ROCKLAND, Maine — Scattered on top of maps in the Rockland code enforcement office are pairs of paper glasses with cyan and red lenses. Just about everyone in City Hall knows of code enforcement officer John Root’s weekend hobby: 3-D photography.
It started years ago when his kids left a few pairs of the glasses on the floor in his house. He began to look online for 3-D pictures to look at. Soon enough he found directions on how to take his own 3-D pictures.
“I’d never thought of doing it, but I said, ‘hey, I’ll give it a shot,’” Root said.
His camera’s first victim was his grill. He took one picture of it. Then he moved his camera slightly to the side and took another. After downloading some free software, he combined the two.
“I couldn’t believe it. I did it. Now I look at the technical aspect and it looks terrible, but at the time I thought it was cool.”
Root has come a ways since then.
For one thing, he has built a photographic contraption to help with his hobby. Actually, he has built at least three of them. To get one 3-D photo, Root needs to take two photos of the same object. The photos have to be taken from slightly different angles. He used to use one camera to do this by taking a shot of an object, moving about a foot to the right and then taking another photo of the same object. This helps give the photos depth. By doing this, he could take photos only of still objects. So he started building his 3-D camera setup.
Two digital cameras sit on top of a 2-foot-long piece of wood. One of the cameras sticks on the end of the stick. The other can slide close to and far from the other camera. Depending on the photo, Root decides how far apart the two shots should be. Also on the stick are two wires — one from each camera — that connect to a red button. When Root pushes the red button, both cameras take pictures simultaneously. This allows him to take 3-D photos of things in motion.
Root also attached a level to his contraption and a string to keep it around his neck.
Once he clicks the red button, Root is ready for the harder part: editing.
He connects his cameras to his computer and uploads the photos into a special, free program on his computer. After cropping the photos to the size he wants, he clicks “auto align,” then “sharpen” and voila.
“I don’t quite understand all of it. I’m a by-the-seat-of-my-pants guy. I don’t want to take the fun out of it,” Root said. He could learn exactly why 3-D photography works, how the strange red and blue shadows on the screen turn into crisp, clean pop-out photos when he slides on his special paper glasses. But that’s no fun.
Most people who look at Root’s pictures — called anaglyphs — like the ones that pop out of the screen. Such as one of a horse-drawn carriage or another of frantic gulls flying in and out of the photo. But Root likes the photos he takes that he feels he can step into. Such as one of the long granite Rockland breakwater.
Root gets around town a lot these days with his cameras.
“You see him walking around town with this on his neck and few people can resist asking ‘What are you doing?’” said City Councilor Larry Pritchett.
A lot of people approach him when Root walks around with his two-camera contraption, the stereo rig as he calls it. But few people will join him. His closest 3-D photography friend is in Massachusetts, and he met him through an online chat forum specifically for anaglyphs.
“It’s fun. I’d like to interest others in doing it, but I get very little response,” Root said. “People are curious, but they won’t do it.
“It’s changed my life in all sorts of ways,” Root said. “I never used to want to go anywhere. Now I’ll go anywhere.”
He’s on the hunt for the perfect anaglyph, he said.