Diamond Images





History of 3-D Stereography

(reproduced with permission from Robert Leggat)

STEREOSCOPIC photography

Stereoscopic, or 3D photography, works because it is able to recreate the illusion of depth. Human eyes are set about two-and-a-half inches apart, so each eye sees an image slightly differently. If one takes two separate photographs that same distance apart, with a suitable viewer it is possible to recreate that illusion of depth.

It comes as a surprise to many to learn that the idea of stereoscopy actually preceded photography. Binocular drawings were made by Giovanni Battista della Porta (1538-1615), whilst about the same period Jacopo Chimenti da Empoli (1554-1640) produced drawings side by side which clearly indicated his understanding of binocular vision. 

In 1613 the Jesuit Francois d'Aguillion (1567-1617), in his treatise, coined the word "stéréoscopique" 

The first practical steps to demonstrate the theory by constructing equipment for the purpose did not take place until the 1800s. Though most associate Brewster with the invention, it was Sir Charles Wheatstone who, in June 1838, gave an address to the Royal Scottish Society of Arts on the phenomena of binocular vision. In describing the equipment, he said:

"I...propose that it be called a Stereoscope, to indicate its property of representing solid figures."

Wheatstone's actual stereoscope is preserved at the Science Museum in London. Eleven years were to elapse before Sir David Brewster described a binocular camera, and the first stereoscopic photographs began to be produced.

Early workers in this field include Fenton, who took photographs in Russia, when he visited there in 1852, and Jules Duboscq, who made stereoscopes and stereoscopic daguerreotypes. Duboscq in turn caused Antoine Claudet to become interested in stereoscopy; indeed, it was Claudet who patented stereoscopes in 1853.

The stereoscope took off in a big way when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert observed one at the exhibition at the Crystal Palace, and Brewster presented her with a stereoscope made by Duboscq. This signalled the beginning of a huge trade in stereoscopes and images; it is estimated that by the mid eighteen-fifties over a million homes owned one. One of the most successful salesmen of stereoscopic cards was George Nottage, later Lord Mayor of London, his catalogues listing over one hundred thousand views.

The most common process for making stereoscopic cards was the Albumen one, daguerreotype images being very rare.

A variety of viewers became available, from the simple Holmes viewer to cabinet-type viewers which could store fifty or so positives.

A different way to view images is the anaglyph process, which was developed by Ducos Du Hauron, and was a method of printing two images on to one sheet. The process is still quite popular today.

The London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company came into being in 1850 and continued for some seventy years.

The Stereoscopic Society was founded in 1893, and is one of two societies operating in Britain which continue to promote this form of photography.

© Robert Leggat, 2000