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3-D art photos - creating depth through layers

Print multiple copies of an image and cut them out, then paste the different layer aspects onto foam core to create depth in the photo.


  • Black foam core board (such as for poster displays)
  • Card stock or photo paper
  • Scissors
  • Art knife (for cutting foam core board), good scissors can work.
  • Double sided tape or other adhesive (rubber cement works well)
  • Printer (color is better)
  • Digital image with some depth to the image
    • Ideally students should use a digital camera that takes panoramas and they should create their own digital panoramas.

Other options

  • Photo Editing software
  • Transparences that work with the printer
  • Shadow box frame

Starting with whole picture, there are two options for creating your depth/layered picture. Either use photo editing software to remove parts of picture before printing (saves ink) and place the image layer strips on a new document, or print out a single image and physically cut that image up into its layers.

I use Photoshop Elements, and make four duplicate layers to work on. Hiding from sight the ones I'm not currently using. While it should be possible to simply cut up one picture to make all the layers, I find that the final product looks better with multiple printed layers.

In the following example I'm using a picture of people sitting on the stairs of a temple in Belize. Notice how the picture show layers. First the is the sky with the trees. Next is the temple, which it self can be broken into layers. Then there is the step that the people are sitting on, and finally there is the foreground in front of the first step.

0. If you are using the cut apart method, open your image and print it out on a single sheet. Then proceed to step 4.

1. For the software cutting, create a copy of your image, either as a new image or as a duplicate layer. From a copy or a duplicate layer of the original digital photograph, use the eraser tool or cut tool remove an image "layer" from the back of the picture.

2. Repeat this process for each layer of picture that you wish to have in the final project.
Remove the bottom of each image that will have a layer on top of it, just keeping about the top inch of what will be the next layer on top of it. Later each of these layers will be combined with some space between them and printed onto one or two sheets of paper.

3. Once you have made all your picture layers plus an inch, save them into a new document and then print them out. By removing parts of the picture to help with the layering effect, will cause you to use less ink in the printing process.


4. Once you have your sheets printed, use the scissors to cut out the blank sections of each image. If you are doing the project from a single picture, carefully separate the picture into visual layers by cutting the layers apart with the art knife.

5. Now, using a white pencil or crayon, trace the outline of the top of the cutout picture onto the black foam core. Then cut out that outline using the art knife, cutting inside the line a bit to decrease the size (this will help with the shadow/depth effect). The final foam core shape should be slightly smaller than its image. The top of the foam core should match the image shape, but the bottom section should continue down to make the rest of the sheet.

6. Use contact cement or other adhesive to attach each layer of the image to its matching piece of foam core.

7. Now place the layers on top of each other matching up the image. Once they are aligned, glue them together with the rubber cement.

8. (optional) If you are using something like a shadow box frame you can add an extra layer to go on top (in the front). Do this by placing objects onto a black page and then printing the image(s) onto an overhead transparency sheet. This will later be placed next to the glass of the frame, creating an interesting forward effect.

Digital cameras in education

2006 Drs.Cavanaugh