Stereoscopic photography

One of the beautiful things about photography is that there is always something to learn. Recently, I was talking with a talented young photographer who introduced me to the process of stereoscopic photography, otherwise known as 3-D photography.

The idea behind it is simple. Take two images of a subject from two slightly different perspectives. Then in Photoshop, edit the images to filter each perspective to a different color field (seriously a one click process). Line up the images. Then, using a pair of red/blue anaglyph 3-D glasses, the image has amazing depth.

So let’s start at the beginning. My first stab at 3-D photography was done on a standard tripod in my living room. I set up my girlfriend’s view camera. I took two images, shifting my position ever so slightly, attempting to match the distance between my eyes.

Two view cameras

The same image of a view camera taken from two slightly different perspectives. ©2014 Max Gersh

I know the frames look identical, but I promise, they’re not. Look at the slight gap between the top left of the view camera and the cameras on the shelf in the background. A little yellow shows through on the image on the right.

Once you have your two images, bring them into photoshop. Copy the second image and paste it on the first image, creating a new layer on top. For many of the images, I desaturate them at this point. The process works in color but sometimes things look sharper in black and white.

Once you have your two images stacked in layers, double click the top layer on the layers window so it opens the layer style menu. That is where you make the one click. Uncheck the “R” box where it has separate RGB boxes. Click ok.

Uncheck the "R" channel

Uncheck the “R,” or red channel.

At this point, your image will have the look of an anaglyph 3-D image with the red and cyan edges showing around objects. However, the image isn’t aligned yet. You can see the separate elements on the view camera don’t match up at all.


After unselecting the red channel, your image will have the color look of an anaglyph 3-D image, but it won’t be aligned. ©2014 Max Gersh

Simply move the top layer to match up your focus point. On this image, I focused on the lens. I’ll adjust the top layer so the view camera’s lens lines up perfectly between the two layers. Also, this is a good time to crop out the parts of the frame that no longer overlap after you’ve repositioned your layers.


The focus point of my image, the top right edge of the lens, is perfectly aligned. ©2014 Max Gersh

Viola. There you have it. A finished anaglyph image. Dig through your basement of stuff from the 80’s and 90’s until you find a pair of anaglyph glasses, or pick up a pair on Amazon for super cheap.

Here are a few more frames I made that night, just eyeballing the distance between the frames. Some turned out better than others.

Hasselblad 500 CM. ©2014 Max Gersh

Hasselblad 500 CM. ©2014 Max Gersh


Robot on a laptop. ©2014 Max Gersh

Robot on a laptop. ©2014 Max Gersh

Robots. ©2014 Max Gersh

Robots. ©2014 Max Gersh

Carton of eggs. ©2014 Max Gersh

Carton of eggs. ©2014 Max Gersh

A day or so later, I decided to try this technique outdoors, hoping to find places where I could play off the depth. Again, some worked better than others. I was still eyeballing the distance between the frames at this point.

Trees along the Sinnissippi Bike Path. ©2014 Max Gersh

Trees along the Sinnissippi Bike Path. ©2014 Max Gersh

Whitman Street Bridge. ©2014 Max Gersh

Whitman Street Bridge. ©2014 Max Gersh

The underside of the Whitman Street Bridge. ©2014 Max Gersh

The underside of the Whitman Street Bridge. ©2014 Max Gersh

Jefferson Street Bridge. ©2014 Max Gersh

Jefferson Street Bridge. ©2014 Max Gersh

That’s when I got to dreaming. What if I could do this with action? I had been using one camera and moving it slightly to capture the two different perspectives. What if I could capture the two perspectives simultaneously by using two cameras in perfect sync? I knew it could be done. Legendary Sports Illustrated photographer Dave Klutho has been shooting 3-D images for SI for kids and Time for a while now. I’ve seen pictures of his dual camera rig. If you look closely, you’ll notice that one of the cameras is mounted upside-down. It’s set up this way to get the lenses at the optimal distance apart from each other. So I set out to build my own.

Before I got to start my DIY stereoscopic SLR camera mount, I had the opportunity to participate in a photo show where photographers went around town taking portraits that were shown in a gallery that same evening. I decided to try to shoot all my portraits in 3-D. These were all shot completely handheld.

