One of my geeky obsessions is stereographic photography. This interest manifests itself in the form of a personal museum of historical stereoscopic photographs and examples of 3D viewing devices ranging from an original 19th century wooden viewer through to an aircraft recognition training tool from the Second World War. I’m also an avid stereoscopic photographer, using the world’s first commercially available 3D digital stills camera – Fuji’s 3D W1.
It is easy to presume that 3D images are a relatively recent invention but they have been around since the dawn of photography. The beauty of stereoscopic photography is that it replicates the way we see the world – with two eyes, not one. This is crucial as it is by observing objects with two slightly different angles that we are able to better perceive depth. There are of course other ways of perceiving depth and the name for them is monocular cues (an area of great importance for cyclopes) but what I like about stereoscopic photography is that by taking two slightly different views of the same subject it is recording additional information. Whenever you record additional information then somewhere down the track there is a good chance that someone might find a way to use it to make cool stuff.
The key problem with stereoscopic photogaphy is that it can be difficult to share with people. A conventional photograph can be shared simply by printing it out and giving it to someone, but a stereoscopic photograph needs to be viewed in a way that replicates how we really see the world – with each eye giving a slightly different perspective of the same subject. There are many creative ways of doing this, all with their advantages and disadvantages. In Victorian times the most popular way of viewing 3D photos was with a handheld wooden stereoscopic viewer. A century ago these viewers were a popular form of entertainment and stereoscopic photographs were taken all over the world – including in little old Dunedin at the bottom of the South Island, New Zealand.
In my collection I have several dozen 3D photographs from Dunedin that I guess were taken here sometime between 1905 – 1910. Included in this series are a number that were taken in the Botanic Gardens.
This one here is my favourite. I’m sharing it as an animated gif file which alternates between the left and right view. The jittering and jumping can be rather off-putting but it is the easiest way to share these images with someone who doesn’t have a special viewer. Some of the alternative ways I could share the image includes in 3D documentaries (I’ve used similar historical stereoscopic images in 3D documentary films before), as files for 3D TV sets, as anaglyphs (but for that you’d need a pair of red-cyan glasses which I presume most of you threw out in the 90’s), viewmaster reels, old-school styles with an original Victorian viewer or if anyone has an autostereoscopic display then I can provide these as .MPO files.
Animated gif files are a fun and easy way of sharing 3D photos. A friend of mine developed this awesome generator to make them easily. Here is another generator I’ve also used. They seem to work better for some images than others. Some turn out alright but others like the one below end up looking like they were taken during a severe earthquake.
To maximise the quality of stereo photo animated gifs I really need some kind of decent editing software which would allow me to crop and set the convergence zone. Also it seems that they work best if the main subject is in the foreground.
Some images such as the following one look awesome in my stereo viewer and make fantastic autostereoscopic images but don’t work at all as gifs. It is a shame really as 3D Edwardian snow fights are rather cool.
This one here turned out alright comparatively. Although sadly a meandering waterway isn’t as exciting as a snowball fight.
I’d been meaning for sometime to trek around the Dunedin Botanic Gardens and hunt out some of the places in these old photos. It was much more difficult than I anticipated, it turns out that there is a gardening term called “landscaping” which renders many historical points of references completely useless.
This was especially true of the waterways and I spent a decent amount of time trying to figure out where a particular bridge was until the friendly helper at the information kiosk informed me that “there used to be a whole heap of water-features next to THE MONKEY CAGES!”.
I never knew that there were monkeys in the Dunedin Botanic Gardens and was very disappointed to find out that said water-features no longer existed and neither did the monkeys. Yes, I know that it is selfish to want monkeys to live in captivity, especially so in the “warm for five days a year” Dunedin climate, but my life could really use some regular monkey interaction. Oh well, the ducks will have to do.
I did of course also find the heated Edwardian Winter House, one of the oldest and most dominant features of the Botanic Gardens. Here it is about a century since it was first photographed in 3D.
The roses in the foreground look alright but it looks like at least a 6.0 on the Richter scale in the background. It is for that reason that I don’t really like jitter-gifs but I do intend to share a few of my favourite historical stereophotos in upcoming posts – in the meantime it would be great if you could all rush out and get some autostereoscopic viewers so you can appreciate them in their full 3D awesomeness without getting motion sickness.
By the way Dunedinites – your Botanic Gardens turn 150 next year! They are the oldest in the country. Head over there and check them out, just don’t waste time looking for non-existent monkeys.
© Lemuel Lyes