First photo First photo in 3D First colour photo First colour photo in 3D

First photo in 3D

1. The technology

2. The human subject

First 3d photo

By 15 December 1840 Henry Fox Talbot Talbot (1800–1877) had made photographs for Charles Wheatstone's stereoscope, but they had shown potential only, as he was using a single camera with a perceptible time lag between exposures, and in any case the angle between the two had been far too great (47½º). The images haven't survived, and even their subjects are unknown, though they may have been of a bust. [Schaaf]

Henry Collen (1797–1879) made a stereoscopic calotype portrait of Charles Babbage in August 1841. This is now lost. The Babbage portrait may be one of those referred to by Charles Wheatstone (1802–1875), writing in 1852:


It was at the beginning of 1839, about six months after the appearance of my memoir in the Philosophical Transactions, that the photographic art became known, and soon after, at my request, Mr. TALBOT, the inventor, and Mr. COLLEN (one of the first cultivators of the art) obligingly prepared for me stereoscopic Talbotypes of full-sized statues, buildings, and even portraits of living persons. M. QUETELET, to whom I communicated this application and sent specimens, made mention of it in the Bulletins of the Brussels Academy of October 1841.

Collen himself recalled:


In 1841, when I was one of the very few who undertook to make use of Mr. Talbot's process, Mr. Wheatstone not only had the idea of making photographic portraits for the stereoscope, but at his request, and under his direction, in August of that year, I made a pair of stereoscopic portraits of Mr. Babbage, in whose possession they still remain; and if I remember rightly, Mr. Wheatstone has previously obtained some daguerreotype portraits from Mr. Beard for the stereoscope. [H. Collen (1854) "Earliest stereoscopic portraits" Journal of the Photographic Society 1:200, quoted in Wade].

It was also in 1841 that Wheatstone had visited Beard to obtain a stereo daguerreotype portrait; in 1842 he had also commissioned stereo daguerreotypes from Antoine Claudet in London and Louis Armand Hippolyte Fizeau in Paris. [Talbot Correspondence Project]

Two stereoscopic self-portraits by Dr John Adamson (1810–1870) of the University of St Andrews were presented by Sir David Brewster (who had asked Adamson to execute them) on 26 March 1849; the process isn't stated, but was apparently calotype. [Brewster; Pellerin pp43-8] The University of St Andrews Library Photographic Archive has two copies of an interesting stereographic portrait, said to be c. 1845, one of which is inscribed on the front free endpaper with "Dr Lyon Playfair from JA" (John Adamson); a handwritten note below states "1st stereo portrait in the history of the stereoscope—Sir D Brewster of Dr Adamson". Marc Boulay, Photographic Archivist at St Andrews, confirmed that this image is a salted paper print of Dr John Adamson, thought to have been given by Adamson to John Lyon Playfair, who in turn is thought to have been the owner of one of the two albums at St Andrews in which the image is found. Boulay agrees that these images "very well could be" those presented by Sir David Brewster. [private communication] According to Eder Brewster had constructed a "double-eyed camera [binocular] for the taking of portraits and copying statues" in Edinburgh in 1844, and had first described his lenticular stereoscope in April that year, before the Royal Society in Edinburgh. The Adamson portrait may be the earliest surviving 3d photo taken with a twin-lens camera, i.e. the earliest in which left- and right- images were taken simultaneously.

Brewster travelled to Paris in 1850, and presented one of his lenticular stereoscope viewers (made commercially from 1849) to Louis-Jules Duboscq (1817–1886), who was the first person to produce stereoscopic daguerreotypes for viewing with the lenticular stereoscope. Among the images he had taken with him to Paris, for demonstration purposes, was Adamson's binocular portrait. (Schimmelman) Two of Duboscq's stereo daguerreotypes, from the George Eastman House collection (undated, but under the sub-heading '1850') appear in Grinde; another from the same collection, dated as 'ca. 1850'), is at George Eastman Museum (in the latest Museum catalogue all these are dated as c. 1855). In fact most surviving stereo daguerreotypes by Duboscq are in the Cromer Collection at the George Eastman Museum; a notable one is his Self-portrait with pipe, also c. 1850 (originally catalogued as 70:012:2 (25.3), now as 1970.0012.0002 and dated c. 1855, and reproduced in Buerger (which can be seen at Amazon, with 'Look Inside')).

