Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 27 comments



Here’s something different: a stereo* pair I took at a quarry in Cedar Park on September 14, 1980—40 years ago today! To see the image in 3-D, I suggest you get about 15 inches away from the screen and line each eye up with the matching half of the pair. Look straight ahead, then relax your eyes. Once you get used to things, the left half should drift a bit to the left, the right half a bit to the right, and in between them should appear a fused image of the two halves. If you manage to discern that middle image, your brain will interpret it as 3-D and you’ll see the big slab and the boulders behind it as having depth; the cloud was too far away from the foreground to have any depth. People’s vision varies enormously, so to get 3-D you may have to enlarge or shrink the images on your screen, or view the screen from closer or farther away, or put on or take off glasses, or drink a magic potion. Whatever you do, don’t close one eye; it takes two eyes to see 3-D, which is why we have two eyes. (People who have lost the sight of one eye or close one eye retain their sense of how things look in the physical world and may imagine they’re still seeing in 3-D, but they aren’t.)

Here’s a related fact for today: well-known movies filmed in 3-D include “House of Wax” (1953), “Kiss Me Kate” (1953), “It Came from Outer Space (1953), “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954), and “Dial M for Murder” (1954).

* We’ve grown up with the word stereo referring to music played through two speakers. More than a century before scientists applied the term to sound, though, they applied it to sight. The Greek original meant ‘solid,’ and solidity, i.e. three-dimensionality, is what a photographic stereo pair conveys.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 14, 2020 at 4:31 AM

27 Responses

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  1. it took a little bit of doing, but it was such a cool effect, and well worth it –


    September 14, 2020 at 4:42 AM

  2. This reminds me of the View Master images on the little reels that were a favorite of mine when I was growing up. I had trouble getting the image to “pop”–I could get a middle image to flicker for a second, but that was as far as I could get.

    Mike Powell

    September 14, 2020 at 5:04 AM

    • Having a viewer, like the View-Master you mentioned (and that I also remember so well from childhood), makes fusing the two halves much easier. Unfortunately I couldn’t include one in this post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 14, 2020 at 5:18 AM

  3. Excellent! Works like a charm. Perhaps because you mentioned a couple of sci-fi movies, it reminds me of “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

    Robert Parker

    September 14, 2020 at 5:45 AM

    • I’m glad it worked like a charm for you. The famous monolith you mentioned was an unusual sort of charm of its own. I read a bunch of Arthur C. Clarke’s books when I was a teenager and found them charming, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 14, 2020 at 5:57 AM

  4. I couldn’t get this to work. I tried a couple of different times (took a break and got myself a cup of coffee) but no luck. I wonder if having monovision, is the culprit. I had lasik surgery in my mid-thirties, and about fifteen years ago, had had an enhancement in the right eye. So now the right eye is for distance viewing and the left for close up.

    I never knew about the word stereo being applied to sight. Interesting!


    September 14, 2020 at 6:47 AM

    • I think you’ve hit on the explanation. I’d even thought about saying in my text that people with one eye for distance and the other for close-ups would probably have trouble fusing a side-by-side stereo pair. I imagine an optometrist could prescribe a pair of glasses that would let you see stereo pairs, but the expense wouldn’t be worth it unless you wanted or needed to view lots of stereo pairs.

      If it hadn’t been for my involvement in 3-D photography, I might have been like almost everyone else now and not known that stereo originally referred to sight rather than sound.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 14, 2020 at 8:11 AM

  5. Interesting.


    September 14, 2020 at 7:17 AM

  6. I am sad to report that as for littlesundog the stereo effect did not work for me.

    Peter Klopp

    September 14, 2020 at 9:16 AM

    • I’m used to that. Even way back in the days when I exhibited stereo prints in galleries and I provided plastic viewers to visitors, there were still people who couldn’t get the 3-D effect. People’s eyes vary a lot.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 14, 2020 at 10:09 AM

  7. I couldn’t make it work for me but it reminded me about a pocket stereoscope which I found in a stash of my grandparents’ belongings. https://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/object/435060 I have since sold the stereoscope.


    September 15, 2020 at 3:12 AM

    • If you still had the stereoscope, you could use the panel with the two lenses in it to look at my on-screen stereo pair. Do you remember using your grandparents’ stereoscope (or any other) when you were a child to look at 3-D images? I remember owning a View-Master when I was a kid: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/View-Master.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 15, 2020 at 6:12 AM

      • I definitely had a View-Master and I am fairly sure that my children’s View-Master is in a box in the attic.


        September 16, 2020 at 5:01 AM

  8. That’s a lovely share. Thanks

    Olivia Ava

    September 15, 2020 at 6:54 AM

  9. Even after ordering the magic potion from Amazon, the images wouldn’t merge for me. I’m glad I read through the comments, though, because I wouldn’t have thought of my lens implant surgery as the reason. Rather than multi-focus lenses, I chose one lens for distant vision and one for near. No more Viewmaster views for me!

    On the other hand, now I know that the Viewmaster became part of the Toy Hall of Fame in 1999. Even better, your post raised memories of my family’s first stereo. It came with a demonstration record that included a ping-pong ball bouncing from one speaker to the other, and a train traveling through the system. I remember my music-loving father being especially pleased with it.


    September 16, 2020 at 5:44 AM

    • After that comment I remembered that you have separate lenses for near and far, so I was waiting to see if you could get the stereo effect in spite of that. The odds were definitely against you. As for stereo sound, while I’ve heard of (but not heard, unless I’m forgetting) demonstration records like the one you mentioned. I did, however that in record stores there was a partition in the bin for each title, with mono recordings on one side of the partition and stereo records on the other side.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 16, 2020 at 8:03 AM

  10. We had a ViewMaster too, when I was a boy. But my dad went one step farther: He had a stereo camera that made two half-frame images on 35 mm film that he would lovingly (and laboriously) mount in glass with taped edges so that we could see them in a special stereo viewer. I thought the camera was an Argus, but I can’t seem to find it with a Google search. I have no idea what happened to those photos, most unfortunately. I would love to revisit them, as I have several of them saved in indelible memory.


    September 18, 2020 at 1:11 AM

    • There was an Argus Stereo camera, but the page at https://collectiblend.com/Cameras/Argus/3D-Stereo.html shows it dating from 1998, which I think would’ve been too late for your father to be using it. In the era when we were kids, Kodak was one brand of stereo camera, and so was the Stereo Realist, which may have been the most popular one. I used several Stereo Realists from the late 1970s into the 1980s. That’s what I took the 3-D picture in today’s post with. In any case, I’m sorry that your father’s stereo pictures have disappeared. More and more things remain in memory only, as you noted.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 18, 2020 at 6:13 AM

  11. This made me think of a very old stereoscope that a friend found many years ago, along with a nice set of photos to view. I can’t quite get my eyes to do the trick…send the magic potion!


    September 18, 2020 at 2:34 PM

    • You’ve already named the magic potion: a stereoscope. Perhaps you’re in a position to borrow your friend’s—assuming it’s the kind of stereoscope whose lenses could get close to and have an unimpeded view of the onscreen image pair.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 18, 2020 at 2:59 PM

      • No, no, no! I’m talking about the early 70s, a lifetime ago. It’s probably long gone. If it were mine it would be, unfortunately, I’ve moved so many times since then that I hardly have anything at all from those days. 😦


        September 28, 2020 at 7:26 PM

        • Given the erosive nature of time, I’m sometimes amazed at how many relics from ancient civilizations have made it down to us. Historians are worried that not nearly as many digital relics will survive.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 28, 2020 at 8:39 PM

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