What’s the Big Deal about Stereoscopic 3D Video?

What’s the Big Deal about 3D Video?

Now is the perfect time to dive into the world of 3D-video recording. The technology is still new, but not so new that there is a lack of camcorder models to choose from. Yet 3D camcorders can appear confusing at first. There are already numerous 2D camera shapes, sizes, and shooting formats to consider. Add 3D to the mix and there are even more options. Not only that, but unfamiliar terms such as parallax, convergence, and full 3D also get thrown around.

Luckily, most consumer-level 3D camcorders are simple to use, at least technically speaking. Turn on your new camera, set it to auto, and off you go. But many people are initially dissatisfied with their stereoscopic videos (that’s 3D folks). This is most often because they don’t know the differences between 2D and 3D shooting. Yet 3D recording is quick to grasp once you key in to a few important concepts. What’s more, you’ll find that the payoff is worth the time spent learning.

3D technology opens up a whole new way to record the world around you. The added depth makes your videos a step closer to actually being there. And who doesn’t want greater realism in the moments they capture from their lives and the lives of their loved ones? Just as important, consider this: stereoscopic 3d videos can easily be converted to regular 2D videos, but as you’ll learn, it’s much more difficult to convert 2D to 3D.

Each day that you shoot outdated 2D movies, also known as flatties, is a lost opportunity to capture your memories with the full depth and wow factor that 3D offers. However, there is a vast difference between haphazardly shooting 3D video (which may not look particularly three-dimensional) and shooting full-on, eye-popping, wow-your-friends-and-family 3D video.

Since the birth of visual media, we have demanded increased realism. Consider black-and-white photos, for example. These frozen moments in time stirred and captivated us, but we wanted to see some movement. Movies arrived and amazed us with their motion, but we wanted to hear what was going on. Along came sound, and indeed, talking movies were pretty cool; but hey, what about some color? Color served up a rainbow feast, but life is best lived large. What about wide-screen? Surround sound? High-definition? And so on, as we continuously move toward better and better technologies. Better meaning technology that more closely matches our experiences in everyday life, because the truth is that’s what we seek.

We experience the world around us in full depth and color—in three dimensions. 3D brings us one step closer to content that more closely matches our real-world experience. Recent technical advances have overcome the issues that kept movie theaters from embracing 3D in the past, such as installation cost and viewer fatigue. But arguably the greatest advance occurred when 3D camcorders began to make it into your hands—the hands of the home user. It only took about one hundred years, but 3D is finally affordable and accessible to just about anyone. This is an exciting development because 3D offers an entirely new way of shooting video.

As you likely know, 3D is not a recent discovery. The little camcorder that you currently hold (or will soon hold if you haven’t yet bought one) has a long and interesting story behind it. And in fact, 3D has been labeled a fad at numerous points throughout its tumultuous history. Some still say it’s a fad. More on this shortly. But for now, if you consider the evolution of this fascinating technology, you’ll begin to understand why this time things are different.

The Early Days of 3D

Euclid, a Greek mathematician, is famously (or infamously, for those who struggled with mathematics in school) known as the father of geometry. He also wrote a book called “Optics” that explained the geometry of eyesight. Today, we know that light bounces off objects and enters our eyes. However, at the time, beams of light were thought to emanate from our eyes, revealing the world around us. In other words, Euclid believed that our eyes functioned somewhat like flashlights.

Euclid with Students

Euclid with Students

Unless your eyesight is of the superhero X-ray vision variety, you can see how poor Euclid was a little bit off in this regard. But given the limited scientific knowledge of his era, he was way ahead of his time in understanding the way vision works. Being a specialist in the geometry of eyesight, he realized that having two eyes allowed humans to perceive depth.

Leap ahead over two thousand years into the 1800s. Sir Charles Wheatstone made use of Euclid’s knowledge to invent the stereoscope. Stereoscopes allowed people to view two separate photos through different eyepieces to create an impressive 3D effect. People were equal parts intrigued and astounded, but as you might have guessed, they wanted to see moving pictures. Not long afterward, William Friese-Greene patented a rather unwieldy device called the stereoscope headset. The technology, invented by Frederick Varley, used two side-by-side screens and a cumbersome viewing device to create rudimentary 3D movies.

Ultimately, Hollywood noticed these exciting new advances. In 1922, 3D reached U.S. shores when The Power of Love was released commercially in Los Angeles. However, the film was not destined for greatness despite its bold filmmaker’s lofty aspirations. 3D technology had advanced somewhat, but was still extremely expensive and cumbersome. Although the film caused a brief stir, it quickly faded from view. It was not entirely forgotten, however. Various 3D experiments were made throughout the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. Then, in the 1950s, 3D finally began to make its mark on entertainment history. Technical advances aside, there were several reasons why the 1950s were the perfect time for 3D stereoscopic video to explode in popularity.

