How Facebook 3D Photos work, and how to create one yourself

💡 Sparked by the 3D Ken Burns Effect from a Single Image post, I was reminded of a few other 3D photo things …

About a year ago, Facebook announced a feature named “3D Photos”, a way to show photos taken with Apple’s “Portrait Mode” (or any other device that does the same) interactively:

Whether it’s a shot of your pet, your friends, or a beautiful spot from your latest vacation, you just take a photo in Portrait mode using your compatible dual-lens smartphone, then share as a 3D photo on Facebook where you can scroll, pan and tilt to see the photo in realistic 3D—like you’re looking through a window.

As unearthed by this research Facebook builds a 3D model out of the image + depth data, and then render the generated .glb file on screen using Three.js.

For example, here’s the wireframe of the kangaroo pictured at the top of this post:


3D wireframe of the kangaroo (Yuri akella Artiukh)

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A photo taken in Apple’s Portrait Mode is in essence no more than the flat photo combined with a depth map. A depth map is a gray scale photowhere white defines points close-by and pure black defines points farthest away. Using the depth map, you can then blur the content that is furthest away.


Photo + Depth Map = Portrait Mode (Marc Keegan)

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Winging back to Facebook: if you upload a file named photo.jpg along with a file photo_depth.jpg, Facebook will treat the latter as the depth map for the photo.jpg, and create a post with a 3D photo from them.


Uploading a photo and its depth map to become one one 3D photo

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If you don’t have a depth map of a photo, you can always create one yourself manually using Photoshop or any other image editing tool.

Certain advertises have used this technique a few times by now, as illustrated on Omnivirt:

Tools like the online 3D Photo Creator have a depth prediction algorithm built in. The result is most likely not as good as your own DIY depth map, yet it give you a head start.

🤖 Psst, As a bonus you can check the console to see the link to the resulting .glb float by in said tool 😉

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To go the other way around – from 3d photo to photo and depth map – you can use a tool such as the Facebook 3D Photo Depth Analyzer to extract both the photo and the depth map from a 3D photo post.

Just enter the Facebook post ID and hit analyze 🙂

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Another approach to show a 3D photo is to use WebGL. With this technique you don’t need to generate a .glb, but can directly use a photo and its accompanying depth map:

(Forked from this instructional video by k3dev)

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