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Minerals in 3D

Last Updated: 20th Nov 2015

By Pavel Martynov

1. Crossed-eye stereopairs

A few years ago I found a few images on the web that impressed me greatly. I am talking about stereo-photos of minerals. For now there is a lot of ways of viewing 3D images: 3D TV, virtual reality glasses, stereoscope. But there is one method of viewing 3D images that requires no special equipment at all. It is stereopairs viewing.

Cross-eye method explanation
The easiest way to learn viewing stereopairs is the cross-eye method. Learning to view stereopairs is somewhat similar to learning riding a bike. When you try it for the first time, it take some time to learn, you fall and try again. But once you got the skill, it remains with you for all of your life. After you have learned to view stereopairs, it takes less than a second to focus and to see a 3D-image.

The learning won't take much time. Younger friends of mine usually got the new skill in 1 to 5 minutes, some others learned for up to half an hour. Some of you may ask: "Isn't eye-crossing harmful for your sight?". No, it isn't. It is even good for your eye muscles, as they are training during the process.

Here is a picture with "planets" - special simple picture ideal for training. To see the 3D-effect for the first time, you should first train and try with this picture. After you saw the 3D effect on it, it will be easy to apply your new skill to mineral stereo-photographs. Before you start trying please read the instructions below.

"Planets" - an ideal stereopair for training


He's implementing the cross-eye method!
1. First make yourself sure that you can bring your eyes together staring at the point of your nose. For example when staring at your finger and moving it closer and closer to your face. (look at the picture on the right :)

2. You should sit right in front of the picture on you monitor. You should stare right into the center of the photograph, and your stare line is at the angle of 90 degrees to the screen. You should keep your head exactly- the line connecting two identical points on left and right images must be parallel to the line connecting your eyes. Even a small lean of your head can prevent you from seeing the 3D image.

3. While looking onto the stereopair, you should let loose your stare (some call it “un-focus”), do not concentrate on details, and look straight into the middle of the line separating left and right images. Now you can start to mow your eyes. To make this process easier you can take a pencil into your hand and bring it to the line separating the images. Then move the pencil slowly towards your eyes, looking at its end, but watching the picture in the back. Important moment, you look at the pencil but at the same time you watch the picture behind it, like with a corner-eye vision.

4. The left and right images will begin to bifurcate. Maybe you will see 4 images behind the pencil. But at the correct pencil position 2 of them will unite, and you will see pencil and three images behind it. The middle one of them is the 3D-image that we want to see.

5. Then you should draw your attention to the middle image, but not moving your eyes. Middle image will eventually become focused, and you will see the 3D. After you saw it, you can look at any part of the image, studying every detail, like with normal image. The deal is done!

To those who already learned the trick I offer to enjoy some minerals in 3D:

Dolerophanite from Tolbachik volcano. FOV 2,5 mm. Single crystal length up to 1,5 mm.

Rabbittite from Belorechenskoye deposit. Crystal aggregate height is 2mm.

Malachite from Rubtsovskoe deposit. Horisontal FOV 5mm.

Pyrite inclusions in calcite from Belorechenskoe deposit. Simultaneous growth. FOV 5mm.

Aquamarine inside smokey quartz from Svetlinskoe pegmatite field. FOV 1,5 cm

Goethite grown around malachite needles from Fiolent cape. FOV 5mm

2. The details that cannot be seen in 2D.

Viewing stereophotographs isn’t just an entertainment. For many years in science articles and magazines it had been a standard of representation of objects, when it was necessary to make an accent at their shape, e.g. complex molecules in biochemistry. There are some cases when details that are not seen in 2D can easily be distinguished in 3D. Here is an example:

Тораz crystal with quartz inclusions from Volodarsk-Volynskiy. FOV 2 cm

Same specimen. FOV 7 mm

Crop from the previous photo. FOV 3 mm

When looking at the pictures above in 3D, you can easily see the shape and mutual position of inclusions. And it becomes absolutely clear that yellowish inclusion lies inside quartz, not on its surface, and you can see at what angle it goes inside. Look closer at the shape and location of negative crystals filled with liquid and gas. It is much harder to distinguish their shapes in 2D.

The next photo reveals some interesting aspects about inclusions too:
Quartz with feldspar inclusions from Volodarsk-Volynskiy. FOV 4 cm

3. High resolution stereo viewing.

For those who already can view ordinary stereopairs there is an even greater opportunity.
It is viewing high resolution 3D images with zoom capability. The amount of details which can be seen in a single photo strikes and amazes. Here on the right there is a video example of how it works. Try to view this video same way as you viewed stereopairs.

For viewing high resolution stereopairs, you will need special software.
The software exists for both Windows and MacOS. I myself used only one viewer for Windows called StereoPhotoMaker. The program is freeware, doesn’t require installation, and weights 1,5Mb which is less than one photograph. Latest version can be downloaded from the developer’s site: http://stereo.jpn.org/eng/stphmkr/ I will also try to find a MacOs analogue and to update this article with it.

To view the photo using the StereoPhotoMaker:

1) Download the photo in FULL resolution to your computer. Each of my photos listed in this article can be downloaded in high resolution, you must be logged in to mindat to make this option available. Log in, click on the photo, then click on the link under the photo which says "Click here for higher-resolution version (x.xxMB)".

2) Run the StereoPhotoMaker. Drag-and-drop the photo into the program’s window.

3) Next make the StereoPhotoMaker window size comfortable for you to view, and «enter the 3D mode», cross-eyes as usual.

