Saturday, December 15, 2012

Pictures that Pop

I must have been only four or five years old when my grandparents gave me my first View-Master viewer, an old Bakelite "Model E." With it came a packet of picture reels from "Beautiful Rock City Gardens" in Tennessee—a souvenir from one of their vacations. Unfortunately, the viewer broke long ago (Bakelite is brittle and easily shattered), but I still have two of the picture reels, with photos of scenic mountain views, people with 1950's clothing and hairstyles, and weird statues of gnomes and fairytale characters. Nothing special.

Except that they're 3D.

I acquired more picture reels—most of them Easter or Christmas gifts from my parents—and, eventually, a lighted Model H viewer to replace my old broken Model E. Back then we didn't have DVDs or VCRs. The only way to re-experience a favorite movie or TV show was to purchase the paperback, comic book, or View-Master version. My chosen medium was View-Master, of course.

Because it was 3D.

Model H and Some Favorite Picture Reels

I loved 3D pictures. It didn't matter what the subject of the picture was. Some of my picture reels were pretty lame (Why do I even have a packet of pictures from Greece?), but I still loved to look at them, simply because they were 3D.

It never occurred to me that I could create my own 3D photos. I thought it must require special (not to mention incredibly expensive) equipment. Then, several years ago, we took a cruise to Alaska with Garrison Keillor and the cast and crew of A Prairie Home Companion. Aside from the many sightseeing excursions on land, there were plenty of activities to keep us entertained on board the ship: daily performances by the musicians and cast, lectures by naturalists, choir practice and story-telling sessions with Garrison, radio acting lessons from actors Sue Scott and Tim Russell—

And a class in 3D photography taught by Fred Newman, the show's "touring SFX guy."

It turns out that Fred, aside from being a master of funny voices and sound effects, is also a very good amateur 3D photographer. And he taught me that anyone can be a 3D photographer. No special equipment is needed. All you need is a digital camera. Take a picture, take a step to the left (or right), and take another picture.

I took my first 3D photos when we got to Glacier Bay. I didn't need to take a step to the left or right—I simply let the motion of the ship move my point of view. The great thing about digital cameras is that you don't have to worry about wasting film. With a high capacity memory card, you can afford to take lots of pictures, and I did.

When we got back from the trip, I found a company on the Internet (PokeScope) that sells software that makes it easy to line up pairs of 3D photos, as well as a viewer to make it easier to view them. (It's possible to "free view" them without a viewer; if you're good at those "Magic Eye" pictures, you may be able to do it.)

Of course, many of my experiments in 3D photography didn't turn out well at all. I found that anything moving—birds, waves, falling chunks of ice, etc.—ruins the 3D effect. I posted some of the best ones in a set on Flickr, and I've added several more since then. If you'd like to take a look at them, here's the link.

Now if I could just figure out how to get them into View-Master reels...

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