3-D Anaglyph Technique

I am often asked about my technique for creating the 3-D pictures on this site. This is a complex subject about which entire books have been written; however, here are the basics of the methods that I personally use.

Nimslo stereo four lens camera

Most of the images portrayed were captured by a Nikon Stereo Rig or the Nimslo 3D camera using film such as Kodachrome. I never perform any kind of "2D to 3D conversion" from a normal photograph because it lacks the presence and power of real stereo photography. While sounding exotic, the Nikon Stereo Rig is actually a conventional Nikon camera mounted on a sliding rail to allow horizontal movement. This method requires a tripod and a subject that does not move during photography. One shot is fired, the camera is racked over horizontally the appropriate distance for eye separation, then another shot is fired. All camera settings must be set manually to ensure consistency of exposure and focus resulting in two slides, one for each eye, known as a "stereo pair". For moving subjects such as people, I typically used the Nimslo, an unusual camera from the eighties that shoots four photos at once. The Nimslo's four lenses were originally designed to produce lenticular prints, but only the two outer pictures are utilized for classical stereo. The slides produced from these cameras can be viewed with special 3-D viewers or even projected in stereo with the right equipment. Currently I am shooting with the Fujifilm W3 digital stereo camera, which is quite a technological innovation.

Nikon camera on macro focusing rail for 3D stereo photography
The Nikon stereo rig uses a macro focusing rail to slide horizontally.

Anaglyphs are considered one of the best ways to present stereo images on the internet. Until recently, my stereo images were captured on slide film, which need to be digitized. To accomplish this, the original slides are digitally scanned with a dedicated Nikon scanner. The scans of each stereo pair are then loaded into Photoshop and carefully aligned to each other in order to fix vertical, horizontal, and rotational errors. Adjusting the depth, or “setting the stereo window”, is of critical importance because it gives the illusion of looking through an opening in the screen to a world beyond. Finally, the left and right photos are converted to black and white monochrome then loaded into Anabuilder, which makes the final anaglyph. (Note: Anabuilder is an older software that might not work with current operating systems.) The process is time consuming, but ultimately it creates excellent 3-D anaglyph pictures for computer monitors.

Flow chart for anaglyph photo creation

Although it is possible to produce color anaglyphs as opposed to the monochrome examples presented here, the results are usually poor. Images that have strong reds and blues cause "retinal rivalry", which is stressful on the eyes and ruins the stereo effect; therefore, the anaglyphs for this site are created using the classic monochrome method for the best viewing experience.

For those who consider these methods too complex, there are software solutions that automate much of the alignment process. Many stereo photographers use Stereo Photo Maker, and Anabuilder has many automatic functions as well; however, the final results may not be as precise compared to aligning "by hand". For further knowledge of the subject, I highly recommend the book THE WORLD OF 3D by Jac G. Ferwerda.

Beyond the technical side of things, the photographer must consider the subject matter, composition, art and vision in creating an interesting image! Both practice and experimentation are key aspects of the process.

© 2011

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