A few weeks ago, I blogged about using historical images of reflections in people’s eyes as a source for accidental stereoscopic images (although not very detailed ones). Now I’d like to consider a similar kind of source that could have a lot more potential: images of reflections in water. I’m interested mainly in bringing older images of water reflections to life, but it’s easy to demonstrate the approach I have in mind using more recent ones. Take this photograph of Buntzen Lake by Jon Eben Field:
The variation in vantage points—both here and in other water reflections—is mostly vertical, not horizontal. But we can also achieve a traditional stereoscopic effect by rotating the scene ninety degrees to simulate what a viewer might have seen while (say) lying down on a blanket beside the lake. The image presented to the left eye would then need to have the water reflection oriented to the right, while the image presented to the right eye would need to have the water reflection oriented to the left. Here’s an anaglyph (viewable to good effect through red-cyan glasses) that does just that:
Now let’s move on to some older historical imagery. The photograph that first suggested to me the possibility of using images of water reflections as sources for perspectival illusions was a view of Linlithgow Palace taken by photographer Archibald Burns of Edinburgh, which I spotted on eBay and promptly bought to experiment with:
What struck me first was that the palace’s reflection in the water was clearer in many ways than the washed-out direct image. Lining the two images up (with the reflection rotated 180 degrees and flipped horizontally), and then alternating between them, showed that they were nearly identical in scale and orientation.
But there was also a subtle difference in vantage point, most obvious in the relative positions of the palace and the trees surrounding it. With that in mind, I created an animation based on the two views, using the technique described here:
While looking around for further candidates on which to try out this technique, I ran across a daguerreotype of a “Landscape with Cottage” created by Marie-Charles-Isidore Choiselat and Stanislas Ratel in 1845, which you can view online here courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Alternating back and forth between the direct and reflected images (adjusted as usual) produces a fair impression of three-dimensionality:
This image is from 1845. The first intentional stereoscopic photographs reportedly also date from the 1840s, but the oldest example I was easily able to find online is a calotype self-portrait of John Adamson, dated to “circa 1845-1851,” in the Photographic Collection of the University of St. Andrews:
If this image was created at the very beginning of its estimated date range, it could be as old as the “Landscape with Cottage,” but chances are it’s a little younger—so, for the moment, I think the “Landscape with Cottage” might just offer us our oldest available photographic glimpse at the world in stereo vision. Can anyone beat it?