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Make Your Own 3D Camera for $15 or Less
roosevelt on a horse

Depth perception: wonder of evolution, miracle of sensory perception, and envy of the cyclops.

It’s one of those things you wouldn’t miss until it’s gone, like toes, toothpaste, and trees. That’s why 3D photos amaze us: they remind us about this incredible superpower we had totally forgotten we had.

But it gets even better! 3D photography is surprisingly easy to do on your own and doesn’t even require special glasses. We’ll show you how to make your own 3D camera for less than $15 and enter the fabulous world of the 3rd Dimension.

Make Your Own 3D Camera for $15 or Less

p.s. Put yourself on an Obama poster (just in time for the Inauguration)!

How Come 3D Pictures Look 3D?

Here’s how depth perception works: our eyes are spaced 2-3 inches apart, so they see images from slightly different angles. The brain then merges those two images to make one three-dimensional image. The disparity between the two images is what helps us figure out how far away an object is.

Taking two pictures of the same thing, spaced as far apart as a pair of eyes, will create the same effect. If you look at those pictures in a particular way, your brain’s programming will take over and create the illusion of three dimensions.

A (Really) Brief History of Stereography

stereoscopeStereo photographs (a.k.a. stereographs, stereocards or stereo views) started as a fad in the late 19th century. People bought views of scenic landscapes and exotic lands along with the stereoscopes needed to view them in three dimensions.

Eventually the craze for 3D pictures gave rise to the View-Master, those goofy blue-and-red glasses, and a lot of terrible monster movies.

35mm stereo cameras show up pretty frequently on eBay and in flea markets. They can be tricky to repair, so check the seller’s guarantee and return policy if you plan to buy one.

New 3D cameras include plastic point-and-shoot models, stereo lenses for SLRs, and even a stereo version of the beloved plastic Holga.

Make Your Own 3D Camera

diy 3D cameraWhat You’ll Need:

  • Two disposable cameras
  • Duct tape
  • Scissors (optional)

Step 1: Turn one of the cameras upside down to get the two lenses as close together as possible (lenses aren’t usually located in the center of the camera). Line the cameras up so the lenses are on the same level.

Step 2: Tape the cameras together with duct tape. Don’t cover up the shutter buttons or winding mechanisms.

Step 3: Go out and shoot! To take a picture, press both shutter buttons at the same time.

Step 4: Just have fun and accept that this method won’t give you pro results.

Since the lenses are about 4 inches apart and human eyes are usually 2.5 to 3 inches apart, the 3D effect won’t be perfect. And besides, it’s a disposable camera, so treat it as a toy and just have a good time.

Tips:

  • Having subjects in the foreground and the background will show more of the 3D effect.
  • Just like any good 3D horror movie, the best shots show something coming out of the picture at you.
  • Remember that the cameras won’t focus closer than about three feet.
  • If you need to use flash, turn on the flashes for both cameras and expect things to come out a little weird.

How To View Stereographs (Method 1)

stereographThe simplest way to see the stereo effect is to view the two images side-by-side. Cross your eyes until the two images become three images. Focus on the image in the center and you’ll be able to see the 3D effect. It’s tricky to get the hang of, and feels extremely weird, but it does work. Click on the photo at left to see it larger- it’s easier to do this at large sizes.

Like any photography niche, stereoscopy involves a billion little accessories you could spend money on. Special slide mounts, viewers and print mats all clamor for your cash.

Despite the array of fancy gear, the only thing you really need to view stereo prints is a little $4 plastic viewer, an x-acto knife and some tape. Trim your prints to 3×3″, tape them together side-by-side and look at them through the little viewer. Whoa, crrraaaazy three-dimensional photos! Spooky-pants!

Of course, if you simply must buy something fancy, there are mailable viewers that you can send to your friends along with a couple of prints. Whoa, intercontinental three-dimensional spooky-pants!

How To View Stereographs (Method 2)

creepy pony and rabbit guyYou can simulate the 3D effect on your computer by making an animated version of your stereo photos (a.k.a. “wiggling”). There are loads of examples at Lenticulations.com.

Here’s how to do it in Photoshop:
Step 1: Scan your stereo images.

Step 2: Select the first image, copy and paste it into a new file. Select the 2nd image, copy and paste it into the same file. You’ll now have two layers on top of each other.

create new frameStep 3: Open the animation window (Window -> Animation). There will be one frame by default. Make a second frame by clicking on the little “page” icon at the bottom of the animation toolbar.

Step 4: Click on the second frame.
turn off the top layerTurn off the top layer by clicking on the “eye” icon. Now the frames should show one image in the first frame and the other image in the second frame.

Step 5: Set the interval by clicking on the frame where it says “0 sec.” Change the delay interval to 0.1 seconds. Do this for both frames. set the delay intervalClick the “play” icon to see how your animation looks. If it’s “wiggling” too fast, change to interval to 0.2 or 0.3.

Step 6: When you like what you see, save for web (File -> Save For Web) as a GIF file. Ta-dah! All done.

Watch It Wiggle, See It Jiggle

3D flowers3D test photo

More Resources

Photo credits: Connexions, zadro, and Peet van Schalkwyk.

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