This is an excerpt from my new book Shoot 3D Like a Pro. Available on Kindle and other ebook formats Paperback to follow soon!

Wiggle Stereoscopy

Wiggle stereoscopy has become my new obsession since viewing some of the amazing samples below. Wiggle is a DIY glasses-free 3D format that is simple (at least in concept) to create. If you want to create your own wiggle photo or video, keep reading. If you just want to enjoy some great wiggle art, scroll down to the bottom!

To create a wiggle stereoscopic still photo, two separate images are taken from slightly different perspectives. These are then combined into an animated GIF that is set to rapidly flip back and forth between two slightly different perspectives. Okay, so let’s wiggle it! (Just a little bit)

Shooting Wiggle Stereoscopy

  • Choose a subject that has depth – there must be separation between foreground and background elements (if you’re interested in learning more about 3D composition, see my book Shoot 3D Like a Pro).
  • Gather two images for each shot. The difference in perspectives should be the approximate width between the pupils of each eye (i.e. you should move the camera about four inches between each shot).
  • Keep the same exposure settings for each photo. They must be as near to identical as possible or you won’t get your wiggle on later!
  • Use a tripod if possible. It will be very difficult to match the level between the photos otherwise.
  • When you move the camera envision your main subject as being the center of a 360 degree circle. Moving your camera in a parallel line will work, but not as well as if you incorporated a small arc.

Get Ready to Wiggle

Transfer your photos and open them up in a your image editing program of choice (note you will need to be able to create and animate layers). I use Photoshop so my instructions will be a bit biased toward that software.

  • Create a two layer file composed of the two photos.
  • Change the opacity of the top layer to 60%.
  • Use the move tool to align the top image so that the main subject on the top matches as precisely as possible with the one on the bottom. Rotate the image if you need to.
  • Once the images are aligned set the opacity of both images to 100%.
  • Crop the image as needed. If the subject was quite distant consider cropping to get closer as this will enhance your wiggle effect.
  • Open the animation palette and choose “Make Frames from Layers”
  • Change the animation delay time to .2 seconds (experiment with this).
  • Choose “File, Save As” and you are done!

But I don’t have Photoshop!

All is not lost. There are also shareware and freeware options. There is a a free program available specifically made for creating stereoscopic content. Check out Stereo Photo Maker. It is available for both Mac and Windows.

Windows users, check out UnFREEz. Use your favorite image editing software as above (for example the freely available GIMP), export as GIFS, import the two files into UnFREEz, choose the “Loop Animation” option and experiment with the centiseconds setting – 12-25 is the general range to try. Click “Make Animated GIF” and you will have your wiggle video ready-to-go!

You now know how to make a 3D wiggle photo, but how about a video? Videos are made frame-by-frame basically following the method outlined above. Then each frame is laid out in a time-line in editing software such as Final Cut Pro or Avid to create the video itself. When I have time to experiment further with wiggle videos I will post further on this technique. Until then, keep wiggling and check out the great samples below.

This is an excellent wiggle music video. Inspirational!


Wiggle Stereoscopy really helps bring these photographs to life.

Joshua Heineman has taken vintage stereoscopic public domain photographs and turned them into wiggle art. These photos were originally created to be viewed with a stereoscope.


Gorgeous work by Jamie Martinez



Stunning splash by Jim Gasperini


Beautiful psychedelic work - artist unknown


Yay Burning Man!


Concert by Martinez - the entire crowd appears to be in motion... Notice that the slightly slower frame rate still gives great depth.



Jurassic Park Will go 3D in 2013



Stereopsis refers to our binocular vision. It has a slightly unusual history to its discovery. Around 300 BC, the Greek philosopher Euclid proposed several very foreword thinking notions about how we perceived 3D. However there wasn’t a clear recognition of stereopsis until Charles Wheatstone developed his stereoscope in 1838. Usually inventions take advantages of new findings, but in this case, it was the invention that helped make the discovery! To be fair though, Chuck had a pretty good understanding as to what he was doing – but the word ‘stereopsis’ did not come into general usage until after he released his stereoscope.

The Stereoscope

The Stereoscope

The stereoscope was a funny looking box-like contraption. It displayed two images each with slight differences in their horizontal positions. Because the images were different from one another, the viewer’s brain unified and processed them as a single image, giving the illusion of three dimensions. A 1970 MIT study proposed that stereopsis is an inherited ability and that some of us are “stereo blind”.  Perhaps this is why some people hate 3D movies and others get headaches from them.

