08 September 2008

about this 'through the viewfinder' thing

in the the realm of through the viewfinder (aka ttv) photography, I am a newbie. half the time I have no idea what I'm doing. the other half, I am totally winging it. that said, I'm happy to share my process here because sharing is nice, sharing is good and I'll not have anyone say otherwise.

what it is: the photographing of a subject through the viewfinder of any camera with another camera.

what you'll need: a camera with a viewfinder on top, a digital camera and a contraption to block the glare (which can be made from a piece of cardboard and some black duct tape).

(my small army of cameras)

a word about viewfinder cameras: mostly, people use old twin lens reflex cameras to shoot through. the most widely-used one seems to be the kodak duaflex, which is what I started with a couple years ago. currently, I am having a little love affair with my argus seventy-five but I'd appreciate it if you'd keep that on that DL, peeps. anyway. there are all sorts of cameras out there that can be used for ttv and all you really need is that viewfinder. of course, the most gorgeous viewfinders belong to yashicas and hasselblads (but if you aren't using those pretty babies to shoot film, well then I don't know what). if you're looking to score a kodak duaflex (or similar camera), your best bet is to regularly check etsy, ebay and/or keep your eyes open at antique shops, fleamarkets and the like. you can expect to pay anywhere from five to thirty dollars (sometimes a bit more) per camera, depending on the condition and model. while the prices have gone up a bit (karen can testify to some fierce ebay wars), cameras like this are still widely available. you just have to be patient and do some looking around.

(through the viewfinder of a hasselblad)

(through the viewfinder of a kodak duaflex III)

a word about digital cameras: most people get the best results using a digital SLR. even better if you have a macro lens. I use the standard 18-55mm lens with my nikon D40 because it's all I have and quite frankly, it gets the job done. though I am all the time salivating over fancier lenses and bigger camera bodies and I'll ditch what I have just as soon as my sugar daddy ponies up. which might be never. anyway. all you really need is a camera that will automatically focus because once you stick that lens into the ttv contraption, there's no focusing it on your own. and those of you with point and shoot cameras, take heart: when I first started experimenting with ttv, all I had was my trusty little canon powershot A610. it's trickier, less predictable and much more fickle than using a DSLR but as long as you have a macro setting, you're good. definitely workable. witness: my first TtV shot. also, I took this one and this one with the canon powershot. just sayin.

she's a little wonky

and now, about the contraption: the contraption is really just a tube that helps to block the light out and prevent glare. there are some people who shoot without one and really, I'm in awe. because I have not been so successful without my wonky cardboard contraption. but you know, more power and all that. you can play around without one though I highly recommend the device. there's a terrific template (and tutorial, natch) you can use to make a perfectly shaped device that will fit right over the body of your duaflex (or whatever you're using). but I have no patience for templates. when I am really excited about something I can barely stand to follow any sort of directions, I want to jump in right away and get going. I did not use the template. I mean, I wanted to use the template, I still want to use the template, I think maybe one of these days I probably will use the template. I so want to be a template sort of girl but I'm just not. but I want to be. I'll tell you one thing, I like the word template. it's so good. say it a couple of times. template. t e m p l a t e. see? so good.

how I made my contraption: this is the part where I wish I had neato photos and easy-to-follow steps for you. though given my previous confession, it should come as no surprise that I rocked it freestyle all the way. basically, I dumped the contents out of a mostly full cereal box, flattened it, eyeballed it a bit and then cut out a long rectangular shape that looked similar to other contraptions I'd seen online. I wrapped it around the top of the camera, played around with it until it fit my duaflex/argus just right, trimmed off the excess, taped the ends together and covered the entire thing with black duct tape. then I popped that sucker on top of the camera, secured it with a few more small pieces of tape and got serious about the shooting. no time for templates and measuring devices for me. well okay, and it shows. my contraption is the ugly duckling of ttv contraptions but she gets the job done and I love her for it. that's all that really matters anyway. if you're struggling with the contraption, gimme a holler and we'll talk. or maybe I'll break down and post laughable photos of me transforming a fruity pebbles cereal box into ttv magic. I'm not too proud, people.

