3D has a way of diving in and out of short-lived trends, but the ability to create a 3D photo without any extra hardware can give the technology more stay than 3D TVs. Shared with your social media feeds, 3D photos seem to bend and move as friends scroll past, creating eye-catching graphics that are more likely to pause the scroll.
3D traditionally requires multiple cameras to capture the information to reconstruct the depths of the scene, but thanks to artificial intelligence, 3D photos can now be snapped from smartphones with a single lens and even generated from existing 2D photos. While the quality will not replace the quality of an actual 3D camera or photogrammetry, it also means you do not have to buy or bring any extra gear to do so.
Of course, if you plan to shoot a lot of 3D, dedicated 3D cameras will still offer more quality and less room for error. The Vuze XR, for example, shoots 3D, 180-degree images with the two lenses facing forward, and 2D 360 with the lenses back to back.
If you want to take a 3D photo from a smartphone, you need to download an app – or use one you already have, such as Facebook – and put some 3D photo tips into play.
1. Select a third-party photography app.
There are a few dozen 3D photography apps that dot the app stores, but not all are created equal. Some do not create a real 3D photo, but instead a 3D parallax video, or a short video that shows the depth, rather than interacting with the user’s scrolling or the position of the display device. Others are clumsy and difficult to use or have not been updated recently. Of the apps we tried, PopPic and LucidPix offered the most seamless experience. You can also create 3D photos with an app that more than 2 billion people already use: Facebook.
PopPic is an iOS-only app that, along with creating 3D photos, allows users to play with depth in other ways, such as adjusting background blur even from a single-lens device. The app is as easy to use as all basic camera apps. Just press the shutter button to take a photo and wait for the app to be processed into a 3D image. When a menu at the bottom has different filters, effects and focus tools.
LucidPix uses AI to generate a 3D image from your camera, or from an existing 2D image, from an Android or iOS device. The results are pretty good depending on the scene, although the 3D Face option creates some really scary selfies. It lacks the ability to use that 3D capability to adjust blur, but offers 3D frames and filters.
Facebook need no introduction – but the hidden 3D tools may need to be pointed out. Facebook will turn existing photos into a 3D image. To make it happen, start a post as you normally would, add a photo and in the upper left corner, click on the icon that says “Make 3D” and wait for the photo to be processed.
2. Snap a photo on a plain background.
Without multiple lenses, AI can only guess at angles that the camera cannot see. On a busy, messy background, AI usually guesses horribly and fills the gaps with blurred colors that look wild out of place.
To help the app – and get better results – take the photo on a regular background. AI should have an easier time filling in a few colors rather than a few dozen.
Of course, 3D is not at all interesting when there is no depth in the image. Although the background should not be cluttered, the photo should still have a depth. Avoid photographing people or objects pushed up against a wall.
Objects against the image edge, especially in computer-generated 3D, tend to distort the most, and in some cases completely out of focus. Hold the most important aspects of the image towards the center of the frame.
Share or save.
Apps may snap 3D photos, but these files may not be compatible with your operating system. In other words, if you save them in your camera roll, you will get a flat 2D image. Most 3D photo apps allow you to send the image directly to a compatible social network, including Facebook. For networks that are not compatible, or to share with your smart device, a video or GIF will keep the 3D effect intact but will not interact with the movement of the viewer’s phone. Save as a 2D image is still an option for creating a blurred background with a 3D app.