360° cylindrical panoramas: In 1857 the French mining engineer Felix-Napoleon Garella (1809–1858) made and patented a rotating photographic instrument with up to 360° field of view, using the same principle as the Cirkut camera of 1904. [Panoramic Photo; Nederlands Fotomuseum]


On 15 September 1891 Louis Ducos du Hauron (1837–1920) submitted his patent for the first printed anaglyphs—photographs consisting of two negatives (one in blue or green, the other in red) printed on the same sheet of paper to form a 3D photograph. [Pellerin pp121-3].

On the right is a printed anaglyph by Ducos du Hauron, dated to 1891–3, and entitled 'A corner of the Salle de Mécéne/Louvre Museum'

[Coll. Société Française de Photographie, catalogue no. III-13, reproduced on p132 of Reynaud, Tambrun and Timby]

printed anaglyph by Ducos du Hauron

Earliest autostereoscopic processes

'Autostereoscopic' photographs are so-called because they can be viewed without special glasses or a viewer.

The first successful autostereoscopic viewing device was Swan's Cube, first demonstrated in 1862 and marketed as as the Crystal Cube Miniature or Casket Portrait, in which left- and right-eye transparencies are mounted on two adjacent faces of a cube, which in turn is made from 2 prisms. Light from one image crosses both prisms to enter the left eye directly, while the other image is reflected at the longest side of one prism, then refracted to enter the right eye. [Funk]

Frederick Ives (1856–1937) patented his 'parallax stereogram' process on 25 September 1902 (although according to Eder he claimed to have invented it as early as 1885). The process used line screen barriers rather than the later linear lenticulars. It had earlier been described by Auguste Berthier, in the French magazine Cosmos, on 23 May 1896, but Ives claimed not to have known of this. Either way, Ives was the first to develop and market the process. After the grant of the patent the Scientific Shop in Chicago published seven of his parallax stereograms as stock images. Typical of these was his image of 'The Brigand', depicting a cowboy pointing a revolver directly at the viewer; this image is reproduced in 2D in Zone, and at George Eastman Museum [a dealer online says the portrait is purportedly of Pat Garrett, who killed Billy the Kid, but I see no evidence for this]. A more sophisticated technique allowing multiple views behind a barrier screen was proposed in January 1915 by Clarence W. Kanolt (US Patent #1,260,682, of 1918), incorporating a large format camera which moved the barrier screen between exposures. Kanolt described the multiple stereo view images produced as 'parallax panoramagrams'. [Roberts; Funk; Timby]

The earliest known 3D lenticular-screen photographs were made in the 1910s by Walter Hess (1881–1973). Three images, from c. 1912–1920, are reproduced in 2D at p85 of Timby.

Gabriel Lippmann (1845–1921), at the Sorbonne, first proposed integral imaging in 1908. Integral imaging uses tiny spherical lenses, in a fly's-eye lens array, rather than linear lenticulars, allowing for parallax in all directions. The first successful experiment in integral photography was by P.P. Sokolov of Moscow State University, in 1911. He is understood to have produced a relatively dark spatial image of a light-bulb filament, using a pin hole sheet with conical apertures. [Sokolov; History of Integral Imaging; Funk] In 1977 Roger L. de Montebello perfected a technique he called 'Integram', developed from Lippmann's process, which retains full parallax, and in which the 3D autostereoscopic, orthoscopic and orthostereoscopic image is generated at a 1:1 scale, in full natural colours. However it was the development of simpler linear lenticulars, with only horizontal parallax, that was to prove more commercially successful. The adapted process was first developed by Walter Rudolf Hess (1881–1973, a Swiss ophthalmologist), whose British patent 13,034 was registered in 1912. [Roberts; Frizot (2000b); Funk; Schröter; de Montebello]

