 3D Photography Made REALLY Simple…

Filed under: General — Charlie Summers @ 1:43 pm

First there was the 3D “Hannah Montana” concert…then the excitement over the Super Bowl commercials and following episode of Chuck…and now Bolt and Coraline and the Jonas Brothers Concert in theaters. 3D seems to be the “next big thing,” particularly by those who forget that 3D viewing is as old as photography. And so there’s no confusion, maybe animators appropriated the term “3D” for fleshed-out wire renderings which are rendered in 2D, but to old guys like me, 3D means Creatures from the Black Lagoon-style two-eyes-are-better-than-one viewing.

There are many good histories of 3D, or stereo photography, elsewhere on the Net…what I wanted to do was look at a few different systems, and see how difficult it would be to actually take a stereo photograph.

Short answer…not very. Seriously, anyone can do it. Yes, that includes you. Read on, then consider trying it out yourself.

I started off intentionally handicapping myself. I used my daughter’s Che-ez! Foxz camera, purchased for $23 back in 2006…we bought it for her so she could take pics when she wanted to, without us having to worry about her breaking a “real” digital camera. (Go figure…I’ve broken mine, hers is still working.) It’s a 1.3MP camera (less than in some cell phones), does have a flash, fixed lens, 2x digital zoom. It was well worth the $22.99, and some of the photos this camera has taken over the years are priceless (if you want to see the world through a child’s eyes, to see what is and is not important to their view of the universe, give’em a camera and then pay attention to the result), but no one could mistake it for a high-end machine, if you know what I mean. (More, including the stereo 3D photographs I took, after the jump.)

The subject of the stereo photography was the model of Jack Bauer I received for Christmas last year. He’s in high-action mode, yet I was pretty sure he wouldn’t move while I was screwing around trying to figure out how to do this.

My sophisticated 3D equipment was composed of a small cardboard box to lift the camera off the porch a bit, and a yardstick to measure distances. Turns out I really didn’t need that too much anyway. Total time to take three sets of stereo photographs (and one single where the flash went off out in the sun and completely whited-out), maybe five minutes, including the time to switch boxes because the first was too tall.

Stereo photos should always be taken at a distance between shots approximating the distance between your eyes…rough it out at seven cm, although the “professionals” have huge tables to determine the distance between images based on distance, focal point, and probably phases of the moon. Since this is an experiment with a cheezy camera (pun intended), I didn’t sweat it…but I could see in the viewfinder that the roughly three inches was not going to work so well considering I was on top of the model (I did take one pair at a little under three inches, and…er…wow, talk about headache-inducing hyper-stereo!), so I ended up guessing at about an inch between photos for the ones we’ll look at for this article. Even at that small movement, there’s a little hyper-stereo going on here, but not so much it should cause a big viewing problem.

One more thing…yes, I know a good stereo photograph should be perfectly in-focus from front to back…and these aren’t. Jack is a little fuzzy, primarily because of the cheap fixed-length camera. So try not to stare at the photos for hours, since you’re likely to end up with a headache. Should be ok for checking them out, though…lord knows I get cluster and eye-strain headaches routinely, and these haven’t bothered me a lot while working on them, so I think you’ll be ok.

To make stereo photographs out of the two exposures, the first thing to do is download some software. Turns out there is an amazing piece of software out there for Windows computers, completely free, to stitch together your images. I went to Muttyan’s Home Page, worked my way to the StereoPhoto Maker english homepage, from where I downloaded the software complete with help file. That software was used to create almost every image you’ll see here (a proprietary demo package was used to create the ColorCode image below, more on that in a bit), and helped me easily align the photographs. (I used the top-left corner of the doorframe as the reference-point for the software, and on the second click the images were instantly aligned.)

Ok, enough talking, let’s get to the images. I’m going to reduce the photos to 400×300 for the next two, then 600×450 for most of the others.

For normal, full-color, dual-photo stereo images, there are two ways to view the pics unassisted; drift and cross. You need to do funky things to your eyes; the next photo is set up for the “drift” method, so what you want to do is look past your monitor…as if you were looking into the next room…allow your eyes to drift apart, until you see three images instead of two. Now concentrate on that middle image, and change your focus until the image becomes crystal-clear. Suddenly, you’ll see depth!

Yeah, I can’t do it, either. Lord knows I’ve tried, and I just can’t get my eyes to drift apart (unless I’m daydreaming), while other people swear by this method. But I can do the cross - it’s exactly what you think it is. The next photo is set up for it with the left and right images reversed…just cross your eyes (if you need help, put your finger close to the middle of the screen, slowly bring it toward your face keeping it in focus until you see three images behind it, then move it out of the way without changing your eyes), concentrate to focus your eyes on the middle image, and *poof* - depth!

