★ TtV Photography Tutorials | Through The Viewfinder Techniques & Contraption Building ★
How to Get Vintage Style Photos With a Digital Camera
Through-the-viewfinder (TtV) photography is the method by which retro, analogue style photos can be captured using a modern, digital camera. It's a very popular technique at the moment due to the rather lovely, dreamy results, which I personally think makes everything look romantic, and it is certainly my favourite photography technique.
I've explained a bit about the background of TtV below, plus I've provided links to tutorials and inspiration, helpful videos, and my own mini how-to showing you the making of my 'contraption'.
I hope you find this page useful!
Best Photography Books & Cameras
It's quicker to source your vintage camera online because you can't just pick them up new from a shop - so make sure you check a few different websites to find the best bargain.
For inspiration and expert advice on this technique or on other photography tricks, books are excellent resources.
What is TtV Photography?
TtV stands for 'Through-the-Viewfinder', as the photos are taken through the viewfinder of a separate camera.
You will need:
- A 'bottom camera', which is an old camera with a large, top viewfinder. These old cameras have a top viewfinder because they used to be held at waist height to take the photos, and the person using the camera would look down onto the top of it to see the image being taken. I use a Kodak Duaflex (about £10-£15 on Ebay), but there are a few makes to choose from including the old Brownie cameras. The camera doesn't even have to be working, it just needs a large and clear top viewfinder.
Viewfinders on old cameras will be in a range of conditions; some being very clean and clear and some with quite a bit of dust inside. The dust does give your photos a bit more character I think, but if you don't like that, you can always take the camera apart and clean the dust out.
- A 'top camera', which will be used to take the actual photograph. You can use any digital SLR or point-and-click camera, as long as it has a macro (close-up) function. This camera will be on top and will point down towards the viewfinder of the 'bottom camera'.
- A 'contraption', which is a channel/tube that links the lens of the top camera to the viewfinder of the bottom camera, so as to block out the light and prevent reflection on the viewfinder. This produces a better quality of photo.
- Photo editing software, for cropping the 'black space' out of the photos after you've taken them (more than half of each photo will be wasted black space) and doing any other adjustments necessary. You can buy this software or use free versions available on the Internet. Click here for a choice of free software. I personally use a really old version of Photoshop Elements.
So Why Would You Want to Do TtV Photography?
Well, I personally love TtV photos because they look so old school and romantic, plus they have such an imperfect and distinctive look. They all have a black border, blurred edges and the thick viewfinder glass gives a fun fisheye effect. Dust and scratches add character to the photos, giving them an authentic TtV look.
The resulting digital photos can be easily edited and enhanced in post production. Crop the black space out and make sure the photo is level before cropping it to size. You can leave the black border on or cut it off during cropping.
You can also choose to 'flip' the TtV photo since all photos are mirror images of what was photographed. Obviously, the photo must be flipped if it contains lettering - since it would be in reverse and therefore unreadable!
You can then make other adjustments if you like, such as changing the brightness/lightness/contrast/saturation etc.
TtV Video Tutorial - Shows You How You Achieve TtV Photos
Build Your Own 'Contraption'
The channel/tube between the digital camera and the viewfinder of the old camera is often called a contraption. My first attempt at this is shown above and is made from cardboard milk cartoon packaging and a black plastic bag! It works OK but is a bit....unappealing....to say the least so I made another attempt which you can see in the photos below.
The best thing about making the contraption is that it can be as easy and cheap or as fancy and expensive as you like - so be creative! You can make it from a cereal box, a Pringles tube, or anything, and you can 'pimp' it up too!
To see some brilliant (and mind-boggling) examples of TtV contraptions, have a look at these links for help and inspiration:
My Kodak Duaflex
You can see from the photo on the right that the viewfinder on top of the camera shows the image directly in front of it. For TtV photos, you are simply taking a photo of this viewfinder.
TtV Tutorials & Information
The reasons for TtV photography plus examples.
- What the Heck is TtV?
A mini tutorial with a really great result.
- About This TtV Thing
Have a look at the links at the bottom too.
- Russ Morris Tutorial
Popular and comprehensive how-to.
- Going Through The Viewfinder
A view on why TtV is so good.
- Moonflowers Mini Tute
Including examples of photos taken without a contraption.
How I Built My Contraption - Part 1
- I cut out a length of cardboard (from old Amazon packaging as you can see!) so it was about the height of my Duaflex camera and wide enough to wrap around the camera once-and-a-bit.
- I scored and bent the cardboard so that it fitted perfectly around the Duaflex (ignoring the sticky-out pieces).
- I then cut slots into the cardboard to make way for the different screws and attachments, plus I cut out enough of the cardboard so that the front lenses were uncovered. Only make the slots up to about halfway on the cardboard so that at least a few cms of cardboard tube stick up above the camera.
- Tape the tube together so it fits snugly on the camera. You can attach this tube to the camera (with tape or by another method) if you like, but I chose to keep it so that the tube was easily removeable.
- I made another cardboard tube which was longer and slightly narrower than the camera tube. This is so that this second tube fits snugly into the first. Tape this one together too. The longer tube should be stable and fit into the other one quite securely. There should be enough overlap of the tubes to keep them held together.
How I Built My Contraption - Part 2
- I cut the narrower tube down to the length I wanted. You will have to figure out how close your 'top camera' can get to the viewfinder of the 'bottom camera' whilst still being able to focus (whilst in macro mode) to determine how tall the upper tube should be. The distance I left between the two cameras was about 20cms. People's contraptions are anything from about 10cm long to 50cms or even more. Experiment with different distances to see which you prefer and works best for you and your cameras.
- I cut up some black fabric (from an old black t-shirt) into strips and stuck the strips around the inside edges of the lower tube. This is to stop any light from coming through the cracks between the Duaflex and cardboard.
- I then used double-sided tape to line the upper tube with thin, matte black card.
- I put the upper tube inside the lower tube again and looked inside to see if any light was coming in. Any holes or cracks should be covered up.
- I cut a square of the black fabric out and cut a cross in the centre. This fits over my digital camera lens and blocks out the light at the top. I use an elastic band to secure it to the camera.
How I Built My Contraption - Part 3
- This is the end result - I pimped my contraption!
- I used black tape to cover the cardboard on the outside, then drew all over it in a silver paint pen. The main photo shows the setup with the black fabric draped between the digital camera and contraption. To use it, I need to hold a camera in each hand. It's quite awkward, but that's just how it is!
I hope you found this helpful, and that you now have the confidence to make your own :-)
My First Photos
These were my very first TtV attempts!