Passepartout as Viewfinder

In the past I’ve noticed that every time I approached a new scene, I’d waste too much time looking through the viewfinder, changing lenses, looking again, changing again and so on… Sometimes I’d try all my lenses (wide-angle, normal, tele) before deciding that there is nothing worthwhile in the scene around me. And after repeating this fruitless exercise a few times, I would not even take the camera out the next time.

It was clear to me, I needed a faster and easier way to find the interesting crops in a scene. Maybe there are people out there who can see those crops without any aids, but I need some sort of a frame that groups the elements of the image and separates them from the surrounding ones.

I tried framing the scene by making right angles with the thumbs and index fingers of both my hands, but this didn’t work very well. I tried improving the idea by cutting two right angles out of hard cardboard and making a frame with variable size and aspect ratio, but holding these requires both hands, and that was awkward.

In the end I settled on a fixed frame which I could hold with one hand. I thought I’d make several frames with different aspect ratios and I’d zoom by holding the frame closer to or further away from my right eye. In the end, instead of making the frame by myself, I simply bought a small passepartout.

I tried it out last night and it worked very well! My new “viewfinder” is much larger and brighter that the one in my camera, and it is very light and easy to use. And after I’m done, it fits perfectly in the inside pocket of my photo bag.

Once I got home last night, I played a bit more with the passepartout and determined that holding it with my arm straight I get the same crop as with a 100 mm lens, coming back to the middle of my forearm corresponds to 50 mm, and holding it at elbow-length I get the same wide-angle-view as with a 24 mm lens.

So whenever I get to a scene now, I’ll simply take out my cardboard viewfinder, search for the best crop, look at the distance to my eye and immediately know which lens at which focal length I needed in order to photograph the desired image. Perfect!