4) Now you can zoom into every little detail of the image, while viewing in 3D and not loosing the effect. You can zoom in and out using mouse wheel, and you can drag the image while holding the left button. StereoPhotoMaker also allows changing the viewing mode – to parallel type stereopair or anaglyph or interlaced.

If you already learned how to view ordinary stereopairs – you should certainly try doing it this way with the zooming software! Full resolution viewing is as superior in compare to ordinary stereopairs, as ordinary stereopairs are to 2D images.

4. How to shoot stereo images

And final few words concerning how to shoot stereopairs.
It is a very-very simple process, especially in compare to the extreme macro stacking photography that many people here at mindat do with amazing results. You should just take two photos of the specimen, standing on a rotation stage.

There must be an angle of 90 degrees between the rotation axis and the line connecting the object and the camera sensor. Between the two shots rotate the specimen. Rotation angle is chosen each time experimentally. Usually it is near 5 degrees.

Then put the two shots into StereoPhotoMaker, press one magic button called “auto alignment” and stereo image is ready. You can then retouch it as usual. Also instead of rotating the specimen you can move the camera around it, but I find rotating the specimen simplier. There is also a way of creating a stereopair from a single stack in stacking software, when shooting big stacks. But for now I hadn't much success with it, the resulting image appeared to be of poorer quality than a "natural" stereopair.

There is an excellent article by Tony Peterson at mindat about making stereo from a single stack and nuances of photos processing:

All photos used in this article are shot with Canon MP-E 65mm, Canon 40D, StackShot rail, and stacked using software from Zerene or Helicon.

5. An important question to you

To all those who have read this article, and have tried the method described. I kindly ask you to write a comment here with answers to these questions.

Your feedback is really important for me!

1) Have you succeeded in seeing 3D images?
2) Have you succeeded with the “zoom viewing” using software?
3) What are you thinking about quality 3D photography of minerals? Can it help to show the minerals somewhat better that 2D or it is not worth the effort?

Thank you everyone!
I would like to close the article with this photo. Though the photo itself is not perfect, the specimen is among my favourites.
Chained jamesonite rings floating inside a fluorite crystal. FOV 1,3 mm, largest ring diameter 0,375 mm

This article is based on the publication by Dmitriy Dolivo-Dobrovolskiy and Eugeniy Fedorov "Sterepairs and how to view them", 2007 (text in russian): http://macroclub.ru/how/stereo

Article has been viewed at least 8838 times.

Discuss this Article

6th Jan 2015 21:39 GMTMarzio Mamberti Expert

Thanks Pavel, very very funny and also very useful, you can see details normally invisible.
With this I answered yes to your questions 1 and 3 for the 2, I'll try downloading the software as you advice.
Marzio Mamberti

7th Jan 2015 08:37 GMTDale Foster Expert

A very interesting and informative article.

In answer to your questions:

1. Yes quickly mastered the ability to see the 3D images.

2. On a work computer so not able to download new software.

3. The 3D images do certainly seem to have a place and aid seeing otherwise difficult to distinguish detail.

7th Jan 2015 17:31 GMTMichael Wood

Hi Pavel, thank you for your excellent article!
1. Yes, using the cross-eyed method I quickly got the hang of it.
2. Don't know yet.
3. The 3D images are excellent for viewing inclusions inside crystals! Much better than 2D images. The other images are good too, some better than others. For example, the malachite and goethite from Fiolent cape is much easier to see with 3D; but with the malachite from Rubtsovskoe dep the difference is not so much enhanced - maybe because the specimen and photo is already good in 2D.
I would say for close-up photo's of several minerals together on one specimen, then the 3D photo's would be much better!
Hmm - probably 3D photo's of awkward minerals such as zeolites could be much easier to see...
Mike Wood

7th Jan 2015 20:42 GMTFrank Ruehlicke

Good article Pavel! Regarding questions 1 & 3, I find that the cross-eyed method works well for me and the photos are useful. I do find that it makes my eyes uncomfortable after viewing a few photos so I don't think I could spend 30 minutes looking at 3D photos in this way. Regarding question 2, I will have to play around with the zoom viewing software.

8th Jan 2015 23:34 GMTKeith Compton Manager

Hi Pavel

I think you have done a well researched and explained article and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Great article. Loved the pics. The Quartz inclusions in the Topaz were very clear.
A: 1 - YES, YES, YES
A: 2 - Have not tried yet.
A: 3 - I will have to try it. Just need to find some free time. When I do I'll let you know the results.


10th Jan 2015 13:48 GMTPavel Martynov Manager

Thank you for your comments! I am very glad that the article helped you. Though I hoped that more than 5-6 people will try the method.

Marzio, Dale, Michael, Frank and Keith! You should certainly try the zooming software.
As I wrote above, it is superior to ordinary viewing. It's like adding another dimention to the picture.
Before downloading the software you also can open the youtube video from the article on full screen, and try to view it the same way in 3D. The video represents a part of what you can see with the zooming.

22nd Jan 2015 18:34 GMTMichael Sommers

Excellent article and images Pavel.

1. Yes
2. No
3. I have only dabbled in stereophotography, but have used it for the past 20 years (ever since a colleague gave me an old Loreo 'point-n-shoot' print film stereo camera). I bought a W3 a few years ago and even a fancy adapter and macro lens too, because I wanted to start experimenting with stereo mineral photography, but just haven't had time or worse the proper work space to really capture images that are decent. I have SPM but have not gotten "the hang of it" yet, but I really want to try the rotation method you describe above. Maybe this article will be my source of inspiration. (That jamesonite photo is stunning! Just...stunning.)

6th Dec 2017 21:24 GMTEd Richard


1. Yes easy
2. No
3. I am going to try now!
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