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Tips & Tools: How to use a Viewfinder to Look Closely

How to Use a Viewfinder to Look Closely

A viewfinder is a tool that enables artists to frame or crop a particular scene to arrange their composition. It is usually a square or a rectangle made out of card or plastic through which you look at an area in more detail.


You can easily make your own out of card and even experiment with creating an interesting shape for your viewfinder. I used to ask my daughters to make them for me when it was a rainy day and we were stuck for something to make/do.

You can also use old slides for projectors (with the film removed) or use the card inner frames that you get with picture/photo frames (photo mounts) instead. Another suggestion is to use everyday objects as a viewfinder – anything with a hole or a view through it, even your hands arranged in a square/rectangle shape. Be creative!

You can also buy traditional viewfinders in art shops – although these can cost a fair amount, you can get adjustable ones made out of plastic. I had some postcard viewfinders made and they saved me loads of time!


On guided tours or educational programmes, we use viewfinders regularly to help us look closer at things (objects, artworks, buildings). They work particularly well with ‘busy’ scenes – where there is so much information to take in at once that it can sometimes feel overwhelming. The viewfinder helps you to break it down into parts and to focus on just one part, rather than trying to see it all at once. Hold them up close to your eye or at arm’s length.

  1. Stand back to back with a partner. Person 1 is facing the object/building/artwork that you want to focus on, the other person (person 2) is facing away holding a clipboard with paper and a pencil. Person 1 holds up a viewfinder and finds a spot to focus on. They then have to describe what they see through the viewfinder to the person behind them who then draws what is being described. After several minutes (you can set a timer if you want), you can then look at what was drawn and discuss the experience before swapping roles! This is a good warm-up exercise.
  2. Have participants look closely at an object/artwork/building and discuss their first observations. Then, get them to identify an object/area that stands out. Use the viewfinder to focus in on that area/object.
    Describe what you see through the viewfinder with a partner, take it in turns to select an area to view. Share with the rest of the group.
  3. Ask participants to frame a scene with their viewfinder and draw what they see through it. They can use the shape of their viewfinder as a “frame” for their drawing.•NOTE: They don’t have to show their drawings if they don’t want to. The purpose of the exercise is observation rather than drawing skills!

Have you used a viewfinder before? Tell me in the comments!

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