Six months ago, Facebook introduced ‘3D photos’— images which bring enhanced perspective and movement to timeline photos by leveraging the depth information captured by Apple’s dual-camera iPhones.
Users of other handsets, however, were left out in the cold as the 3D photos feature didn’t support uploading from Android phones or desktop computers. Thankfully this has all changed now that Facebook has enabled 3D photos to be uploaded straight from a desktop browser, with Android support promised in the coming months. You can now use 3D photos in your stories too.
How to upload a 3D photo to Facebook from your browser
Uploading a 3D photo from your browser requires a little more work than doing so from a supported iPhone, which has the feature built into Facebook’s iOS app. However, it is a great deal more flexible, as it allows you to customize the effect or even add depth to images which were captured without any depth information, such as computer graphics or even paintings.
To upload a 3D photo you must provide an image file and an associated depth map. The depth map is simply a grayscale version of the image where objects appear dark in the distance and become progressively lighter as they approach the camera. We’ll get on to how you can obtain a depth map later.
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To create your 3D photo on Facebook, you must first make sure your photo and depth map follow Facebook’s naming convention for 3D photos. Give the depth map the file same file name as the original photo, with ‘_depth’ added (before any .jpeg extension).
For example My3DPhoto.jpg and M3DPhoto_depth.jpg
Next, upload the two files together as a single Facebook post, just as you would a normal selection of images. Facebook will then detect the pair as a 3D photo and automatically combine them for you.
How to obtain a depth map
Chances are you don’t have a ready-made depth map for your image, but there are a few ways you can obtain one. The method you use will depend on whether your source image contains any depth information to start with.
You can always create a depth map manually using an image editing app or with the assistance of an online tool, but the easiest way to start is by extracting the depth information stored within a portrait mode image taken with a compatible phone.
Many phones, such as the Google Pixel 3, certain HTC models and the Nokia 9 Pureview embed depth information within their jpeg files which can be extracted to produce the required depth map for facebook. Others give you no access at all to depth maps (I’m looking at you, Huawei!).
To extract the depth information from the image, I suggest either of the following two methods:
Method 1: Use Depthy
The easiest method I’ve found is to use Rafal Lindemann’s Depthyonline viewer. If you have a smartphone capable of taking portrait mode images with a blurred background, you can try uploading a photo to Depthy for automatic depth map extraction. If successful, you’ll be able to save the image and depth map as a pair of files. Note that, for me, the depth map produced by Depthy was a negative of the file required by Facebook, so I had to swap light for dark in Photoshop before uploading.
Method 2: Use ExifTool
If Depthy doesn’t work for you, or if you’d rather not upload your images to a third party server, you can use Phil Harvey’s excellent ExifTool command to extract the depth map for you.
There’s currently no standard way of storing depth information within jpegs so each phone will require a slightly different command for successful extraction. For more help, visit the ExifTool Forum.
Coming to Android
If all of this sounds like too much hard work, fear not, because Facebook is planning on bringing the feature to Android in the coming months, starting with Samsung handsets before expanding to other manufacturers. Once your phone is supported, you should be able to upload 3D photos with a single tap, just like on a supported iPhone.