In 1920 Louis Lumière (1864–1948) invented a process he called 'photostéréosynthèse', which involved taking six or seven shots of a subject, each focusing on a very thin plane with very little depth of field. Prints of each image on glass are then viewed sandwiched. Viewed along the sagittal (shooting) axis, perpendicular to the planes of the images, the 3D impression was said to be "absolutely striking". Examples are presented (in 2D) in Frizot (2000a) pp145-9]. See also Garnet Hertz's Photostereosynthesis Camera Controller.


Edwin Land's polarising sheet film was first used for the projection of still stereographic images of sculpture, demonstrated to art historians in March 1934. The vectograph was invented by Joseph Mahler (c. 1900–1981) for the Polaroid Corporation, and uses polarized glasses to view a 3D photographic image embedded in a plastic sheet. Essentially a polarization anaglyph, it was announced in 1938 and shown at the New York World's Fair the following year. The Vectograph was used for stereoscopic reconnaissance of the Guadalcanal battlefields in late 1942, and again for mapping all the Normandy beaches for the 1944 landings. [Zone, A Brief Timeline of Polaroid, McElheny: 111, 116, 132]


The first transmission hologram was made by Dennis Gabor (1900–1979) in 1947, using filtered light. The first 3D transmission hologram using laser light was made on 19 December 1963 by Emmett Leith (1927–2005) and Juris Upatnieks (b. 1936), of the University of Michigan. It showed "partial reconstruction of several three-dimensional objects"; but Leith was adamant that "there wasn't a first hologram; it was an evolutionary process". Their first high quality hologram of a three dimensional object was of a toy train, made three days before Christmas 1963. [Johnston, pp109-10; Holophile includes a photo of an early (c. 1964) hologram of the toy train and a ceramic bird.]

360° cylindrical holograms were first described in print in 1965, in the Japanese Journal of Applied Physics, and had certainly been produced by early 1967. [Johnston, pp204-5]

The 1967 World Book Encyclopedia Science Yearbook contained what is arguably the first mass-distributed hologram. This was a 4" x 3" transmission view of chess pieces on a chess board. An article describing the production of the hologram and basic information about the history of holography accompanied it. A .05 watt Helium-Neon laser was used on a nine-ton granite table in a 30-second exposure to make the original. All copies were then produced from this original.

Holograms can be created without visible light. Ultraviolet, X-ray, and sound waves can all be used to create them. Microwave holography is being used in astronomy to record radio waves from deep space. Acoustical holography can look through solid objects to record images, much as ultrasound is used to generate images of a foetus within a womb. Holograms made with short waves such as X-rays can create images of particles as small as molecules and atoms. 

Other 3D processes

Spherical VR panoramas: Omnidirectional digital cameras such as the Panoscan can film multi-row panoramas, including cubic or spherical panoramas that include top and bottom views. They are viewed with players such as Apple's QuickTime, Flash Panoramas, or Immervision. Multispectral spherical panoramas are also now achievable; this is an example.

VR reconstruction: Although VR (Virtual Reality) is more generally used for simulation, it has been successfully used for the recording and reconstruction of real environments. The Virtualware company, for example, has reconstructed the natural cave of Santimamiñe, in the Spanish Basque Country, in VR, as may be seen in their demonstration video, apparently from 2007 or earlier. It is impossible to define a first here, as advances in computing power make earlier work seem less realistic—where do you draw the line? Moltenbrey provides a useful account from 2001, as does Veltman from 2005.

VR object movies: In contrast to panoramas, which are captured from one location looking out at various angles, objects are captured from many locations pointing in toward the same central object.