(superhero andrea hard at work)

some words about shooting: this is the fun part. but also the trickiest and potentially most frustrating part. this is where you have to let go and wholly surrender to play and experimentation. I'll tell you, it's a little awkward. especially at first. you are holding the old camera from the bottom with one hand while holding your digital camera (which is all shoved into that big cardboard device at the top) with the other hand. it looks and feels a little like you're walking around with a bazooka. then there's all the adjusting you'll have to do, the fiddling with the zoom and the auto focus. I recommend setting your camera on auto (or program) until you get the hang of it. then you can start playing around with it manually. to further complicate things, the image in the viewfinder is reversed. this makes things doubly confusing when trying to find and frame your subject. all I can say is, keep playing around. it's the only way. it'll get easier. I promise.

about the final step: cropping. most of the time you won't even be able to tell what you've gotten because all you'll be able to make out is this tiny square image in a sea of black. you'll want to delete delete delete but don't. suppress the urge to delete because it's only when you start to crop the images afterwards (either in iphoto or photoshop or whatever) that you'll be able to see what you've really gotten. and that's the best part, it really is. well, that and the moment you really start to get it. and then, before you even know what's happening, you are totally and completely hopelessly hooked. so watch out. and don't say I didn't warn you. because I swear, you won't know what hit you.

and now, an obscene amount of TtV linkage, just for you:

TtV tutorial by russ morris (props to mr. morris who has mad TtV skills and way more knowledge than I do. I highly recommend you give his stuff a good read or two)

russ morris' JPG article (more good reading)

russ morris' tv spot (if you can't read well then you can watch)

photojojo's ttv bit (a different perspective plus fun to read plus more linkage)

the ttv blog (for inspiration)

the ttv flickr group (for more inspiration, plus you can join)

a nifty book you can buy (who doesn't love a book?)

next up: actually loading that argus seventy-five with re-spooled 120 film and shooting for reals. that's where I'm headed next. I'll keep you posted.


  1. well. this was just fabulous.

    and funny.

    fabulous AND funny!

    you really got your good stuff out for this one, a. thanks for sharing. i am totally headed into the kitchen to hack up that almost empty box of peanut butter bumpers.


  2. yay. i've just just found your blog! so glad.

    this is immense. i have never read about how to do this- but i am so going to try it 'properly' now! :D

    loading your secret lover will be one of the most exciting things you will do! (besides of course, recklessly taking 12 photographs and waiting and paying to see how your few gems come out.) old, and funky cameras are the bestbestbest.

    this is a long comment.

  3. andrea, you are inspiring me more everyday. i've been messing around with the old shoot through the view finder since the 90's.... but never been super happy with what i've got... back to the drawing board {you've sent me}

  4. This is amazing and I can't wait to try it. Thanks for sharing the how-to, I never knew.

  5. Oh! Thank you so much for this excellent information! You have totally inspired me to try this method of photography and I predict that I will become completely addicted!!! I love your photographs and your blog is a favorite of mine.

  6. hey andrea. i just cut and filed down a spool of 120 b/w film to use in my argus seventy-five. they are so spectacular, aren't they? it didn't take long and i actually enjoyed it. i hope the results are good... i'm going to develop and print the film soon. from what i hear this is a much easier and cheaper approach then respooling. i'll keep ya posted. here's a great link about how to modify 120 spools.


    i love the ttv approach and your pics shine!

    and killerxhim...so right about the secret lover. nicely said.

  7. Thank you for this wonderful write-up! I will have to bookmark this and play around with it!

  8. Thanks for the tips. It's definitely tempting and I've been over at E-bay already. Not sure how to pick among all of the ones available though. And I already got so many cameras...I really like the photos you've posted.
    Thanks again, Aloha, SArah

  9. My very first duaflex is arriving in the mail today, so you have my eternal gratitude for this hilarious and timely post! Can't wait to try it out.

  10. This is just too cool! Thanks so much for sharing the tutorial! I'll be pulling out my dad's old Yashica.

  11. i picked up a roll of 620 through B&H, should be here Monday-upon which i may hug the mailman. how i will develop it?haven't the foggiest but hey, the fun is the trying, i think.

  12. ok I'm about to ask a stupid question prolly but why are you sticking things onto these perfectly serviceable cameras? Is there some kind of allergy to using film? I have to say that the disapline of film leads to more considered picture taking....

  13. thanks for sharing, very helpful!

