Like many of the 10,000 athletes who competed in the Sydney Olympics, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED photographer David E. Klutho had trained for four years for his role in the Games. While his athletic counterparts were building stamina, strength and speed, Klutho was testing shutter speeds, interocular distances and focal lens lengths. His goal? To produce a world-class collection of sports photography from the biggest sporting event there is—all in 3D.
"Just like in sports, success in this all comes down to preparation," says Klutho, whose Olympian efforts—along with those of SI's writers and 2D photographers—are presented in this special Olympic commemorative issue, which SI subscribers are receiving in addition to their regular weekly edition of SI. Though we featured 3D photos of swimsuit models by Klutho and Heinz Kluetmeier in our most recent swimsuit issue, this commemorative marks the first time that SI has published action-sports photographs in 3D.
Klutho got the idea of applying 3D technology to sports four years ago while in the Czech Republic, as he looked at a picture of a church through a souvenir stereoscopic viewer. Since then he has become fascinated by the format—he now belongs to two stereo societies, the National Stereoscopic Association and the International Stereoscopic Union—and the ways it can be used to bring our readers closer to the action. "LIFE magazine was doing 3D back in the '50s, but David has taken it to a new level," says SI's director of photography, Steve Fine. "He is a terrific action photographer who also happens to be a technical wizard."
Because the 3D effect depends on layered visual planes—the backgrounds and foregrounds that are usually out of focus in the tight shots with long lenses in traditional sports photography—Klutho has had to learn through experimentation which camera angles, focal lengths and lens separations best capture elements such as crowds, fences and water splashes. To get a feel for what sports like gymnastics, weightlifting and swimming would look like in 3D, he shot four U.S. Olympic Trials and national championships in the format. Once in Sydney, he and assistant David Stuckey lugged seven custom-made, double-lensed cameras from venue to venue and shot twin pictures that were layered together by computer to produce the anaglyphs seen in this magazine.
Everywhere Klutho and Stuckey went, camera position was critical. "At the canoe venue, I wanted to get a photo of the nose of a boat coming 'through the window,' as they call it, and off the page," says Klutho. "So I positioned myself on a turn where the boats got up on top of a wave and I knew the bow was going to come out of the water. Then I just timed it. In the picture [which appears on the cover of this issue] the bow really pops out."
Not all sports provide such a great 3D effect. "In many single-person events the 3D effect isn't obvious, because you're unable to show a spatial relationship between that person and something else," says Klutho. "In gymnastics the floor exercises don't work well, but the parallel bars do (page 58). One cyclist isn't great, but six are, because they give you a stacking effect." Likewise, some uniforms just aren't made for 3D. With apologies to China, Cuba, Denmark and others, Klutho skipped most events that included countries with red uniforms because red glows under the red lenses of 3D glasses. Speaking of which, your complimentary 3D glasses can be found on page 39, where Klutho's photographs begin. You'll also see his 3D work in the LEADING OFF section preceding this page. Enjoy.