How-To Tuesday: Make 3-D photos


(best viewed with 3-D glasses)

This week's how-to is a fun one, we're going to show you how to make 3-D photos with any digital camera and some free software. We'll also explain how 3-D photography works and as a special treat, we've got a gallery of 3-D gadget photos to view along with how to make 3-D photos from NASA images.

What are 3-D photos?

Before we get started, we figured it would be good to explain why 3-D photos work.

Humans over time have evolved with many capabilities which offer an advantage over non-humans (at least for now) opposable thumbs for gripping stuff, big brains for figuring out stuff, and Binocular vision for seeing two points of view at the same time. This allows us to perceive depth (i.e. see things in three dimensions). The ability to tell if a tree branch is 3 feet or 3 inches away is pretty important, as is being able to tell if that lion is 30 yards or 30 feet away. Both our eyes are on the front of our faces and each see a slightly different view of the same thing. Close one eye, then close the other, you'll notice there's a slightly different view of the same thing. Our brains put these together so get a 3-D image of our surroundings.

Anaglyphs, the type of 3-D photos we're going to make, do the same thing by tricking our eyes into doing the same thing they normally do, just with a flat picture. The anaglyph is a single image (usually black and white) that has red/blue "outlines" on it which, when viewed with 3-D glasses, appears to jump out at you. The image gets processed so each eye sees a slightly different view and our brain combines them to give the effect of depth perception.


If you have 3-D glasses handy, look at a color wheel from any image editing program, you'll notice that the red areas are bright and the blue areas are dim when viewing through the red lens, and the opposite is true when viewed through the blue lens. This effect gives the images depth, lighting, and the overall 3-D effect in our brains.


The reason a lot of 3-D photos are in black and white is that with a color photo red and blue objects aren't quite as visible since we're blocking those colors out once we put on the glasses. So in our example we're going to make the images black and white. Color images work, you'll just need to avoid those colors in your photos.

Other types of 3-D...
There are other types of 3-D photos. Interlaced, which requires LCD glasses, is usually expensive, Wall-Eyed, those "Magic Eye" posters you need to stare at for a minute to see the images, and Cross-Eyed, two images side by side that look 3-D when you cross your eyes. If you're interested in making those types, Google around for resources, but anaglyphs are the easiest ones to make and only require cheap red and blue filtered glasses, so we went with those.

And speaking of the glasses, it's time to make some.

Getting started
For this how-to, you likely have everything you need as far as hardware goes, the only item you might not have are the 3-D glasses, but those aren't too hard to find. In general, there are a lot of ways to make 3-D photos, but here's the way we made ours and what we used.


  • Digital camera

  • PC (With Windows XP, SP1 or above)

  • Free Software, Callipygian 3D Photo Editing Software.

  • 3-D Glasses. These red and blue 3-D glasses usually come with a comic book, or some special video game/TV promotion. We got ours at Borders books in the kids section with a 3-D Dinosaur book. If you can't find any at a comic or book store, you can also order some from many places online, Ward's Natural Science has 15 pair for $15.75.

Installing the free app, Callipygian 3D

It's a good idea to download and install "Callipygian 3D" now, depending on your system set up, you may or may not need the .NET Framework (the app will tell you) if you do, you can get it here.

If you don't have a PC with XP or use a Mac or other system, we'll go over how to make these manually later in this how-to.

Taking the photos
We're using a Sony T1 digital camera, taking the photos at VGA quality (640 x 480), though you can take them at any resolution you'd like.

Now this is the most important part of the how-to: you're going to need to take two pictures of your subject/scene. The first and second picture should be at the same exact level (height) and only one to two inches apart. We're basically going to reproduce what your eye would normally see. If the images are taken too close or too far, the final image won't look 3-D.

It takes a few times to get the best images, but with digital photography you're not wasting film, so we usually take a few dozen. It's usually best to be 10 to 15 feet from the subject and to have a few objects like people or robots to give the photo depth. Outside photos tend to look the best. If you have a tripod to keep the camera level that'll help out, also be careful not to turn the camera in on the second photo, each one should be parallel like your eyes. If you're taking pictures of people, make sure they stay perfectly still for each photo (for this reason, we prefer robots).

When we make these 3-D, we convert some of them to grayscale images, while you don't need to do this, they tend to look better. If you want to shoot images and plan to keep them color, you'll be able to tweak the images in the 3-D application.

Just to recap...

  1. Find a subject that will be still, and has foreground and background objects to give the photo depth.

  2. Take the photo 10 to 15 feet away from the main subject.

  3. Move the camera (not you) one to two inches to the right or left, at the same level. If you camera has a viewfinder that helps too.

  4. We usually take a photo, move to left on the second one to keep it simple.

  5. Take lots of photos, it's only electrons.

Getting the images on your PC

After taking your pictures, import them on to your PC the way you usually do, we just pop in our memory card and drag the folder off the card.

