A Quick Start Guide to TTV

© Suzanne Clements

TTV: Through the Viewfinder

Firstly, for those of you who aren’t familiar, TTV stands for “Through the Viewfinder,” meaning that your photographs are shot through the viewfinder of another camera. This method lends a certain dreaminess and distortion to your images that is the very definition of this style of photography.

What you’ll need:


  • One vintage twin lens reflex camera
  • Your digital camera with a macro lens (100 mm autofocus is recommended, but not a requirement)
  • Black foam core
  • Duct tape
  • Ruler
  • X-acto blade/box cutter


The Vintage Twin Lens Reflex Camera

Ok, so you might be asking… what’s this camera you speak of and how do I get one? These are lovely little vintage numbers you can find easily on eBay for around $10-$20 a pop. Pay any more than that and you’ve spent too much. These cameras have a ground glass viewfinder on the top, two lenses on the front and have some pretty hip styling given their age. You’re looking for one that has a good clean viewfinder, and if it has a hood over it, no worries, it can be removed.

Two models that are pretty common and render really good results are the Argus 75 and the Kodak Duaflex (pictured above on the right) cameras. There are plenty of others out there that have these ground glass viewfinders and feel free to explore (above left is a brownie hawkeye), but for the purposes of this demo we’ll be focusing our attention on the Kodak Duaflex (shown above).

Once you’ve found one of these beauties, clean it up a little. You’ll want to gently rub off the YEARS of build up and uniform dust that’s created a film over the glass. Lots of photographers prefer some dust and some grime, so don’t go too crazy here, but do give it a little dusting. If there’s a lot of dust inside, fear not, you can easily disassemble your camera and gently clean the innerworkings as well.

While you’re cleaning, take the time to remove any hood that covers the top viewfinder. This looks cool, but will only get in the way of your photography.

Matching Your Camera and Your Vintage Camera

Now that your vintage camera is ready for action, you’ll need to determine the distance your camera (or lens) requires in order to take a good clean shot. You can do this by laying your vintage camera on a table, on it’s back. Then get as close to the ground-glass/bubble view finder as possible, while still being able to focus on the frame around the viewfinder. Make sure you have the entire frame visible and this is your distance. Measure from the front of the body of your digital to the base of your antique camera.

What’s with the Black Foam Core Anyway?

Yes, this process falls into a little arts and crafts, but the payoff is worth it. Let me demonstrate.

You can photograph your viewfinder as it is. Here I have set up a flower on top of a box and I’ve placed my vintage camera so that it is looking at the flower. When I take the shot, however, I’m getting a lot of glare over top of my image.

Creating your foam core rig will block out any excess light , helping to prevent glare and distracting highlights over top of your viewfinder, and keeps your camera a the closest focus distance. In short, it makes this process a lot more user-friendly.

Ok so with that out of the way, let’s finish up your rig. You’ve measured and you’re ready to cut. Measure the outside of your vintage camera and cut panels to fit (be careful to make sure this leaves enough room for your camera’s lens as well at the top). Cut holes for the different leavers and buttons so your rig fits snug around your vintage camera. Using the duct tape, assemble the panels over top of your vintage camera, taping the seams and edges to block out the light.

Your finished rig should look something like this. It may not be pretty, and if you want something pretty, go for it. You can use other materials as well. I’ve seen rigs made with tubing, cloth, corrugated metal, you name it. One thing is for sure, when you’re out shooting with this, you’re certain to get some funny looks and a few conversations about what in the world you’re doing. It makes a great ice-breaker.

Like many cameras, the Kodak Duaflex and the Argus 75’s all have standard tripod mounting holes in their bases. So, if you’re so inclined, you can use these with a tripod.

Your Images

Once you’ve snapped away a little, you’ll want to crop and prettify your images. Out of the camera, you’ll see plenty of black space, just trim it square around your image, leaving some of the black frame.

As for processing, I’ve found that right out of the camera, the images can be a little desaturated and dull depending on your lighting. This is where post-processing comes in and you can start to really amp up your creativity.

Post-processing tools

You’ll find plenty of post-processing preferences and actions that you can plug into lightroom and photoshop if you do a simple google search. One of the most popular is the Urban Acid actions. Pete Watson has been kind enough to host this free action plugin set, so have at it: http://petebarrwatson.com/2009/03/16/urban-acid-digital-x-process/

But certainly don’t stop there. Play with the layers, blend modes, light balance, levels and more. Develop your own style and get creative. With TTV there is no right or wrong way to do it. You can keep your images black and white, amp up the color, desaturate… you name it. Just have fun and explore.

In Conclusion

As you start shooting, your images will be reversed and composing your shots will be challenging. Fear not! You’ll get the hang of it. Photographing in TTV releases you from having to be technical and precise and allows you to explore photography in a whole new way. Get out there, shake off your stubborn rules of good photography and just play.


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My background as a fine artist (painter/illustrator) and graphic designer gives me a somewhat unique perspective when at a shoot composing my photographs. I came to photography a bit later in my creative career, but I've embraced the challenge and excitement of harnessing a new medium and have worked to make it my own.

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