On the other there are also indications that stereopsis is a learned trait. I use the example in my book Shoot 3D Movies Like a Pro of early movie goers who ducked beneath their seat to avoid the oncoming train they saw while viewing a movie theater. In that case, you might say their stereopis was overactive. They hadn’t learned to relax their eyesight and enjoy a two dimensional movie. In the same way, the first movies could not cut from one shot to another too rapidly or people would become confused, disoriented and even dizzy. Does this sound familiar?

Today, 3D editors are careful to lower the rate at which 3D movies are edited so that viewers do not become disoriented. But as 3D continues to evolve we will also evolve along with it. Of course, it takes many many years for us to evolve physically, but we can learn new traits and skills quickly due to our neuroplasticity. This is a fascinating topic in itself and also a complex subject that I’m not qualified to speak about. However, with the help of neuroplasticity and some hard work, I hope to learn and write a posting on the relationship between neuroplasticity and our video-oriented culture in a forthcoming blog post. 🙂

Wheatstone Discovers Stereopsis

Wheatstone Discovers Stereopsis

How do 3d glasses work?

3D glasses work by allowing our eyes to see what is known as an “anaglyph”. The anaglyph is an old technology, but it is still used online to view 3D photos and movies. Many 3D camcorders feature external software that converts new 3D video formats to anaglyph. An anaglyph can be viewed by anyone with any type of equipment—for example a flat-panel 2D television or video monitor—as long as the viewer has a pair of red and cyan (or other appropriate color) pair of glasses.

What is a 3D Anaglyph?

An anaglyph combines two specially separated images to create the illusion of 3D. The two images in an anaglyph slightly overlap one another in two

Use red and blue glasses to view this image

contrasting colors (usually red and cyan). In daily life two different perspectives are delivered to our brain via our right and left eyes. Our visual cortex interpolates the information into our 3D experience of the world.

With a 3D anaglyph (it can be a movie or a photo) The two different perspectives occur in the same frame using two separate colors (most often red and cyan). The goofy-looking glasses allow each of our eyes to see either the red or the cyan frames separately by blocking one color or the other. Our brain is ‘tricked’ into perceiving a three dimensional image where there is none. But fashionistas take note, you aren’t limited to red and cyan. There are also green and magenta or amber and blue pairings to suit your mood. Practically speaking, these alternatives have nothing to do with fashion. Instead, they deliver a sharper image with less color washout.

One final advantage is that colored glasses are cheap! If you don’t already own a pair (they are often included for free with a new 3D camcorder), I recommend purchasing them. You can find inexpensive sources (some for as little as one penny) by clicking here.

Cost saving tip: Cheap paper glasses tend to be better than the more expensive plastic pairs. This is because paper glasses use a gel medium that has a purer color than the molded plastic. Try both if you’d like; neither will break the bank. The one advantage to the plastic versions is that they can be more comfortable. Free 3D glasses can be obtained in their polarized variety if you ‘forget’ to return yours at the theater. I’m not aware of any sources for free anaglyph glasses. 

Why are some glasses red & blue and some are dark?

3D glasses are tools that divide light. They collect light coming from one source and split that light so that it travels to your left and right eyes. As mentioned above, red and blue glasses take footage recorded as an anaglyph and divide it into its component parts (red for one eye, blue for the other). Your brain does the rest, creating the illusion of depth from the two differently colored images. Yet color is just one aspect of light.

When light is reflected off certain surfaces or filtered by specialized equipment it becomes polarized. Rather than vibrating equally, the light from polarized 3d images vibrates in one primary direction. Polarized glasses permit only one specific angle of light to enter through each lens. This conveys different perspectives to each eye.

If you still have trouble understanding the concept of polarization, envision a polarized lens filter on an SLR camera or even the polarized lenses of your sunglasses. Now picture a shallow goldfish-filled pond in a sunny park. Without a polarized lens or polarized sunglasses, there is glare off the pond and it’s difficult to see the fish swimming beneath (or they appear dull and blurry). Your polarized lenses allow you to cut through the glare and easily see the fish beneath the water. The polarization of the lenses cancels out the angle of light that reflects off the pond.

Remember though, polarized 3D glasses may look like sunglasses but they are not! I received an email asking about 3D sunglasses. You will harm your eyes if you wear regular 3D glasses in the sun – they do not filter out UV light.

To learn more about 3D video, check out my new book Shoot 3D Like a Pro: 3D Camcorder Tips, Tricks and Secrets


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