A while back a friend of mine had an idea about shooting with old cameras. She saw a demonstration by Jeremy Cowart where he shot through the viewfinder of a vintage camera with a digital SLR.
I glanced at my small collection of vintage cameras and saw that two of them would be perfect for stealing this idea and creating my own experiment.
I wasn’t able to find the Jeremy Cowart video online (if you know it, please send me a link), but I heard that he used a macro lens to look through the top of an old Brownie camera. I have one of each of those, so I started there.
Nick and I went to Auditorium Shores to experiment. Nick used the Brownie Starflex and the Nikon D200 and I went with the Argus Seventy-five and the Nikon D700. I started with a 50mm with a macro ring and got images like this:
I was decently happy with this, but it was genuinely difficult to line up the lens with the viewfinder. The curve of the glass was exaggerated with the macro, which made composition very difficult.
After a while, I switched to my 24-70mm lens. Since I didn’t have to be so close to the Argus/Brownie viewfinder, two things happened. I didn’t have the added difficulty of the curved viewfinder glass and I could see a little bit of the area around the camera.
It didn’t take too long to realize that to use this shooting technique, we had to start seeing things differently. Normally when using a vintage camera like one of these, you stand with your body facing the subject and hold the camera at about belly button level, then look directly down in to the camera, line up your shot and hit the shutter.
All that boils down to is that you can shoot anything that is at a 90 degree angle from where you’re facing.
So if you look straight ahead with your eyes and bring the viewfinder up to eye level, you can shoot something to your right or left, or above or below you like a periscope. Here’s a shot I got of Nick shooting next to me.
Oh yeah, and did I mention everything is upside down and backwards? Yeah, that’s an added bonus. (Right about now we’re pretty glad to have modern digital SLR technology.)
In that shot I was facing Auditorium Shores and Nick was standing to my left in front of the Long Center. Here’s a further demonstration of how the Brownie/Argus cameras can be used sort of like a periscope:
Anyway, we went on experimenting, shooting things 90 degrees from ourselves to our right and left and here are some of the things I came up with:
There are other challenges to this technique, like getting a straight horizon line – tilting right or left is not as easy as it sounds – and walking while looking through one of these cameras will surely get you a ticket for public intoxication. Really, I don’t recommend it for those prone to vertigo.
But I will let you find out about those things yourself. If you have an extra few bucks, these types of cameras are not very expensive and it’s kinda fun to experiment with them. Plus they look great on a bookshelf!