The simplest type of object VRs to capture are single row, typically captured around the equator of an object. This is normally facilitated by a rotating turntable. The object is placed on the turntable, and photographed at equal angular increments (usually 10°) from a camera mounted on a tripod. Capturing a multi-row object movie requires a more elaborate setup for capturing images, because the camera must be tilted above and below the equator of the object at several tilt angles. [QuickTime VR]

[NB Some of Muybridge's photography, from as early as August 1879, included images taken simultaneously by up to six cameras placed in a semicircle around the subject, the camera shutters being triggered at the same time. [Braun] The results could presumably be assembled as a proto-VR object movie, or perhaps as a lenticular, though it is not known whether this has ever been done. See Freeze Frame, for example.]

[The 1865 'revolving self-portrait' by Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (1820–1910—better known as 'Nadar') depicts 12 self-portrait photographs taken at 30° intervals around his circumference. Though clearly not taken simultaneously, the animation is surprisingly effective.]

Photosynth is a software application from Microsoft Live Labs and the University of Washington that analyzes digital photographs and generates a three-dimensional model of the photos and a point cloud of a photographed object. Pattern recognition components compare portions of images to create points, which are then compared to convert the image into a model. Users are able to view and generate their own models using a software tool downloadable from the Photosynth website.

The application's capabilities include being able to walk or fly through a scene to see photos from any angle; zoom in or out of a photo; see where pictures were taken in relation to one another; smoothly change viewing angle between nearby photos; and smoothly zoom in and out of high-resolution photos.

In use the experience is that of encountering associated 2-dimensional planes arranged naturalistically in VR 3-dimensional space.

Photosynth was first previewed from November 2006, and officially released to the public on 20 August 2008.

The most notable early photosynth aggregates 600+ photos of the inauguration of President Barack Obama, 20 January 2009. See Photosynth.

Volumetric displays: The Graphics Lab at the University of Southern California has designed an easily reproducible, low-cost 3D display system for displaying 3D objects in 3D. The display is autostereoscopic, omnidirectional, and interactive.

The Interactive 360º Light Field Display system works by projecting high-speed video onto a rapidly spinning mirror. As the mirror turns, it reflects a different and accurate image to each potential viewer. The system's rendering algorithm can recreate both virtual and real scenes with correct occlusion, horizontal and vertical perspective, and shading. See USC Graphics Lab.

This appears to be one example of swept-volume display, first described in 1966. It therefore comes under the category of volumetric displays, of which there are a number of types. These were first postulated in 1912.

In 2001 the Massachusetts-based Actuality Systems introduced the prototype of its Perspecta Spatial 3-D system, which is a volumetric, autostereoscopic display system, chiefly used in the medical market. Perspecta allows users to view moving objects from any angle with the unaided eye, simply by walking around them as you would if you were looking at real 3D objects. Perspecta consists of a rotating round white polymer screen resting on a box containing software, hardware, and an optical system. 25cm-diameter images appearing to float inside a clear sphere (field of view 360º horizontal, 270º vertical) are generated by slices of successive 2D images, rapidly projected one after another onto the screen, creating an illusion of a real 3D image. Perspecta Display 1.9 allows for full-colour imagery, and objects in motion. This is particularly effective with CT imagery, for example of breathing lungs. The Perspecta system was featured as a medical investigation tool in the CSI: New York autopsy lab in Season 4, Episode 1, broadcast on 26 September 2007. Actuality Systems was dissolved at the end of 2009, and intellectual property rights are now held by Optics for Hire. [Actuality Systems, Genuth]

3D scanning analyzes a real-world object or environment to collect data on its shape and appearance. The collected data can then be used to construct digital, three dimensional models. A number of different technologies can be used, including time of flight or triangulation laser scanning, structured-light or modulated-light scanning, and conoscopic holography—Wikipedia is good on this.

