This is a quick and (very) simple Python script to read data from an ASCII format PGM (portable gray map) file and convert it to a "surface" data file for OpenSCAD.
You will need Python (written for v2.7), and numpy to run it, but it's quick to convert. You will need OpenSCAD to utilize the output of this script.
Unlike a certain other "lithopane" thing, this is not limited to a small image size. However, you must be able to convert your original photo to a PGM file. You can do that quite easily with either IrfanView or with ImageMagick. I'm sure there are a dozen (at least) other tools that can do this too, but you need to make sure the PGM file is ASCII formatted (not binary) and that is has no (0) compression.
1) Edit your digital image, then convert to PGM.
2) Run this script with Python 2.7 like this:
python pgm2surf.py myImage.pgm myImageSurf.dat
3) In OpenSCAD, use the "surface" command to import the DAT file, like this:
surface(file = "c:/myCoolStuff/myImageSurf.dat", center = false, convexity = 10);
1) The surface is flipped both top to bottom and left to right when you create the surface in OpenSCAD. You can plan accordingly by editing your image in the photo editor before creating the PGM file.
2) There is a "depth" value in this script that reduces the heights of the surface values. I've set it to 0.03 after several trials, but you might want to play with that value, depending on your purpose for the surface. A value of 0.5 yields a surface that has a very high relief from the highest point to the lowest. It might be good if you want to create a mold of the image.
The depth value can be set as the last argument on the command line when calling the script, like this:
python pgm2surf.py myImage.pgm myImageSurf.dat 0.5
3) For a "cookie cutter" type mold, you want to "invert" your photo (create the negative) before creating the PGM file. Try it and see.
4) My apologies to Linux users, the typical python directive is missing from the top of the script. Please add it if you need it.
(BTW, the image example shown above is from a photo taken just after my parents' wedding, 50 years ago. They celebrated their 50th anniversary last week. Happy Anniversary! Now immortalized on the Internet.)
While trying to get OpenSCAD to generate an STL file from the surface data, I found that it crashes... more often than not. The problem seems to be the number of vertices in the generated surface. I've been successful in generating an STL from a surface as large as 162 x 200 (pixels in the PGM file) but anything large crashes OpenSCAD. YMMV. (Yes, that means the example image I showed is very unrealistic... oops!)