Diana, darrrrrrling
Hello, my puppets...
Saturday, June 26, 2010

I know this blog is mostly abandoned, but I've been planning this post for a while and didn't feel that making a new site was worth the trouble! Welcome, readers, to my personal guide to TTV photography.

Before I start, I'd like to mention that there is nothing in this post that a trip through the Googleverse couldn't provide for you. I'm not giving away any trade secrets: none of this was made up entirely by me. But I wanted to show you how I do my TTV self portraits, in case you might find something in here useful. Also, this blog refers to digital TTV photography. I don't trust myself enough to do film TTVs, but if you can I emphatically tip my hat to you. The Through The Viewfinder group on Flickr is also an excellent source of information.

First, what is TTV? TTV stands for "through the viewfinder," which, if it isn't already self-explanatory, is a photography technique that involves shooting an image through one camera's viewfinder with another camera. Pretty much any camera around has a viewfinder that helps to frame the shot, but most TTV photographs are shot through the viewfinders of medium format cameras. The big, bright screens and characteristic frames and textures help add artistic value to the picture. Here are some examples of my own TTV work:

The West WhispersMind Plays TricksPark County

Still lost? Don't worry, I'm going to get a lot more detailed. Let's start with the basic equipment you'll need.

1) A camera with a viewfinder on top, the kind that you look down into. I use an old Argus Super 75 (for now, I want to get another model too) that I got off Etsy, but you can find other cameras like this for very convenient prices all over the place. Popular models for TTV include the Argus 75, Kodak Duaflex, Spartus Fullvue, and many more. The differences in these cameras are mostly in the borders and the unique abnormalities of the particular body. I was looking for a camera with dust and scratches inside, but a lot of people prefer their viewfinders to be clean. It's really up to you! I do recommend, though, if you are looking for a camera on the internet that you find a seller who provides you with a picture of the viewfinder so that you know what you're getting.

2) A camera with macro capabilities or a macro lens. I use my Canon 5D Mark II with a 100mm 2.8 macro lens, and it works wonderfully. You want to be able to fill the frame with the viewfinder image as much as you can. I've heard of people using other lenses with a magnifying filter attached to them, but I have no experience in that department and cannot speak to its function.

3) A tripod. Well, two if you're going to do self portraits or need that kind of stability. I find using two essential (except this morning, where I used a chair, but you really should use tripods for extra dependability). I happen to have two because I'm a camera collecting freak and my addictive ways have lead to me having more than one tripod, but if you find a sufficient way to support your cameras then do what works for you. One of the tripods is for the viewfinder camera and the other is to angle your main camera above it (duh).

Now, those are really the main ingredients. If you have that you are well on your way to being TTV efficient, but if you really want to get some drool-worthy shots you'll want these things, too:

4) A "contraption." Where the term came from I really don't know, but what you really need to know is that a contraption is a sort of sleeve that fits on your viewfinder camera and your main camera's lens to block out light and reflections. There are dozens of kinds of contraptions, the majority of which can be made yourself from common household materials. I made mine from a shoebox cut to the dimensions of my Argus. While the contraptions do an amazing job at blocking out most of the light and reflections, they don't do so flawlessly. Remember, when you fit the lens into the top of the contraption you are putting a round object into a square hole. That's where the scarf comes in! Just wrap it around the top and you're good to go.

Onto the setup! Today I'm going to shoot an old shed with a really ugly and spiny weed in front of it. Not really an artistic masterpiece, but it'll give you a pretty good idea of what's going on.

Call in tripod #1 with the viewfinder camera on it...

...and add main camera on tripod #2. Just put the lens into the contraption and get the viewfinder into the frame.

Let's see what we have on my Canon:

Obviously there are two problems right off the bat. First, the image isn't in focus, and second, there's a bit of light and reflection peeking through. That's where Mr. Scarf comes in!

That should solve all stray light issues from now on.

When I do TTV photography, I work 100% manually. That means manual focus, manual exposure, manual aperture, etc. Some people like being able to autofocus with their TTV setup, but I find being on auto in this situation to be very undependable. Trust me, as soon as your lens is in the contraption the camera on auto mode will get very confused about where to focus, and the same goes with exposure since pretty much half your frame is dark. My tip? Work manually. Onward!

This is what we have now:

Now is it all becoming clear? The TTV image will be flipped: whether or not you want to flip it back in photoshop is your call.

But hang tight, we're not done yet. Sure, the TTV objective has been satisfied, but not by my standards. When I crop that sucker down I'm going to be losing a lot of the original large size, and I really don't want to cut out any more than necessary, so the next step is to get that viewfinder to fill the frame as much as I can by lowering the camera down further into the contraption.

There. That's loads better. I like to include the black border, so I try to keep a little bit in there to work with. No need to exaggerate in either direction! You'll want to be careful because how much fits into the frame is also dependent on how it is focused so compensate for that. In this case I may even try for a smaller border when I go for the final shot but I don't want to overdo it!

I do self portraits and usually use my remote, but since everything here is done manually to my liking I'm comfortable with using the self timer.

I'll go with this shot. Again, not a masterpiece, I'm just trying to show you what I do. And damn, that plant really hurts to touch.

When you have a shot you feel like using, take it into photoshop to do the essential crop. Then feel free to edit it to your heart's content!

Just so you know, one problem I've encountered with TTV self portraiture is a severe lack of mobility. Your abilities are dictated a lot by your tripods: raise the viewfinder camera too high, even to what seems to be a reasonable height, and you won't be able to get the shot with the main camera. Point the viewfinder camera down too much and you won't be able to get the shot without your other tripod getting into the frame. It's a very careful process that takes lots of exploration, and I'm still figuring things out myself.

I really hope this entry inspires you and helps you in your work. TTV has been a godsend for me and changed the way I look at things all around. The allure of this kind of photography has been how evocative it can be of another time, and if it takes you there then I'm happy.

Please leave me any feedback and questions! I'd love to know what you think.

Off to edit other shots I've done, puppets. Farewell! And go ahead and check out my other TTV work on Flickr if you have the time.


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