The earliest application was in Greg Turk and Mark Levoy's 3D scan of the 'Stanford Bunny', successfully created around Easter 1994. [The Stanford Bunny]

In 1996 a 3D scan of a 'Happy Buddha' statuette was recreated in 3D hardcopy, on behalf of Brian Curless and Mark Levoy, by a process of stereolithography. [Computer model and 3D fax of Happy Buddha] Stereolithography was one of the first commercial processes of 3D printing; Chuck Hull, founder of 3D Systems, invented the process in the mid-1980s, producing the world's first commercial 3D printer, the SLA1. [Lipson & Kurman, pp37, 73] Schröter has usefully pointed out that the process is essentially a successor to Willème's photosculpture (see below).

On a larger scale two different groups (from Stanford University and IBM) scanned (different) Michelangelo statues in 1999, the former using a custom laser triangulation scanner, the latter acquiring both geometric and colour details.

Yet larger projects have included Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and the Kasubi Tombs in Uganda. In the former case, David Luebke and others scanned Monticello—Thomas Jefferson’s house—in 2002, using a commercial time-of-flight laser scanner, the DeltaSphere 3000. The scanner data was later combined with colour data from digital photographs to create the Virtual Monticello and the Jefferson’s Cabinet exhibits in the New Orleans Museum of Art in 2003. The Virtual Monticello exhibit simulated a window looking into Jefferson’s library. The exhibit consisted of a rear projection display on a wall and a pair of polarised stereo glasses for the viewer. Position tracking hardware on the glasses allowed the display to adapt as the viewer moved around, creating the illusion that the display was actually a hole in the wall looking into Jefferson’s Library.

3D printing can be used with other technologies. For example Cornell University CT scanned cuneiform clay tablets and printed replicas, which uniquely reproduced written characters in the hollow insides, otherwise unreadable without smashing the tablets. [Lipson & Kurman, pp18-20]



First View-Master reel

The famous View-Master stereoscopic viewer was developed by Wilhelm Gruber and Harold Graves in 1938, taking advantage of the recently developed Kodachrome 16mm colour film. It was publicly introduced at the New York World's Fair in late 1939, the patent being issued in 1940.

The very first View-Master reels were blue, with a gold foil centre. It's not absolutely clear which reel was the first. Reels number 1 to 3 are not gold foil, and are apparently of later date. Reel 4, 'Boulder Dam Scenic Auto Tour', is marked as Patented, implying a date of 1940 or later. The lowest numbered Reel marked as Patent Applied For—so presumably earlier—is Reel 8, 'Boulder Dam Power House Tour', variety 1PAF. [View-Master History, Marriott Cameras, View-Master Single Reel Variations, Ben Maas—private communication]



First Stereo Realist photograph

The Stereo Realist was the most popular 35mm stereo camera ever manufactured. Designed and named by Seton Rochwite (1904–2000), the prototype was finished in 1940. Subsequently marketed by the David White Company, it was advertised for sale in November 1945, but didn't finally reach the shops till autumn 1947. [Morgan & Symmes, Stereo Realist]

What the first photograph may have been is not known, though presumably it would have been taken by Rochwite himself, on his prototype.



First Nimslo photograph

Nimslo photographs are autostereoscopic lenticular prints of exceptional quality. Camera and lenticular printer were both invented by Jerry Curtis Nims and Allen Kwok Wah Lo, the technology protected by 1970s patents. The camera itself—capturing four simultaneous images onto the space of two frames of 35mm film—was marketed from the spring of 1982 (when it was first presented at the Photokina exhibition in Cologne) from a manufacturing base in Dundee owned by Norwegian shipping magnate Fred Olsen. The process was not a commercial success, however, and was discontinued in 1990. [Morgan & Symmes, Zulu, US patents]

Again, the first Nimslo photograph is not known. Presumably Nims and Lo produced experimental examples during development of their technology.



