Painting Composition Class: How to Make a Viewfinder

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What You Need to Make a Viewfinder

What You Need to Make a Viewfinder
Image: © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to, Inc

A viewfinder is a simple yet extremely useful painting tool which helps you to select and isolate particular elements in a scene to get the best composition.

What You Need to Make a Viewfinder

  • A piece of rigid card about A3 in size. (Ideally black and matt as this doesn't distract your eye from the composition nor reflect light into your eyes.)
  • A ruler and pencil or pen.
  • A pair of scissors or craft knife and cutting board.
  • A pair of clips.

How to Make a Viewfinder

  • Use the ruler and pencil to mark two L shapes on the card; they should be the same size.
  • Make the L's about five centimeters (about two inches) wide so they don't flop or bend when you use them.
  • The length of the arms of the L's depends on the size of your card. Around 20 centimeters (eight inches) works well. Rather cut them too longer and shorten them later.
  • Cut out the L's (don't stress if you don't cut exactly along the lines you've drawn; it's not crucial).
  • That's it – simple!

Tip: Use any leftover card to make a smaller viewfinder for using on photos.

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How to Use the Viewfinder You've Made

How to Use the Viewfinder You've Made
Image: © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to, Inc
  • Hold the one L in your left hand, the 'right' way up and the other L in your right hand 'upside down'.
  • Now place the one over the other so they overlap, forming a frame.
  • You'll see that by moving the two L's, you change the format of the view. It can be square or a landscape or portrait format. You'll use this flexibility when looking at a scene to decide on a composition.
  • Hold the two L's at arms length and move them across the scene looking at the potential compositions. Take a look at the photo of the paraglider above and consider how the different cropping or compositions influence the overall feel. A vertical or portrait composition emphasizes a feeling of height, whereas a horizontal or landscape composition gives more of a feeling of wide open spaces.
  • Once you've decide how you want to view or crop your scene, use two clips to keep your L's in place. This stops them moving accidentally, which can happen if you're holding them in one hand, and enables you to put the viewfinder down.
  • Get into the habit of holding the viewfinder at arm's length, rather than with your arm bent, so you get a consistent view through the viewfinder.
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Using Your Fingers as a Viewfinder

Painting Composition Class -- Tips on Using a Viewfinder
Your fingers can be used to form a simple viewfinder. Image: © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to, Inc

You can also use your fingers to create a viewfinder. Hold out your hands, with their backs facing you. Straighten your thumbs and forefingers, then twist your one hand around so you've an L facing in the opposite direction to the one created by your left hand. Now put your two hands together, and you've an instant viewfinder.

The disadvantage if, of course, that you can't paint or sketch while you're doing this!