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Stereo Photography


Stereo Image

One of three stereo cameras I've built over the years. This is the MK.3 Olympus XA stereo camera, which has a reasonable amount of control over aperture and focus, but can be fiddly to set up. The shutters are fired electronically, so it's an easy job to connect one shutter to another to get perfect sync. I have another one of these which is made from automatic XA2s which is more of a point and shoot type camera - but has a smaller lens to lens difference, so good only to about 15'. Reloading them can be time consuming, and they do, of course, present pictures only in vertical (portrait) format. But they work.


I've been taking stereo pictures sporadically ever since I first really discovered them in Argentina in 1990. I've built two stereo cameras from Olympus XA's, used 3D cameras, and also used a horizontal slide bar to take two images a certain distance apart. It's a lot of fun, and was the Nintendo equivalent to the Victorians, who loved anything new and exciting.

That we see in three dimensions at all is because we have two eyes, and there is a distance between them. The brain interprets that information to give us depth perception - immensely useful as a hunter because if you need to pounce on something, it helps to know how far away it is. If you're prey, then eyes tend to be on the side of one's head to give all round view - to a Guinea-pig, depth perception is very limited, but then not so useful - but having an almost 360 degree vision all the way round and above too. Try and sneak up on a Guinea-pig and you'll see what I mean.

As a curious aside, you can still get depth perception with one eye - by moving. You can try it now at your desk. Hold a hand over any eye and sit still, everything goes a bit flat and you lose depth perception. Now move gently to your left and right, and spookily, the depth perception comes back. The brain is making up a three dimensional image from the differing viewpoints seen by your single eye, which is seriously neat. It explains how when you are climbing out of La Guardia in an aircraft (it works with other airports, I've found) all the buildings half a mile away seem to have depth to them, 'like little boxes'. That's not really possible in normal circumstances as the stereo effect while stationary works to only about 100', but we can see the effect here because we're moving so fast.

Stereo photography emulates the stereo effect by giving each eye the same picture but from a slightly differing viewpoint, usually a little over the eye-to-eye distance to exaggerate the effect, and your brain does the rest. The camera is usually fitted with identical lenses and a shutter that fires precisely at the same time. The two pictures are then presented to the correct eye, and bingo - depth perception.

That's basically the tune of it, and it's always fascinated me - what doesn't, to be honest - and below are a few stereographs taken over the years.

'Okay, well, neat-O' I hear you say, but how do you view them? Well, my inquisitive friend, it is possible with a little practice to view stereo pictures without a viewer. The pictures below are all 'Cross eye' free-view, which means that the right picture will be seen by the left eye, and the left picture by the right eye. It will be necessary to go a little cross-eyed and try moving back and forth until the image magically pops into 3D effect. Stick at it if you can't get it to work, or go on the Google and search 'free view' for a few tips.

You'll be using muscles in your eyes that you don't usually use, so if your eyes tire, then come back a little later and try again. Or watch Tiger King on Netflix. It's quite bizarre - but you may want to be wary of the somewhat bizarre false equivalency that the filmmakers seem to promote between Baskine and Exotic.

Stereo Image

How young am I? A youthful 29. It's 1990 and I'm on Highlander II , my first proper Main Unit Camera focus gig (Thank you, Peter and Phil), and much of my day off was taken up with going through the flea markets. I came across a stereo camera and a viewer, loaded up the camera with 35mm and tried it out. The best camera I found was a TDC Realist (not the one pictured here) which boasted tack-sharp Rodenstock lenses. The pictures were square on the 35mm film, and ingeniously spaced so they paired in every third image - no waste. This was from my first roll, experimenting in the lift of the Hotel Gran Dora, where I stayed on the three month shoot.


Stereo Image

Still on the set of Highlander II , this was a little later once we'd moved to the night shooting on the old docks - useful railways lines ran though the set, which we took full advantage of, even using a loco and rolling stock for a fight sequence. Connor McCleod is just emerging from an explosion here, and that's us on Main Unit filming it. L-R: Me, Peter Turner, Bob Freeman. That's Christoph Lambert partially obscured by a camera flag, microphone in overhead. Chris was stepping forward and we were tracking in. Taken on TDC Realist, but not be me, obviously. Camera is an Arri BL, and we shot on Xtal Express Scope lenses supplied by JDC.

Stereo photography was used extensively in aerial surveillance during the 2nd World War, and you didn't need two cameras - all you did was ensure that between two pictures there was sufficient overlap to give you two images seperated by a given distance, calculated given the speed and the height. These were in exaggerated stereo effect - hyperstereography - so small objects would pop into relief when viewed by interpreters. The V-plant at Penemunde was discovered in this fashion, where the Third Reich were developing their V1 and V2 weapons.


Stereo Image

This was taken on Goldeneye in 1995, while we were in the South of France shooting the main actors in the car chase sequence. (The 2nd unit shot most of it; main unit were just there for the talent) As you can see, this is Famke in her Ferrari, which we spent quite a while rigging for camera and lights. It's being towed by a low-loader, so Famke's not driving, and we'd had the road shut for about six miles.

As you might imagine, time between setups was quite long, as these rigs take time. This was taken on the most basic of stereo cameras. I'd bought two disposable cameras, taped them together and then pressed both shutters simultaneously. Some shutter releases were a fraction out, so the stereo effect went all squiffy, but others worked well - like this one.

As an aside, you can take stereo pictures with a single camera, so long as the subject doesn't move. I've taken them in the past by simply shifting my weight from my right to my left and taking two snaps. Forests are best photographed in mist, on long lenses, B&W or in stereo.

Mars Rovers take lots of stereo pictures, many of which are available for download and viewing.


Stereo Image

March 2004 and I'm in New York, with the sort of framing that works well for stereo pictures. Not sure what's going on here, but this was taken on the Olympus rig seen at the top of this article.

This was also shot on slide film because - and this is where it gets really good - you can project three dimensional images and view them, like in the movies, with special glasses. Simply put, you use two slide projectors both projected with as good a registration as possible on a silvered screen. You then place polarised filters on the projectors so arranged that when you wear polarised filters in the special glasses, each eye sees the image it is meant to see - and again, hey presto. (In case that makes no sense, two polarising filters at 90 degrees to one another is rendered opaque - so by arranging the orientation of the filters in the glasses and the projectors.. yes?)

It made earlier 3-D movies quite dark, and modern Imax 3-D systems utilise LCD technology in the glasses that blank off the vision in alternate eyes with the projector synced to do the same - so that each image goes to the eye that it is meant to. If that still makes no sense, best go on wikipedia where the explanation is much better - and longer. The good thing about projecting 3D is that you can give a slide show to twenty or more people at the same time, and thus bore people at a much greater rate than was previously thought possible.


Stereo Image

We're in 2009 now, at the Silverstone meeting of the Vintage Sports Car Club. This is a Bugatti 35B - or a modern 'recreation'. By a concerted policy of restoration, there are now far more Bugattis than were ever made. In any event, this is someone stripping down the top end for some reason. The camshaft has been removed, and with it, the ignition magneto which ran off the end of the camshaft and poked through the dashboard - that's what the hole is. I hope that's clear. As I'm a thoughtful sort of chappie, this is actually a 2000 pixel wide image, so you can save and freeview until you get a headache - there's quite a lot of detail. If you think there's too many valves for a straight eight engine, there's two inlet for each cylinder, and one exhaust.


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