First photosculpture

The photosculpture process was invented in 1859 by the sculptor and photographer François Willème (1830–1905), and patented in France (no 46358) in 1860. He made further improvements until 1864. The technique consisted of taking 24 simultaneous photographs, 15° apart, around the circumference of a posing model, then projecting each photograph onto a translucent screen, behind which an assistant would trace the outline of the silhouette with a pantograph (a similar process to that of the earlier physiognotrace, in two dimensions), the other end of which operated a tool cutting the shape into a mass of clay on a circular base, which rotated 15° after each outline. After this stage was completed, the sculptor then smoothed the rough edges and retouched the work. Though based in photography, the process needs to be considered just as much sculptural as photographic.

Sorel reproduces a set of 24 albumen prints by Willème, made for a trial of the process around 1860, and featuring a young model, probably his daughter; each image, however, has been photographed successively, so the ensuing photosculpture would probably have been difficult to render (it's not shown, so was possibly unsuccessful). The earliest realised photosculpture depicted by Sorel is of Willème himself, from around 1861 (although there is also a wooden head, made by a somewhat similar process, dated to 1859–1861). [Sorel, Newhall]



Full references for printed works

Marta Braun (2010) Eadweard Muybridge. London: Reaktion Books

Sir David Brewster (1856) The Stereoscope. Its History, Theory, and Construction, with its application to the fine and useful arts and to education. London: John Murray

Janet E. Buerger (1989) French Daguerreotypes. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press

Josef Maria Eder (1932, tr. 1945) History of Photography, 3rd edn. New York: Dover

Michel Frizot (2000a) 'Photostéréosynthèse: a new approach to 3-D photography', in Françoise Reynaud, Catherine Tambrun and Kim Timby, eds (2000) Paris in 3D. From stereoscopy to virtual reality 1850–2000

Michel Frizot (2000b) 'Line screen systems', in Françoise Reynaud, Catherine Tambrun and Kim Timby, eds (2000) Paris in 3D. From stereoscopy to virtual reality 1850–2000

Sean F. Johnston (2006) Holographic Visions. A History of New Science. Oxford: OUP

Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman (2013) Fabricated. The New World of 3D Printing. Indianapolis: John Wiley

Victor K. McElheny (1998) Insisting on the Impossible. The Life of Edwin Land. New York: Perseus Books

Hal Morgan & Dan Symmes (1982) Amazing 3-D. Boston & Toronto: Little

Denis Pellerin (2000) 'The origins and development of stereoscopy', and 'The anaglyph, a new form of stereoscopy', in Françoise Reynaud, Catherine Tambrun and Kim Timby, eds (2000) Paris in 3D. From stereoscopy to virtual reality 1850–2000

Françoise Reynaud, Catherine Tambrun and Kim Timby, eds (2000) Paris in 3D. From stereoscopy to virtual reality 1850–2000

Janice G. Schimmelman (2013) Brewster, Duboscq & the Early Printed Stereoview, 18511853. Collodion Press

Jens Schröter (2014) 3D. History, Theory and Aesthetics of the Transplane Image. New York and London: Bloomsbury Academic. [Originally published in German in 2009 as 3D: Zur Geschichte, Theorie und Medienästhetik des technisch-transplaned Bildes. Paderborn, Germany: Verlag Wilhelm Fink]

Philippe Sorel (2000) 'Photosculpture—the fortunes of a sculptural process based on photography', in Françoise Reynaut, Catherine Tambrun, and Kim Timby, eds (2000) Paris in 3D. From stereoscopy to virtual reality 1850–2000. Paris: Paris Musées

Kim Timby (2015) 3D and Animated Lenticular Photography. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter

Ray Zone (2007) Stereoscopic Cinema & the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838–1952. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky


© 2009–2017 Benjamin S. Beck

Return to Technology contents page


If you know of any earlier examples, please contact me.



Return to Firsts contents page

Return to website home page

This page was last revised on 2017-01-05.