  14. thanks, everyone! this thing took FOREVER to write. glad to know it wasn't totally in vain. for those of you just starting out, good luck! and please do keep me posted!

    killerxvm, I am so looking forward to loading her up! I've worked with 35mm and 120 film before but this will be a completely different experience. can't wait to jump in! yes, old cameras are my favorite! nuttin better. :)

    astray, omg. that's the best link. I am all over it, can't wait to try it. beats having the film re-spooled for you, that's for sure. thanks so much for the info!

    angela, I should have known to check b&h! actually, I'd heard that 620 film was impossible to find so I just went right to plan b-- respooling 120 film to fit my camera. I think I might have to try it both ways, just to see. so glad you told me, though! thank you!

    m, not a stupid question at all. actually, I am allergic to film. deathly allergic. and must remain at least fifty feet away from it at all times. um, not really. I've been waiting for a comment like yours, really. just waiting. almost addressed it in this post because I just KNEW someone would bring it up. and I feel strongly about this, so here we go. first of all, for the record, I love film. quite passionately, actually. which is why your 'allergy to film' bit is so funny. and I really believe that nothing can (or ever will) replace the feel and look of film. actually, I've been shooting film for years now and probably feel more comfortable with it than anything else. but here's the thing: why does it have to be one or the other? why does it have to be film OR digital? why is there not room for both film AND digital? why not use these fantastic old vintage cameras in as many different ways as possible? why not load them up with film AND shoot through their viewfinders digitally? why is there not room for both? why is there not room for experimentation here? I have run into this sort of resistance before and quite frankly, I just do not understand this way of thinking. yes, the discipline of film does seem to lead to thoughtful shooting. however, that doesn't mean that I don't shoot just as thoughtfully and carefully with a digital camera. plus, there's just no denying the sense of freedom that comes with shooting digitally. immediate results have meant more experimentation for me, which has led to a deeper understanding of basics like aperture and shutter speed. I'm more likely to take risks with composition, subject and color as well. and as an amateur photographer who is basically self-taught, this has made all the difference in the world. and my film shots are that much better now because of it. sadly, I could not/cannot afford to do this with film. I wish I could, I really do. I'd love to learn how to develop film on my own, I think there are worlds to be learned in the darkroom and someday I will but until then, digital photography is helping me get over. I can afford a couple of rolls of film here and there (and the processing that goes along with it) but I can't afford to shoot the same volume as I do digitally. I'm not saying that film is not worth it. on the contrary. I just can't always keep up with the time and money involved. so I do what I can, when I can. I develop rolls when I can, shoot film when I can and in between, thank God for digital. and while these cameras are 'perfectly serviceable', they're not the easiest. 620 film has been discontinued and has to be special ordered. 120 film has to be re-spooled to fit. and you have to find just the right place to process this kind of film. and while I am lucky to live in a city where I have access to these sorts of resources, many people don't. hence the growing interest in shooting using the ttv method. and another thing-- the shots you get shooting ttv style have a really different aesthetic than the film shots you get from using the same camera. totally different. this is what's exciting to me, exciting to so many others. ttv is one part holga, one part diana, one part lomo, one part I don't know what. and I love that. again, this is absolutely not meant to be a substitution for film, just another process, another point of view. believe me, I can't WAIT to load up my argus seventy-five with film. can't. wait. I'll enjoy that process as much as anything I've done and probably learn just as much, if not more. thank God for variety. thank God there are film cameras and digital cameras and medium formats and large formats and 35mms and polaroids. thank God for all of it. because there's room for all of it. there really is.

  15. OH WOW! I just won a lovely duaflex on ebay recently because I think they're adorable and this makes me even MORE excited! I'm going to experiment with one this weekend!

    Thank you thank you for the explanation! I've never heard of TtV, what a great idea. Fabulous!

    PS: Your photos are wonderful. :)

  16. now you've done it.

    I had never even heard of this. I checked out the flicker group (and I more than love your shots) now as soon as my girl wakes up I'm off to find me a 2nd camera. I have to try this. My mind will not let it go.

    thanks alot. (I really mean that. In a good way).

  17. Great tutorial friend!

    No TtV for me this week -- Ike put a crimp in those plans. Back again next week!


  18. Its me M I can't be bothered to log in as its 1/4 to 1 in the morninghere.

    Thanks for your considered reply. I understand what you mean about the cost of film - especially as a woman with about 30 unprocessed reels of medium format waiting to be processed!

