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Converting a 2D Image into a Stereoscopic 3D Image with Photoshop

May 11th, 2010 · 10 Comments · 2D to 3D Conversion


Here is one interesting video tutorial that I stumbled across that demonstrates a simple, but effective technique to create a depth map of a 2D photo or another image and then use the depth map to convert it to stereoscopic 3D image in a Side by Side format. This is done with the help of the Displace filter available in Photoshop that allows you to reconstruct the view for the other eye based on the depth map you’ve created. You should have patience and not get discouraged if you don’t manage to get great results the first time you do this, try again and again and further improve the results, but be ready to spent a lot of time experimenting. This is needed because the 2D to 3D conversion process needs not only to rely on doing the things lets say mathematically correct, but also in a way that they will visually look best and that requires visual checking. You should also be careful not to have depth contradicting cues when you are doing the conversions as this might disturb you when you view the final image and create a negative effect instead of positive one in the viewer. And in order to start making really good conversions you’ll need some time to play and experiment to get the right feeling of doing the conversion, and you’ll also get some useful experience in the process, even though in the demo video above the procedure might seem very simple and easy to you, it is not so easy getting really good results…

But let me do some more explanations about the depth maps if you don’t know what are these. Depth maps are grayscale graphic files that define the depth of each pixel of the image, so when you combine a 2D still image with a depth map file you can generate a second view of the image with the needed offset as defined in the depth map so that the result is a stereoscopic 3D image. In a depth map file the pixels rage from pure white to complete black (no other colors are being used), where if a pixel is brighter it represents the fact that the real pixel of the image should seem closer and if it is darker it should be far from the viewer. So a pixel with white color in the depth map seems close to you (jumping out of the screen), a gray one will be in between (at screen depth) and a completely black one will be furthest away from you (going inside the screen).

When converting a single 2D image into a stereoscopic 3D one with Photoshop, you need to start with drawing the depth map (in a separate layer of course) and starting with a gradient or fully filling with a grayscale color the whole image surface. This is needed in order to not have empty regions in the depth map left by mistake as this might mess up with the end result you’ll get in terms of depth. After you’ve prepared the background of the depth map, you can start to define one or more layers of depth for the different objects displayed on the image. Using additional layers for the depth map might be good idea in order to have more control when working with fine details and/or if you need to more easily convert multiple similar images. If you create more layers of depth it also means that you’ll have more depth information and the depth effect will feel more natural and close to reality, but more layers need more work as even a single more complex object (a person in the photo for example) might even need 5, 10 or even more layers with depth information and that requires more time to be done precisely.

You can share your conversions using this method in the Forum…

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10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 David // May 12, 2010 at 00:02

    hmm… the result looks like sh…. :P

  • 2 mg // Jul 3, 2010 at 04:34

    uhhh I use PS very rarely and was wondering how you got the layers side by side – yeah I know, pathetic!

  • 3 Bloody // Jul 3, 2010 at 09:37

    You can use the align edges functions of the move tool for example… left and right for the respective frames and you are ready in just a moment.

  • 4 Chris // Aug 14, 2011 at 17:24

    I know it’s over a year ago, but im just getting into this.. Just to bring it up again, this side-by-side thing, you make it look so easy. but i can’t figure out how you do it so easely. Im preaty good at photoshop and I hate manual work. So wich shortcuts do you use?

  • 5 Gleeok // Aug 16, 2011 at 18:26

    Results aren’t VERY VERY visible, but its amazing. I will surely work with that method more

  • 6 wolfe.inugami // Aug 30, 2011 at 01:42

    What was that shortcut for side by side?

  • 7 Nathaniel // Nov 2, 2011 at 03:32

    I did this with an image, but PS only converted some of the image (I followed the instructions here exactly). It works fine for every other image I’ve tried.

  • 8 Gabe // Jun 29, 2013 at 00:21

    Hello, I followed the instructions, got visible depth in then end side by side comparison but for some reason it’s smudging the person in the foreground and distorting the figure too much. Wondering what you did differently. I used pure black on the foreground figure because I want them to be the closest thing to the camera. I can send an image along.

  • 9 Alex // Jul 9, 2015 at 09:47

    Thank you for the tutorial. I was used to use an online tool for this and the website shut down and I already got worried about the finding an alternative.

  • 10 Andrew // Jan 24, 2016 at 04:12

    I have found a great website that does fantastic 3d conversions check at william3d.com, he offers 3 free samples mine turned out great I gave them one of my first Dog growing up in the 80s, it really was amazing to see her again in 3d was like bringing her back to life!

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