Through the Viewfinder- a tutorial of sorts

So several of you asked how I got the photos the other day of me wrapping presents. I used a technique called Through the Viewfinder, or TtV, for short. You could also get this effect with post processing. I have seen several TtV textures popping up here and there. But for these shots I used the real deal. If you are interested in a tutorial for how to do your own with out an actual 'old' camera here is a vimeo link.

The first thing you have to do is find a sweet little vintage camera. I like my Kodak Duaflex II, but I know others use various other types of old cameras. As long as you can shoot your digital camera into the viewfinder of the old film camera you are good to go.

the dua

Now that you have an old camera to shoot into, what do you do? You could just shoot straight down into the viewfinder by holding the old camera in one hand and your digital camera in the other-If you did that, you would get something like this,

ttv outback

or like this.

ttv cracker-snacker

Totally fine, but what I like is the clean look that you get when you build a 'contraption' around your old camera. The contraption also helps eliminate the glare that can occur and make it so you just get a photo of your digital camera reflecting back at you. The contraption is a little silly looking and definitely takes the cute away from the duaflex but it does the trick. Be ready for a few funny looks while out in public too I find this technique to be a fantastic conversation starter!
Here is my contraption.

the contraption

I used a cereal box (any soft cardboard will work) and then made another box around the top of the film camera (the duaflex has a 'flip top' lid that covers the viewfinder when not in use so you will build up from that). You want to try to cover all the light leaks that might occur in the contraption, hence the blue painters tape in my example. The height of your box will vary depending on the lens you are shooting with. I switch to one of my lenses that allow for me to zoom in really close or do macro shots.
A very important thing to remember is that while you are building the contraption, you will want to keep testing the lens of your digital camera inside of it in order to make sure it will fit properly. There is nothing more frustrating that making a contraption only to find out that your camera’s lens won’t fit inside! (Ahem, I speak from experience here, can you tell?)
You will want to be able to give enough room for your lens to auto focus yet have it snug enough that it won't slip off too easily. I have thought about creating a contraption out of a black fabric of some sort or another- sort of like a sock that fits around the old camera and that I can stick my lens into but I haven't gotten that far. If you come up with something let me know. I think this would allow for a bit more freedom and easier packing of your cameras!

Down The Isle

So you have your camera, you built your box, now what? Go find a subject matter with lots of color- the more color the better. Set your lens on auto focus, stick that sucker into the contraption box and start shooting! I find natural light really helps get a nice clear photo. You might notice as you shoot and look at your results on the digital camera's screen (or if you are patient enough once you come back in from shooting and upload your photos) that you are getting pictures that look something like this.

Tulips 2

See all that black area around the shot? It’s the sides of the contraption box- to get a nice pretty crop around the actual viewfinder of the old camera head into your post processing software (picnik.com is free if you don't have any) and crop. I also like to use the rotation tool in picnik to level out my image so it isn’t all wonky and on a slant. When cropping I use the square template, this helps the image stay more true to the viewfinder/film size of the old camera and keeps that nostalgic feeling going. The next thing you might want to play around with in the post processing is the saturation, exposure and contrast- I find saturating and adding a bit of contrast to my TtV photos really makes them pop.

tent aka hotel room

Now you might be asking, "But Vanessa, where the heck do I find a camera to do this with"? I picked mine up in at a thrift store (I actually have two now). eBay is always a good place to look as well, lots of people don’t know what to do with these old cameras especially since they don’t make film for them any more. I wouldn't pay more than $15 or $20 for one. I think I paid no more than $10 for each of mine. You can certainly use any camera besides the duaflex as your ‘old camera’. When I first started using this technique I used my grandfather’s Yashica. But because it is so heavy and because I would cry if something happened to it, I found a duaflex instead. I like the grain that the dust gives my photos, some people don’t. I have read that you can open up thecamera and clean off the lens but I haven't done that.

Kathleen asked how I did the self portrait using this technique.
365-Day59--Present Wrapping
I set up my DSLR with the tripod and set my contraption on the floor- I think I might have stuck a book under it or used my mini-tripod to give it a bit more height. I then set up the two cameras like I normally would, DSLR pointing into the contraption and the duaflex pointing at me. I set my timer and then got into place- alternately I could have used my remote but the battery went south on me- so I was doing the ten second dash to get the shots from the other day.


What if you don't have a DSLR? You don't have to have a fancy DSLR to shoot these types of photos- Before I got my Canon I used my Sony Cybershot. You will just have to adjust your contraption accordingly and makes sure that when you zoom with your digital camera that you can get the viewfinder of the old camera into focus. I recommend setting the digi-camera on the macro setting (usually the tulip icon) and then shooting. This will help you zoom in close and stay in focus. refecltion and history
You'll notice in the picture above that I just got a reflection back of my camera in the viewfinder of my 'old' camera- As I mentioned above this is what can happen without building the contraption. It blocks out the light around and lets the viewfinder of the old camera be the star of the show.

This flickr group has a ton of really amazing inspiration and also a great discussion group to help you out along the way. The lovely Andrea over at Hula 70 also did a tutorial (and taught a class at Squam) about TtV here is here how to.

I am no expert on this but since you all asked I wanted to share how I go about the process.

Now get out there and show me what you can do!!! Share with me okay???!


  1. Oh hello, lovely!! You're here too. Beautiful TTV work. Thanks for the how-to!!

  2. Wow Vanessa! I'm impressed. Can't wait to try this!

  3. thanks for the tutorial. very neat

  4. great tutorial vanessa! thank you for taking the time! warm hugs!

  5. what a fab process and beautifully detailed lesson! i just limp along with my litle sony cybershot!

  6. Excellent tutorial! I should pull my duaflex back out...it's been ages.

  7. well now i've added another item to look for while thrifting! my brother actually has a few old cameras and has taken some great shots with this technique, but i'll definitely be forwarding your contraption to him. thanks for such a thorough tutorial!

  8. you are such a smartie! thank you!
    loooooove your contraption, btw.

    woot! i can't wait to build a proper one and get shooting.
    after the holidays. : )

  9. Oh, I LOVE this! Thank you!


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