Skip to content

Photographic Project: Through-The-X photography

July 2, 2012

Here is way to take “out of the ordinary” photos, by using an old camera as a “filter”…


The idea is to shot a photo at a scene as visible through the viewfinder of another camera, showing how this preview image captures the scene. This works especially well with very old film cameras; most old twin-lens and single-lens cameras had waist-level finder, with a focusing screen where the framed images would appear. On this screen, the image has a peculiar contrast, saturation and defects… a retro appearance which is what makes this technique interesting.

I have a twin lens Yashica 124 and a Bronica SQ-A, which both have a nice focusing screen with the lines of thirds and (on the Bronica) also a focus ring… They are ideal candidates for this technique.

Sounds easy, isn’t it ? actually, there is a problem… focusing! since the focusing screen where the image is visible is quite small, it may be tricky to set the shooting camera with a position, focal and focusing such that the focusign screen is framed sufficiently well AND in focus. When using a SLR to take the photo, this often require holding the two cameras at 40-50 cm distance; this problem is reduced using a macro lens on the shooting camera. There are three possible solutions: hold both cameras in your hands (difficult & dangerous), place the primary camera on a stable position and freehand the shooting camera, or fix one camera to another using a cardboard tube (possibly a black one) long enough to keep the cameras at the correct distance. For this technique, compact digital cameras may be a better choice, since most of them has a built-in “macro” setting, able to focus at 5-10 cm, making much easier to hold both cameras in your hand.

You may find a quite active Flickr group devoted to this technique, and various tutorials on how to build contraptions to affix the first camera to the shooting one, avoiding keeping both cameras with your hands…

Nothing prevents you to use, as the primary camera, a modern digital camera with live preview… with this variant, it is also possible to compose an image where the backside panel of the digital camera is in focus, but the framed subject is also visible, out of focus.


Yes, Through-The-Lens (or TLL) is how it is called the metering technique where the camera measures the light coming, as the name says, through the lens… However, in this case, is taking the photo in such a way the subject (or part of it) is framed inside a camera lens.

Again, the problem is to find the correct relative position of the shooting camera and the spare lens. There is an additional thing to bear in mind: most camera lenses have a mechanical aperture, often controlled with a peg on the back of the lens. The diaphragm iris is generally close (or at its minimum setting) when detached from a camera; in order to take photos through it, it is necessary to open up the diaphragm as much as possible, and this is done by moving the peg.

Also in this case, it is possible to compose an image where the subject is visible in focus through the lens, but also, out of focus, in the rest of the frame.


What about glasses / sunglasses? phone cameras? and webcams? and videocameras screen/eye finder? well… any device able to capture (and preview) images is a valid candidate… Just try it!

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: