Tip Share :: Making TtV Photos

I’m really into TtV framed photos. If you’re not familiar with TtV, it stands for “Through the Viewfinder”. This is a technique where you use an antique camera (like a Brownie) and shoot through it to get a photo with a square frame and dust. I like the look, the framing, the square formats. And there’s something about the texture and dust that adds to it for me.

I don’t have an antique camera to try it out myself; I do, however, have a trusty tool known as Photoshop Elements so I can at least replicate the look on my own photos. Here’s how.


You’ll need:

  • A photo of your own
  • One or two TtV frames
  • Photoshop Elements



Step 1: Open up Elements, your photo, and the TtV frame you plan to use.



Step 2: Resize and crop your photo to the desired size (for blog use, I tend to reduce it down to around 600 pixels wide, but you do whatever size you like). To make a perfect square, hold down the shift key as you use the Crop Tool (if you’d rather not crop and prefer a rectangular photo, that’s fine, too). Then resize the TtV frame to a similar size.



Step 3: On your photo, hit CTRL + J on your keyboard to create a duplicate layer. Alternately, you can right click that layer in the layer panel (it should default as the Background Layer), and select Duplicate Layer from the pop-up menu.



Step 4: With the duplicate layer selected, create an adjustment layer with a solid color; the adjustment layer icon is a circle that’s half black, half white, and it’s located somewhere on your Layers Panel (either the top or bottom, depending on your version).

When the pop-up menu appears, choose a shade of brown that appeals to you (I used #391d09).

Make sure that layer is still highlighted in your layer panel, then go up and change the blending mode to Soft Light.



Step 5: Create another solid color adjustment layer, but this time, choose black. With that layer highlighted in your layer panel, choose the brush tool. You want a soft edge brush that is large enough to cover big parts of your photo (I used a 500px brush for my 600px photo). Make sure the brush color is black, then paint over just the middle of your photo, leaving the corners alone (this will also be reflected on the thumbnail in your layers panel). As you paint with your brush, you’ll notice that the photo starts peeking through. When you use a brush on an adjustment layer, painting black removes whatever the adjustment was; painting white puts it back on, so if you take too much color off, switch the brush color to white and start over.



Step 6: Change the blending mode for that black adjustment layer to Soft Light. Alternatively, you could keep the blending mode at Normal, then simply reduce the opacity. I like doing this step (which is called vignetting) because it’s a really subtle way to keep the attention on the center of your photo.



Step 7: Using your move tool, grab hold of your TtV frame and drop it on top of your photo. If you kept your photo as a rectangle, grab hold of the edge and readjust it so that it sits perfectly on your photo.

Once it’s in place, hit CTRL + J to create a duplicate layer, then turn off the duplicate for a minute by clicking the eye next to that layer in the layers panel.



Step 8: With the original TtV layer highlighted, play with the blending mode. Change it to Soft Light, Overlay, or Screen to see which you like better. I tend to like Overlay the best myself, but choose whatever mode you like.



Step 9: You may notice that when you change the blending mode of the original TtV layer, the black frame becomes a little transparent. You may like that look just fine, but I personally like an opaque black frame better. So, to make that happen, go ahead and turn the duplicate TtV layer back on. Grab your Magic Wand tool then click the edge of the frame where it’s solid black.

Go up to Select, then Inverse to select the center part of the frame (where the dust and texture is), then hit your delete key to remove it. Tap CTRL + D to deselect, and now you’ve got a solid frame while still maintaining the cool dust texture on your photo.



Step 10: At this point, you’re ready to save your new TtV photo. If you want even more texture on your photo, you can do that now by dragging it onto your photo, then adjusting the blending mode (just make sure it’s beneath your duplicate TtV frame layer). You can also use the same frame at two different sizes, or two different TtV frames (one for the frame, one for the dust). Once you’re ready, save it twice – once as a PSD file (so you can come back and edit it later if you need to) and once as either a PNG or JPEG.



Optional Steps:

Optional Step 1: If your photo has a lot of bright colors and you’d like them a little desaturated, create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Grab hold of the saturation toggle in the middle, then move it to the left to calm those colors a bit. There’s no particular number to remember for this step, because each photo’s different. But for an example, I like a number somewhere around -50. On my example photo, I opted against doing this step since the colors were already pretty muted. [Do this step after Step 3.]

Optional Step 2: If, after step 6, your photo is still very bright and you want it a little darker, add another solid color adjustment layer, using black again, then change the blending mode to Soft Light. [Do this step after Step 6. You can also wait till you’ve put your frame on your photo before deciding if you need this step; you may not need it at all.]



Resources and Links:

There are a lot of free and paid TtV frames out there for you to use. You can Google “free ttv frames” as well as search Flickr. Be sure to read the terms and conditions; I tried to find completely free for any use frames to link to, but the creator may change the use restrictions at any time.


Have fun!


2 Responses to Tip Share :: Making TtV Photos

  1. Thanks for the tutorial, Brandi! I’ve just been using my iPhone with my Instagram app. It’s limited, though, and of course, only can use it with the photos I have on my phone… so this is great to have. Thank you!!