Both of these images are renamed JPS files, so feel free to download them to your own computer if you want to see the additional information available. Anyway, enough with making our eyes go all kattywampus. Let’s break out the 3D glasses and view some “normal” images. This one is a black-and-white image with red/cyan color pairs (red is over your left eye, cyan over your right); your old “Hannah Montana” glasses should work just perfectly for this image:

See, without having to worry about the color information, each eye sees a monchrome image (one red, one blue), and the brain has no problem putting it together. This is why The Creature from the Black Lagoon was so cool-looking.

Oh, just in case you have red/blue glasses instead of the more common red/cyan, here’s an image you should be able to see a bit better:

If all you have is red/green, I’m afraid you’re out-of-luck. Also, we’re going to stick to red/cyan from now on for the standard images, since I’m too lazy to keep building stereo photos (no matter how simple the software makes it).

Of course, this is a color image, so we need to attempt to add a little color back to it…and this has been tried countless ways over the years with varying levels of success. Here’s a standard red/cyan image with color re-applied:

Note Jack’s jeans look better, and the door looks a bit more brown, but there isn’t a lot we can do while trying to view the world through rose (and blue)-colored glasses. Let’s try a system called “half-color,” which attempts to eliminate the ‘retinal rivalry’ on bright objects (er, don’t ask me, I’m still a newbie to all of this):

Na, I don’t see much difference, either - but then, there isn’t anything terribly bright in this photo-pair, and if that’s the point of half-color, it wouldn’t help much here.

There’s one more color mode in Stereo Photo Maker, called Dubois; the help file says, “The Dubois anaglyph method changes problem colors to colors that do not produce ghosting.” It also says, “You cannot simultaneously have color fidelity and very low ghosting,” though, which implies the colors will change. Ah, let’s try it:

Wow…in my personal opinion, this is the best of the lot; the colors of the door and frame look right, the jeans are the right blue, and even the stone looks ok. This is pretty impressive, given a stock pair of red/cyan glasses.

There’s a relatively new propriatary stereo system out there, and right now it’s making a lot of waves. It’s the ColorCode system, recently used for Super Bowl commercials and afterwards an episode of Chuck. A bazillion glasses were paid for by Intel and distributed by Sobe, so naturally I couldn’t find even one pair in my area; had to request them from the Swedish company itself. I also downloaded a demo version of their software to create the following image - if you didn’t “Chuck” your Super Bowl glasses (oh, c’mon, you knew I couldn’t resist the pun), get ‘em out now to view this photograph composited by the demo version from a cross photo created by StereoPhoto Maker:

Any problems in viewing are probably mine; I haven’t yet received my glasses from them so I can’t see the 3D effect - a friend checked it and let me know I at least got left/right correct. I am using a demo version of their software which does not save, and even disables the clipboard systemically so you can’t copy the image to the clipboard, which required some…er…interesting workarounds to make the image available for this blog post (honestly, CC, I’m not trying to violate anyone’s patent or copyright, just a fair-use of the software for comparison to other non-proprietary systems). This is a pretty crappy photo-set to start with without a lot of color variations, so I’m not sure the ColorCode system will do it any good, but it is here for completeness. The main advantage of ColorCode is supposed to be less noticeable “halos” for those not wearing the glasses…again, this photo doesn’t show that at all with the strong yellow duplication, but I’m guessing that’s more due to the slight hyper-stereo in the photograph than a flaw in the system. I’d want to run a whole bunch more tests with dual-camera live-action images before I’d suggest spending the money on the commercial versions of this proprietary software, particularly since the freeware StereoPhoto Maker is available, and red/cyan glasses are all over the place (bought a kids’ book at the local dollar store the other day with 3D photos from space that included these same glasses) where as noted, the ColorCode glasses are more difficult to acquire at this point (they may become more ubiquitous as time goes by).

Oh, I almost forgot…there is one more format for distributing stereo photos, and I swear I can’t figure out what masochist developed it; it’s called wiggle stereoscopy and it is nothing more than flashing between the images at a nutty rate. This gives me an eyeache, but for those interested, I have a larger version of the annoying wiggle image connected to that small distracting GIF file to the right; click on it to open the larger version in a separate window. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Ok, so what’s the takeaway? That 3D photography really isn’t terribly hard…if I can do it with a child’s camera, cardboard box, and yardstick, how tough can it be? I’m now somewhat interested in playing around with this more seriously…I need to purchase a new camera anyway before the upcoming Cincinnati convention (yep, we’re planning on attending this year, lawd willin’ and the creek don’t rise), which should make experimental photos a whole lot better-looking. While I’m not ready to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on dual-camera equipment, software, and whatnot, I do think it would be interesting to experiment more with stereo photography…now that I know how really simple it can be!

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