We usually keep our images in the pairs we took them, we'll even rename them and add a R or L to the image(s) to keep track of them as well.

Using Callipygian 3D
Now that we have a pair of images (one taken a couple inches away from the other, of the same scene) and converted them to grayscale, we can now import them in to the 3-D image maker.

You should have installed Callipygian 3D by now, click Start > Programs > Callipygian3D.

The main menu has two panels, a right and left one.

main screen

At the bottom of the menu is a pulldown list of Selection Styles, choose "Arbitrary (anaglyph)".

Click File > Open and choose an image for the left and right images, or you can drag and drop the images directly on the right and left areas on the menu.


If you took the photos in the wrong order, you can flip them by clicking Edit > Swap Left and Right.

Now that the photos are in, select the area on the left photo you'd like to make 3-D, click and hold the mouse button down while dragging the mouse.


Once you select the area click View3D > Anagplyph. You'll now see a preview window where you can make some adjustments, the sliders moves the image right or left, up or down, it's a good idea to put your 3-D glasses on now as you adjust them and get the best 3-D image.


There are other options at the bottom of the menu, where you can tweak the images colors depending on how you shot it, we usually choose Red/Cyan (black/white) but you can also choose other the other settings depending on the photos you shot. A little side note, Cyan is a blue color for the non-designery folks out there.

Red Cyan Full Color-Default mode that takes the Red component from the Left image, and the Cyan component from the Right Image.

Red Cyan Tweaked Color-Similar to above, but with primary colors (R, G, B) desaturated to reduce retinal rilvalry.

Red Cyan Grayscale Red-The left channel is converted to Grayscale using the NTSC weights, and mapped to the red channel. This makes an easier-to-see 3D image, at the expense of color fidelity.

Red Cyan Black White-Both Left and Right are converted to Grayscale. This makes an easyto-see 3D image, but with no color information.

Green Magenta Full Color-Uses Green/Magenta instead of Red/Cyan. For LCD projectors viewed with polarized glasses (not the red and blue ones).

Magenta Green Full Color-Uses Magenta/Green instead of Red/Cyan.

Play around with each one with your 3-D glasses on to see which one works best.


When you've got your 3-D image the way you want it, click File > Save 3D View. This single image will be saved to your local system at the same resolution it was shot (for our example, VGA).


We usually save ours at the best quality and crop / edit in other image applications if needed.

And that's it! We usually keep a few of these images on our laptop and PDAs just for fun and even have a flat panel display at home that plays these files so when folks come over they can see some neat 3-D photos. You can also print them out

Here's the final image.

3d bots

Making 3-D photos manually...
If you don't have PC or Windows, you can use PhotoShop or Gimp and make the photos manually, it takes a bit longer, but here's how to do that.

Just about any photo application will do, PhotoShop, PaintShop Pro, GiMP—as long as the application supports the red, blue and green color channels to be changed.

For this example, we're going to use PhotoShop.

Open you files, we had named ours BOTL.JPG and BOTR.JPG.


Convert both files to grayscale (this usually makes the 3-D effect "pop" more) Image > Mode > Grayscale.


Go back to the left image and put it in RGB mode (Image > Mode > RGB).


Go to Window > Channels and select the Green and Blue Channels (Shift + Click). The Image should turn blue-ish.

Go to the right image, and go to Edit > Select All (Command + A) then Edit > Copy (Command + C).


Go back to the left image, and click Edit > Paste (Command + V). Then Click the RGB Color Channel in the Channel Window. The image should now have Red and Blue colors.

Click the Red Channel in the Channels Window, then Click the "Move Tool" in the Tool palette, move the image to align the 2 images over each other. You can use the arrow on click and drag it with the mouse, now is a good time to put on the 3-D glasses, once you line it up properly it will appear 3-D, if there is extra image information crop the image, then save it.


That's it!

Bonus Tip...
NASA's Mars Rovers (Spirt and Opportunity) take 2 photos with their navigation and hazard-avoidance cameras, just like we did for our examples. If you go through the gallery of RAW images, you can find pairs of images and make your own Mars photos.

Opportunity RAW Images can be found here.

Spirt RAW Images can be found here.

They way to tell which ones are pairs are to match up the URL (web address), the last part of the address has a R (for right) and L (for left).

For example, here are two images you could make a 3-D image of...

Link 1.
Link 2.

Note the only difference in the links are the R and L, and the minor shift in the photos.

Here's the final image, all 3-D'd up.


We spotted this on a JPL article (also about making 3-D images) and there are literally thousands of images to use.

3-D Gadget Gallery
Last up, here's a few quick 3-D photos we made of some of the gadgets and bots around here, enjoy!











Phillip Torrone can be reached via his personal site: or