Greg Turner

Greg Turner, 52, pictured Friday, March 14, 2014, at Dave’s U-Haul in Rockford, moved to town with his wife about eight months ago from Decatur, Ill. Turner details cars for a living inside the garage at his cousin’s rental truck facility. In all things in his life, Turner lets God guide his way. “Without him, I’m nothing,” Turner said. Every day at noon, he goes to bible study at his church, My Father’s House Worship Center on Auburn Street. Turner can play five musical instruments, all of which he plays at church. They are the harmonica, bass guitar, lead guitar, keyboard and conga drums. ©2014 Max Gersh

Jeffrey Jenkins

Jeffrey Jenkins, 48, pictured on Friday, March 14, 2014, at the Booker Washington Center in Rockford, has been homeless for four months. Jenkins is a trained and experienced builder but has been out of work. He broke his neck and back years ago while working on a construction site in Georgia. He was unable to move while recuperating, and was arrested because he wasn’t able to get out to pay child support. His previous workers compensation claim has made it difficult for him to find gainful employment. Jenkins has been working weekends butchering fish at Chuck-A-Luc’s at Elm and Avon streets. He uses his knowledge from working at a Japanese restaurant and his Kung Fu training to butcher the fish with precision and style. ©2014 Max Gersh

Lynette Wherley

Lynette Wherley, pictured Friday, March 14, 2014, at Rock Cut State Park in Loves Park, has been utilizing the park’s trails since childhood. Wherley tries to walk three to six miles a day on the trails depending on the weather. Professionally, Wherley is a freelance graphic designer and bakes pies and cheesecakes for friends. Growing up on farm, she is a supporter of the local foods approach. She remembers her mother canning and pickling foods when she was young. Wherley’s pies are made of berries she hand picked. “I came from a sustainable, green family before it was a marketed culture,” Wherley said. “It’s how we were taught.” ©2014 Max Gersh

Marie Kamens

Marie Kamens, 79, pictured carrying a bag of books Friday, March 14, 2014, on the Jefferson Street Bridge pedestrian path in Rockford, lost her husband of 58 years the week before Christmas in 2013. March 12 would have been their 59th wedding anniversary. Marie was on her way to the library to return books and check out some new ones. She enjoys reading mysteries or just about anything fiction. ©2014 Max Gersh

The next day, I had time to get back to the DIY 3-D rig. Every camera will vary in size so you’ll need to measure before you make your own. I cut two 13″ pieces of aluminum for the top and bottom parts of the frame and used 7″ pieces for the sides. They are held together with L brackets on the corners with 3/4 inch 1/4 20 nuts and bolts. There is a hole drilled on the bottom center of the bracket to mount it to a tripod. There are also holes drilled, one on the bottom and one on the top, to match the location of the tripod mount on the bottom of my camera.

Dual DSLR stereoscopic camera mount

Me sitting with my freshly completed dual DSLR stereoscopic camera mount.

So this big aluminum rectangle with a few holes changes everything. Now, with wiring, I’m able to trigger the two cameras at the same time, capturing the same moment from two perspectives. I had it put it to the test.

I called on my co-worker, Brent Lewis, for his help. We spent some time getting the wiring rigged and then we began to test. We shot it the studio at the newspaper for a controlled location.

The first shot, we just cranked the camera’s ISO and fired to see if they were shooting in sync.


First test shot of the dual camera stereoscopic mount of Brent Lewis jumping in the studio. ©2014 Max Gersh

We then got a little more creative and tried to light it. We turned off all the lights in the room and did a bulb exposure, firing the flash at the point of peak action.


Test shot of the dual camera stereoscopic mount of Brent Lewis jumping in the studio. ©2014 Max Gersh

I then wanted to see what things moving toward the camera would look like. I threw some fake flowers toward the lens while Brent tripped the shutters and lights.


Test shot of the dual camera stereoscopic mount of Max Gersh throwing flowers in the studio. ©2014 Brent Lewis

I then got in a fierce, mid-air battle using a duster as my weapon.


Test shot of the dual camera stereoscopic mount of Max Gersh jumping in the studio. ©2014 Brent Lewis

The depth and level of detail is persistent event as you crop way in.


Test shot of the dual camera stereoscopic mount of Max Gersh jumping in the studio. ©2014 Brent Lewis

Lastly, for my friends that don’t have anaglyph glasses handy, I made that last image into a wigglegram. It’s an animated GIF that alternates between the two frames quickly enough to make it look 3-D


Wigglegram of the test shot of the dual camera stereoscopic mount of Max Gersh jumping in the studio. ©2014 Brent Lewis

I still have things to figure out. One thing we noticed is that things coming toward the camera look strange and are hard to focus on. It might have to do with using a wider focal length. It may have something to do with the lighting. There is much experimentation to be done.

Be sure to pick up some anaglyph glasses and stay tuned. I have some exciting ideas that I hope to capture soon.

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3 Responses

  1. Objects moving toward the camera have a double problem in that the parallax is changing and the magnification is changing. (The latter-foreshortening- is definitely related to using a wide angle lens)

    It is impossible to adequately fuse or focus on something that is changing in these two ways. One is bad enough but the combination is insurmountable.

  2. To carry the thought further, an object that has depth and is moving toward you is that the “Fixation Disparity” of the proximal (nearest) portion is different than that of the distal (more remote) portion and the object cannot be fused completely and this lack of fusion while moving makes it look blurred.

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