3-D Photography: Trend or Niche?

3-D Photography: Trend or Niche?


Two-story tall sharks swam at me in 3-D. I jumped in my seat at the Monterey iMax Theatre. Jean-Michel Cousteau was presenting a 3-D film about sharks—and I was endeavoring to understand what was happening with 3-D today.

While I had seen the 3-D Super Bowl commercial last January with eyeglasses picked up at my local grocery store, this was my first theatrical 3-D experience since childhood. I enjoyed the film, but for me it raises the question: Will 3-D films stimulate an interest in 3-D still photography?

Disney/Pixar announced all of their future animated films will be in 3-D; Dreamworks is also promising a preponderance of 3-D offerings; James Cameron, of "Titanic" fame, is about to release "Avatar" in 3-D; and television networks plan for 3-D programming. Clearly the profile of 3-D motion pictures will rise to new heights rather quickly. Can 3-D still-imaging solutions be far behind?

I think not: Fujifilm showed prototypes of the FinePIx Real 3-D W1 still camera and the 3-D V1 viewer at the PMA 2009 tradeshow, and both will be available this fall. There is even a printer coming as well that makes 3-D prints with a fine-pitch lenticular coating to enable depth viewing without special glasses. The sample lenticular sheet I saw was so fine, in fact, that I had to run my fingernail over the image to tell that the grooves were actually there.

With a sub-$500 3-D camera available and a viewer, will Fujifilm achieve significant market penetration—and coax the other camera companies into following suit?

That depends on how many people get intrigued about the capabilities of 3-D and start working with it at the consumer and professional level. I can imagine brides-to-be asking their wedding photographers to include 3-D photos of their big event in their albums. I can certainly see professionals embracing the opportunities and challenges presented by 3-D photography and demanding high-quality prints from their pro lab suppliers.

3-D Possibilities

Let’s take a look at a few examples that illustrate how 3-D could be used in the consumer and professional arenas. Take that bride-to-be: Suppose she wants to really capture her event’s excitement in her wedding album. She wants to see the champagne shoot across the crowd when the cork is popped. She wants to almost hear her wedding party shouting for joy when they raise their glasses in a toast to the happy couple as she views those shots. Once she has these photos in her wedding album, her unmarried friends will line up to ask for her photographer’s name so they can have the same exciting photos of their weddings.

If you are the photographer who shoots that wedding in 3-D, next you’ll perhaps shoot some school sports shots. Won’t the students and families catch fire with the motion of that fly ball in mid-air, the football actually crossing the goal posts and the soccer ball entering the net? Sports photography will come alive with 3-D like never before.

Consumer shooters want vacation and holiday shots to return them to the scene of the fun. She wants her friends to feel the mist coming off of Niagara Falls as it cascades behind her family gathered at the rail of the Maid of the Mist. She wants the glow of the candles on the birthday cake to be reflected in the faces around the table as her son blows them out. The emotion of these scenes can be captured in depth with 3-D like she can’t even imagine today.

An Extra Dimension

The photographer who has all of the latest DSLR equipment and wants more in his search to soothe his creative muse begins to understand there is something more than 2-D. Suddenly there is an entirely new meaning to the concept of "depth of field." He can take shots of tide pools where he can actually capture the layers of the scene from the clear surface, down through the floating creatures to the plants on the bottom. He can capture the rays of light that make up a sunset from foreground to infinity. He no longer is restricted to seeing the world in just two dimensions.

I realize that as we design and build these 3-D tools and their support systems, we need to understand how they will be used and the unique capabilities that will make them successful—just as e-mail was the silver bullet that made the Internet ubiquitous. For this we must turn to the 3-D artists who have been experimenting and creating in this three-dimensional world for years.

Lhotka’s Natural Order

One such 3-D artist is Bonny Lhotka, founding member of the Digital Atelier. She’ll speak at our 6Sight Future of Imaging conference held in Monterey, Calif., on November 10-12, and exhibit "Natural Order," a selection of 3-D images with lenticular animation based on natural forms including water, land and atmosphere in Monterey’s Alvarado Gallery. "Artists are often at the leading edge of exploring the non-traditional communication opportunities brought about by new media and new media technologies," said Alexis Gerard, 6Sight Co-founder and Conference Chair. "Bonny has for a decade been at the forefront of exploring how depth information transforms the expressive possibilities of still images. Her work and the insights she has derived will greatly enrich our attendees’ experience on both an entertainment and a business level."

6Sight’s 3-D Imaging cluster of sessions will also include a presentation of Fujifilm’s latest 3-D technology, a discussion of Hollywood’s 3-D content push in movies, 3-D televisions and the implications for display capabilities in the living room, and an update on lenticular printing systems and capabilities. We will also explore the possibilities and applications for 3-D data that is optically gathered but not rendered.

Joe Byrd is Co-Founder and President of 6Sight Conferences.


Image courtesy of 3-D artist Bonny Lhotka, founding member of the Digital Atelier. Her exhibit "Natural Order" features 3-D images with lenticular animation based on natural forms, including water, land and atmosphere in Monterey’s Alvarado Gallery.