THIS ISSUE the photographs in LEADING OFF leap, skate, buck and drive out at you. For the first time in the 11 years that the full-spread action shots have opened the weekly magazine, the images are in 3-D.
Though new to LEADING OFF, 3-D is old hat to SI photographer David E. Klutho. He probably has more 3-D camera setups than anyone in the world, and his shots have jumped (and dived and sprinted and snowboarded) off the pages of our Olympic and Swimsuit issues, as well as the special SI Kids book In Your Face 3-D. Klutho first determined to explore the possibilities of 3-D photography during a vacation to Prague in 1997 when, during a stop at a tourist-trap souvenir store, he peered into a cheap cardboard viewing box at a 3-D picture of a church. Klutho felt as if he were standing at the doorstep of the structure. "I couldn't wait to get home to try to make 3-D photography work for sports," he says.
Upon his return, Klutho began to research 3-D photography and decided to apply the technology to the high-end sports photography of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. Within months he had designed a custom mount for two conventional film cameras that was placed behind the basket at Chicago's United Center for a Hawks-Bulls game. When Klutho processed a shot of Dennis Rodman skying for a rebound, he realized that he had, in fact, made 3-D work for sports. "In 3-D, Rodman's legs are sticking out into your face," Klutho says. "The 3-D technology allows your eyes to navigate around and behind people, whereas in 2-D you can only imagine that."
To create the illusion of depth, Klutho had to mimic the way human eyes work in tandem with the brain. Think of each of your eyes as a camera lens taking simultaneous photos. That's what Klutho had in mind when he had cameras custom-made with two lenses (above). With the help of 3-D glasses that hide one of the images from each eye, your brain processes the difference between the two shots—known as parallax—to discern depth and distance.
Because the distances between the camera lenses and the players and the players and the background have to be precise, Klutho has only a few chances per game to get that perfect, unobstructed shot that will make you feel as if you were part of the action.
COMING AT YOU Klutho, here with special equipment and glasses, has been shooting sports action in 3-D since 1997.