    I am actually in the process of changing my life - hopefully so I can process all these films ! I'm interested to read that you feel digital has made your film photies better. I'm afraid that I've seen people move from film to digital and frankly their picture quality has gone down... but I'm glad its not always the case.



  19. good gawd. thank you. i have been wanting to do this for oh so long. but. but. the tutorials confused me. this one i understand. thank you.

    one question. does the viewfinder from the old camera give the ultra neato black frame or this that photoshop action time?

  20. totally inspiring, I had an impatient cowboy try at it and its so much fun.
    I really need to try A LOT harder.
    Thanks for sharing.

  21. WOW. Just wow. I cannot believe that you posted all of this info. Not four days ago I was scouring the internet trying to learn about this acronym, that I learned, well, 4 days ago. and i dont do it, but i am trying to learn other things and find that it is very rare to find people generous with knowledge - a worldwide problem i think. it really irks me. thank you so much for sharing, being a model to the community of photographers and bloggers!!

  22. Thanks so much for all the info. I have been struggling with my cameras (a Kodak Duaflex II and my Sony Alpha 100) since I got the twin lens reflex camera earlier this summer. It looks cool, and I like the finished products from other people, but I had no idea what I was doing. This will help me more than you know, so thank you thank you thank you! I've bookmarked this post :)

  23. thanks for the props!

    ain't Ttv fun?


  24. thankyou for putting this up. I have been looking for something like this. I have been following pics like this going... they have to be shooting thru something and never have time to look it up... and now I know and luckily I have the Kodak camera, now all I havw to do is make the contraption... sooooo now I get to try.. thanks again

  25. I want to thank you for posting about this! I had seen a little bit floating around but the instructions and links are great. The exciting news is i have had a YashicaD sitting on a shelf for almost a year and i had no idea what gold i possessed.

    I also linked to this post on my blog. If you prefer i didn't, of course i'll take it down.

  26. I LOVE ttv. I'm glad its getting some extra attention - yet I dread the day that the world catches on...I Love when people look at me like I'm crazy and ask what it is :).

  27. thanks, all! soooo glad this has been helpful. so glad.

    leah, the black framing comes from a combination of both. the image is surrounded by a sea of black. when you go into photoshop (or iphoto or whatever), you crop it down to leave a much tighter black border. hope that makes sense!

    russ, great to see you here! honored, actually! (and yes, ttv IS fun, beyond fun)

    kendra, I hear you. I suppose that's why I've waited so long to post a tutorial here. :)

  28. i've been wanting to try this for a while now...thanks for all the info :)

  29. this is so great!
    i'm laughing hysterically and crying (happily!) and am beside myself with excitement!
    i spent the past two weekends trying to use my hand (while holding the duaflex??!!) to block out some of the glare.
    oh my,
    i can't tell you how incredibly inspired i am.
    thank you thank you thank you!
    off to dump out those wheaties..

  30. Thanks, Andrea! I have to be tricky with the contraption because my 17-55 is about 78mm diameter and, well, that's huge. Currently I'm setting the focus and then moving stuff around until it looks right, which is probably wrong. But I have had huge glare and it's not always awesome :-/ Off to look at the template. Which I'm sure will not fit. But it's a template, right? So I must look at it... Thanks again!

  31. Hey Andrea, awesome article. I read it a couple of months ago when you first put it up, but now the ttv bug has bit. For now I'm borrowing a Yashica from a photographer friend who wasn't using it, but I've already started keeping a casual eye on Ebay (uh oh)! I've got my first experiments up on my Flickr if you get a chance to check them out sometime.

  32. Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this detailed set of how to's. Much appreciated! I'm sure I must have one of these viewfinder cameras in my house somewhere, so I'm off to go look!

  33. Thanks for this! I just inherited my grandmother's argus 75 camera from the 50s (she was never without a camera, a trait my dad and I both have) and I am so excited to learn how to use it and this looks so cool as well, especially since I am not too sure about the whole respooling the film thing.

  34. Hey! Great stuff, thanks. I was just wondering if anyone you know has ever tried this trick with a Seagull TLR? It's the only medium format camera I have that isn't a Holga. The viewfinder is kinda tricky on these, ya know? Thanks again!

  35. TTV is a blast. I wanted the option to use more than one vintage camera with my contraption, so came up with a "trombone slide" PVC design which works very well and is lightweight.

    If I may, an example of a shot taken with my contraption through a Duaflex: