We present a structured light system to dynamically measure human chest wall motion for respiratory volume estimation. Based on a projection of an encoded color pattern and a few active markers attached to the trunk, respiratory volumes are obtained by evaluating the 3-D topographic changes of the chest wall in an anatomically consistent measuring region during respiration. Three measuring setups are established: a single-sided illuminating-recording setup for standing posture, an inclined single-sided setup for supine posture, and a double-sided setup for standing posture. Results are compared with the pneumotachography and show good agreement in volume estimations [correlation coefficient: for all setups]. The isovolume tests present small variations of the obtained volume during the isovolume maneuver (standard for all setups). After validation by the isovolume test, an investigation of a patient with pleural effusion using the proposed method shows pulmonary functional differences between the diseased and the contralateral sides of the thorax, and subsequent improvement of this imbalance after drainage. These results demonstrate the proposed optical method is capable of not only whole respiratory volume evaluation with high accuracy, but also regional pulmonary function assessment in different chest wall behaviors, with the advantage of whole-field measurement.