3D HDTV’s are the next big thing in entertainment. But we don’t need to buy an expensive new TV to enjoy the glories of 3D imaging. 3D has been around about as long as there have been cameras. 1889 saw a surge in popularity for stereopticons, the 50’s were the heyday of 3D movies, and the movie ‘Avatar’ set box office records in 2009 and helped define the next level of the 3D experience.
While 3D HDTV may be the latest fad in entertainment, did you know that you can create and enjoy 3D images at home for less than 1/10th the cost of a 3D HDTV? With nothing more than your current digital camera, a color printer, $100 in software and a few dollars for 3D glasses or lens filters you are ready to go. Welcome to the wonderful world of Anaglyphs.
Let’s start with the camera. Any camera will do because this isn’t a hardware based technique. While the camera is of little concern there are two items on the “must-have” list for this technique. First you must have the software Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, or an equivalent program capable of separating images into color channels. Next you need to own a set of 3D glasses with red and blue lenses OR one each Red (R2) and Blue (80A) lens filters. (Google “paper 3D glasses” to find a source, porters.com for the filters).
Now for the secret of Anaglyph low-tech 3D photography, are you ready? Consistency… always take the primary pictures in the exact same way.
Starting with the subject: Position the subject between five and eight feet in front of the camera. Ideally the subject’s background should be another eight to ten feet behind the point of focus. If the background is too far behind the subject there will be little 3D effect, if the background is too close it will be portrayed as a confusing mess of red and blue. Use your feet and move the camera closer or further away rather than use the zoom lens.
The real magic trick is how the dual images are captured. Stand with your feet just under shoulder width apart. Put all of your weight onto your left foot, compose and shoot the image. Then shift all of your weight onto your right foot and compose and shoot the second image. With composition the goal is to keep the subject centered in the viewfinder. Tip: If your subject is a person the point of focus is the eyes and not the nose!
This shifting of the camera from left to right approximates the position and distance between two eyes. The difference between left and right camera position should be around four to six inches. The greater the distance between positions the less likely that foreground objects will be rendered correctly in the final composite image. It will take experimentation and practice to become proficient at this technique.
The next step after capturing our stereo image pair is to manipulate the images into a Anaglyph composite. For this example I will discuss the steps used with Photoshop products to create the final composite. I’d also like to point out that reading about this process takes much longer than actually doing the tasks. Once you have done it a few times the entire manipulation process can be accomplished in just a few minutes.
Locate and open the pair of images in Photoshop. Here is where consistencies pays off, if you capture the images first left then right every time there is never any guess as to which image file is which. The lower numbered file is always the left eye view.
Next create a new blank image the same size and shape as the photo images. Alternately add a white solid color layer to the Right image and make it the background layer. Using the Move tool click and drag the Left image onto the Right image while holding down the Shift key. At this point you will have a single image file with three layers: white background, Right image and Left image.
Click on the top most layer (Left image) to make it active and then use the Opacity control to change this layer to abut 50% opaque. This allows you to see the Right image beneath through the Left image. Use the Move tool to position the top Left image around and align the subject in both images. (Hint: if it’s a person here is where we try to align the eyes).
Once the main subject is aligned return the top layer to 100% Opacity. Since the edges of the two images are no longer aligned any image space without an overlapped image will only detract from the 3D effect. We need to crop this extra image information out of the final composite. Click off the eyeball icon for the middle (Right) layer, make sure that the top (Left) layer is active and use the Crop tool to remove everything that is not this layer from the composite.
While the top layer is still active open the Levels tool (Ctrl+L). In the middle top of the Layers dialog box is a pull down menu, use it to select the Green channel. Now at the foot of the graph space are two boxes, on the right the box has a zero and on the left the box has the number 255. Change the 255 to a zero. Then use the drop down box and select the Blue channel and again set the upper value to zero. You will now have a bright red image. Click the OK button on the Levels tool
Click off the eyeball icon for the top (Left) layer and click on the eyeball icon for the middle (Right) layer. Once again open the Levels tool (Ctrl+L) however for this layer we only need to select the Red channel and set its upper value to zero. Once done click the OK button.
There is only one step left. Make sure that the eyeball icon is turned on for all three layers and then click on the top (Left) layer to make it active. In the Layers box at the top is another drop down menu. Use it to find and select the Screen option and we’re finished! The image on screen should look like a composite slightly out of registers with Red and Blue / Green elements. Put on your 3D glasses (or use a Red camera filter in front of your left eye and a Blue filter in front of your right eye) and enjoy your first 3D picture.
Save the image as a JPG or TIF, print it out with your inkjet or send it to the lab to have a real photo print made. If your HDTV supports plugging in an SD memory card save a copy of the image to an SD card and see your 3D creation on the big screen!
Click on the image to see it larger: