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How to Make 3D Images

The purpose of this tutorial is provide you enough information to start creating your own 3-D images. It involves the use of StereoPhoto Maker, an invaluable tool for any level of stereographer, made freely available by Masuji Suto of Japan.

This section previously contained a tutorial on producing 3D images with Photoshop®. To access that tutorial, click here.

For highly advanced 3-D image producers, click here for our tutorial on shooting and producing photographic phantograms in Photoshop®.

Making 3-D images using a single digital camera, a computer, and StereoPhoto Maker
By David Starkman and Barry Rothstein

You'll need a digital camera and a computer (PC only, sorry the free software isn't available in a Mac version). Another name for 3D photography is "stereo photography" or "stereography". The two photos you take to form a 3D image are called a "stereo pair".

Taking your pictures

Be consistent. First take the LEFT eye picture, and then slide the camera about 2.5" to the RIGHT for the right eye picture. If you sometimes take the right picture first and sometimes the left first, you'll have a hard time knowing which is which.

It's best if your camera is on a tripod, but if you are doing this hand-held try to keep the camera as still as possible as you move to take the second shot. Keep the overall framing of the pictures the same while you are shifting 2.5 inches to take the pictures. When taking the left/right images, try to keep whatever is touching the bottom of the frame the same in both images to minimise vertical error.

Also note: if you plan on viewing your 3D pictures with red-blue anaglyph glasses, it's best to avoid photographing things that are red or cyan.

Unless you're using two digital cameras at the same time, you're going to be pretty much stuck with taking still life shots for now. You can try asking a friend to hold still between shots, but good luck having it work with kids or animals.

Organize your files

Decide where on your computer's hard drive you want to keep all your 3-D photo files. For the moment let's suppose that in My Documents you create a folder called "3D Photos". Inside 3D Photos create some subfolders. One might be name "Original Right" or "OR" and "Original Left" or "OL". Create another folder called "Anaglyph" and perhaps another called "SideSide". These are for storing your finished work.

Move the images from your camera into the 3D Photos folder, and then move the right shots into the "OR" folder and the left shots into the "OL" folder. There should be the same number of shots in each folder.

It's a good idea to rename the files, if you know how. Suppose you've started by taking five pairs of images. You might name them Photo1-L, Photo1-R, Photo2-L, Photo2-R, Photo3-L, Photo3-R, ... and so on. Suppose you've taken 10 or 20 or 50 or several hundred "stereo pairs" of images. Renaming them individually would take a long time. There's an excellent section in StereoPhoto Maker for renaming a whole folder full of files (Multi-Rename), that's described later in this tutorial. You may want to skip down and look at the multi-rename function after you've set up StereoPhoto Maker and brought your images into your computer, but before you actually start working them.

Downloading StereoPhoto Maker

StereoPhoto Maker (SPM) is a FREE software program for cropping and aligning a stereo image pair to make it suitable for comfortable 3-D viewing. Once aligned it will let you save the pair in a variety of viewing formats, including "anaglyph" -- the one that uses the cyan and red 3-D glasses. Go to the website:

http://stereo.jpn.org/eng/stphmkr/

and at the top you'll see

StereoPhoto Maker Ver3.10 591KByte 28/Oct/2006
StereoPhoto Maker Ver3.10a include help file 6945KByte 03/Nov/2006

Click on one of those links to download StereoPhotoMaker. We'd recommend you download it with the help files, but that's up to you.

A box should pop up asking if you want to open or save a file named "stphmkr310.zip". Hit the Save button. A box titled Save As pops up, asking you where to save it. In the "Save in" section, we recommend you save it on your desktop so you'll be able to find it easily.

Once it's downloaded, click on Open. A folder containing the file "stphmkre.exe" should open. We recommend that you drag it onto your desktop, again so that it will be easy to get to later on. You can now close the StereoPhoto Maker website window.

Hopefully you've now successfully installed StereoPhoto Maker.

Very Basic use of StereoPhoto Maker (SPM)

OK. You're ready to create your first 3D photo. Choose File, Open Left/Right Images. The program will guide you asking where it can find the left image, and then where it can find the right image. After you've selected the images both will appear side by side.

There are some useful icons going across the top of the program. For the moment let's learn just a few of them.

The red square overlapping the blue square is an important one. It's the "Easy Adjustment" icon. Click on that one. It takes you to a window that displays both images semi-transparently. You can then drag one until it lines up well with the other. Ideally the want to make the two images match up perfectly vertically, and match up horizontally for things in the very center of the picture. Line up the two images as well as you can and click OK.

The multicolored icon to the left of the vertical red-blue icon is there to see your image as an anaglyph. Now that you've aligned them, click on that and put on your 3D glasses. To get a big view, click on the icon that looks like a rectangle with an X through it. That will give you a full screen view. After you've had a good enough look at it, to go back to the regular program screen, hit the Esc key.

Do you like the image? Do you want to save it? Choose File, Save Stereo Image, and put it into your "Anaglyph" folder. You may want to change the name to that it doesn't have a -L or -R on it. Congratulations. You're well on your way.

Now let's try the Auto-align. Again, choose File, Open Left/Right Images, and tell the program which files to open. Then select Adjust, Auto-Align. If it ever asks if you want to use previous report files, always click No. The program will perform its magic comparing the two images and lining them up as perfectly as it can. If you want you can save this image also, perhaps with another name. You can later look at the two images and see how they compare, the one you did with Easy Adjust and the other you did with Auto Adjust.

Advanced StereoPhoto Maker Functions

Multi-Rename

Multi-Rename is located in the FILE popdown menu (File, Multi-Rename). This will allow you to rename groups of images from the cryptic number names given by the cameras (for example: DSC000561) to more useful names such as Name001_L and Name001_R. Even if there were holes in the original number sequence due to deletions, the batch rename function will number them 1 to the total number in the file, consecutively. This is very useful. It will make if much easier to identify the two images that form a stereo pair, and is essential if you use the Multi-Conversion function in StereoPhoto Maker, which can automatically batch process countless stereo pairs.

Once you've chosed File, Multi-Rename, a box comes up. In the Look In box, browse to the folder where you stored your original LEFT files. Select Full Rename. The next things you enter will provide information about the files. Suppose these are some desert images you just took, and/or maybe you want to indicate when you took them. For the moment lets suppose you've taken 25 stereo pairs, and that the left images are in a folder called OL and the right images in a folder called OR. In the box that says "Stereo" you could replace "Stereo" with Desert2007February or with any meaningful notation you wish. In the numbering box that shows "0001", you could replace the "0001" with "01", since you really only need two digits for 25 images. In the box that contains "_B.JPG", leave the "_" and the ".JPG", but replace the "B" with "L" or "OL" when renaming the LEFT files, and with "R" or "OR" when renaming the RIGHT files. Do this for both the left and right image folders, and now it will be much easier to identify your files.

Multi-Conversion

Above we've mentioned Easy Align and Auto-Align, two very powerful tools in SPM. Now for the real power of the program, try Multi-Conversion.

Quick note: If you've done a multi-rename of LEFT and RIGHT image folders in preparation for doing a multi-conversion, be sure to look at how many files are in each folder. It's not uncommon to have made a mistake or to have an unequal number of files in them. Doing a multi-conversion in such circumstances will be a mess. If you have an unequal number, you may need to look through them to remove "stray" single images, and then run multi-rename again.

Select File, Multi-Conversion. In Multi-Conversion you tell the program which files you want it to work on, how you want them to be saved, and where to save them. For this tutorial we're assuming that you're starting with two independent images files. As you become more advanced in working with StereoPhoto Maker this may not be true, but for the purpose of this tutorial let's start there.

In the Look In box, browse until you've brought up the folder containg the LEFT image files you want to work on. You don't need to choose a file name or file type.

In the Input File Type (Stereo) box, choose Independent (L/R). When you choose this, just below it a box saying Right Image Folder appears. Check that box and a Browse window appears. Click on Browse and choose the folder that contains your RIGHT image files. Leave the L Normal and R Normal boxes as they are. You'd use these if you needed to rotate the images or flip them, but that's another tutorial.

Next you need to choose Output File Type. For the sake of this tutorial, choose Color Anaglyph. After you've run this conversion sequence you may want to do it again and choose Gray Anaglyph, Side-by-Side, or Independent L/R, but for the moment choose Color Anaglyph.

In the Adjust box, select Auto-alignment, Auto Crop after adjustment and Auto Color Adjustment. There are lots of other options that you can explore later. Near the bottom you set the Output Folder box. This is where you tell the program where you want the new files you're creating to go. Remember at the beginning of this tutorial we suggested that you create folders called "Anaglyph". Hit the Browse button and choose that folder. Even if you didn't create those folders before, it's not too late. Go to Windows Explorer and create that folder, and browse to it.

Finally you can click on the Convert All Files button. If it asks you whether you want to use the "previous report files", click on No. Now just walk away or watch if you must. You'll see no dramatic graphics, just the computer running madly through its paces, trying to make sense of your stereo pairs. Depending on the speed and configuration of your PC it can take from 5 seconds to 3 minutes per pair. My old PC desktop took about 45 seconds per pair. My new dual core Pentium laptop takes about 18 seconds! Hard as it is to believe, the program will automatically adjust the images for a correct stereo window, corrects image rotation, size differences, and vertical difference errors. If you've been careful taking the two images here should be no problem in the majority of the images it produces.

You can even save the choices you've made so that the next time you run Multi-Conversion you don't need to click on all the same choices again. Just click on the Save box on the lower right of the window, and give it a name. To use those setting another time you'll click on Restore(File) and choose the file you saved.

The program itself is amazingly small in size, at only about 700 Kilobytes. There is also a help file which can be downloaded, and it takes up about 5 megabytes. This has extensive illustrated instructions, and is strongly recommended both for help and tutorial.

We hope this will provide you with enough information to get started using StereoPhoto Maker, and inspire you to download it and give it a try.

Rightfully we need to offer thanks and acknowledgment to Masuji SUTO (Japan), the creator of StereoPhoto Maker, and for his generosity in offering it online for free. Stereo photographers worldwide will long be in his debt. David Sykes (United Kingdom) produced the English-language documentation for SPM. He also reviewed and provided additions to this tutorial.