I thought I’d put together a list of quick pointers of things that can be done to help take better stereo photos. It’s not exhaustive, but hopefully it’s enough to get you inspired. It also might be useful for beginners.
After the list, you will find some parallel-view example images for each tip, which are mostly fails or rule-breaking on purpose. They are either my own photos, or they are from my collection.
*Disclaimer* Before you get caught up in any of this, please remember that stereoscopy should, above all, be enjoyable. You can get as involved and as technical as you like, everyone has their own preferences. I know some people hold rules for stereoscopic 3D photography sacred, but as an enthusiastic amateur, I usually ignore most of them. I take the majority of my images just for personal enjoyment on small screens and prints. Please enjoy stereoscopic photography how you want to!
- Choose an appropriate subject. Try to make sure it:
- has depth. Usually, it should have more than two layers to make it interesting to explore in 3D.
- Is in the centre of the image.
- Isn’t too close, or too far away (see next tip).
- For comfortable 3-D depth:
- For sequential photos: a general rule of thumb is to slide the camera from left to right 1/30th of the distance between you and the subject when taking the images. For example, if the subject is 3 metres away, you move the camera 10cm from left to right.
- For twin-lens cameras or stereo-rigs: a general rule of thumb is for the subject to be at a distance which is 30 times the distance between the lenses. For example, a Fujifilm Finepix Real 3D W3’s lenses are 7.5cm apart, so the subject should be around 2.25 metres away.
- Usually, the larger the depth of field, the better. This will help to make all the different layers of depth in the image be in focus, and allow you to explore them all in detail. You can achieve this with a high f.stop (small aperture).
- When taking a 3-D photo, check for anything which is in front of your subject, as this may break through the ‘stereo window‘ and make it difficult to view. You can, of course, also play with this ‘stereo window’, see below.
- Try and keep your camera level.
- A tripod and a hotshoe spirit level can help with a stereo camera.
- A slider-bar on a tripod and a hotshoe spirit level can help with a single-lens camera, which shouldn’t rotate or skew between shots.
- A twin camera mount bar on a tripod and a hotshoe spirit level can help with a stereo-rig.
- For smartphones, may the odds be ever in your favour.
- When taking a sequential stereo, check for movement in the scene between shots, as it might be distracting. It might also be cool, it depends what look you’re going for.
- Keep your camera settings the same for each sequential photo. If you’re using two identical cameras, make sure the settings are exactly the same for each of them. Using cameras on manual mode is the best way to help with this. Also, keep the focus the same.
- You do not need expensive equipment to take stereo photos. Don’t be put off by thinking you need to buy all kinds of gadgets; the quickest and easiest way is with your smartphone and an app.
- Develop your own workflow.
- If you’re taking sequential photos, get in the habit of taking one side first. When you come to them later, you will immediately know which side is which to make the stereoview.
- If you’re using two cameras with separate memory cards, remember to put the left and right images in appropriately named folders. It will save you a lot of time, so you can make another cup of tea.
- When printing or sharing your images, make sure the left and right images are the correct way-around (the tip above helps). Here’s a tutorial about spotting the difference.
- Make sure, if it’s a parallel-view stereocard, or a parallel-view on a larger screen, that the images are not more than 7cm – 7.5cm apart. This is the average separation of the human eyes; if you make the separation larger, only Marty Feldman may be able to see them in 3D.
Choose an appropriate subject
A flat-ish door, on a flat-ish wall, from quite far away, probably isn’t going to be very inspiring, or worth the extra effort of taking it in 3D:
You might be surprised to know though that quite a few ‘flat stereos’ were sold commercially. Not only that, but people bought them too. Sometimes, it was even the same image pasted twice; they didn’t even try to make it stereo, and people still bought them!
Occasionally, people were added to the foreground for depth, but this wasn’t always possible on the side of a mountain. This is commercial photographer William England using a binocular camera too far away from the scene to add much depth:
If you’ve got a group of friends/cats to snap in 3D, try and get them to stand at different distances from the camera. If they’re all in a line, it’s not so much fun. Also, if you have a face like a slapped-arse photographed in 3D, there’s a high probability it’ll be noticed over a century later:
For comfortable 3-D depth
The hyper version of this image is probably going to look OK on a small screen, but enlarge it, and you’ll feel seasick.
I prefer hyperstereos on small screens though, so bite me. Some people don’t like the ‘toy-like’ effect of hyperstereos, due to the exaggeration of the depth, but it’s an aesthetic I enjoy and find fun to play with. Others prefer a more natural depth, which replicates exactly what the eyes see. Each to their own.
Recommended movement (left to right camera movement 1/30th of the distance from the subject):
Larger movement (hyper) (left to right camera movement about 1/10th of the distance from the subject):
The larger the depth of field, the better
You might have to enlarge these to notice this (you can click on them to enlarge – it depends on your screen size)
Shallow depth of field:
Larger depth of field. Everything from the foreground to the background is in focus, and the details can be explored in 3-D:
Avoid a shallow depth of field she says, whilst frequently photographing using a shallow depth of field:
Check for anything that is in front of your subject
The plant on the left is breaking the ‘stereo window’, well quite a few things in the foreground are. My attention is completely on the cat with a gun anyway:
Don’t forget, though, that anything that can come through a physical window, can come through the stereo window. Also note, that the subject isn’t in the middle, as I wanted to capture the shadow too:
Try and keep your camera level
I really pulled out all the stops for the following fail. Not only was the camera unlevel, I skewed it slightly between shots, there’s the movement of the goth lady walking/gliding, and there’s something in the foreground which is way too close. I took other images of the same scene without being interrupted, so everything is right with the world:
Check for movement between shots
See above, which was an accident. See below, which wasn’t, and I love it! This is a sequential stereoview with long exposures, because of the wet plate collodion they used at the time:
You can also play with this to play tricks on your brain (if it allows you!) and make ghosts. Despite going for the ‘Whisker’s Mother’ look, I could have moved the chair away from the wall to add more depth and interest:
Keep your camera settings the same
This is from a twin-lens stereo film camera. Theoretically, the two halves should be the same. In reality, I bought the camera from eBay. One lens had a different focus to the other, but I’ve since fixed it, yeay. Your brain actually compensates for this difference to an extent when it fuses the two images, so just compare the left and right halves separately please:
You do not need expensive equipment to take stereo photos
This was taken with an Android smartphone and edited with 3DSteroid Pro:
Develop your own workflow
I’m not going to bore you to tears with screenshots of my file names. Instead, I’m going to add that you shouldn’t feel like you have to take a single left and a single right image. If you’re taking sequential photos, you can take a left image, then take several whilst moving to camera to the right, moving a little further each time. It might be worth, if you want to be really science-nerdy, to note down how much you moved each time, and how far you were from the subject. When it comes to making the stereo-pairs, try the left image with each of the rights, and see which depth you prefer. This will help you decide in the future what level of depth is best for you and how much to move for it.
I hope you find these tips useful. As I mentioned before though, technicalities and what makes a good stereoscopic image are subjective. Please make sure that your priority is your own enjoyment, and have fun!
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