Windows To The Past

There’s a style of photography where you photograph an old photo held in front of the camera, in the same location the original photo was taken. It allows you to see the surroundings of the present day, while looking into a window of the past.

I’ve worked on a few over the last couple weeks and here’s a photo of what is now Peg’s Vintage diner:

Peg’s Vintage Diner (Now) – [Historical photo details coming soon]

Here’s one from this weekend, of Main Street in Colchester, CT:

Main Street, Colchester, CT (Now) – [Historical photo details coming soon]

These have been a lot of fun to put together, but it’s also been a mixture of experimenting and frustration at the same time.  I’m no expert at these, (I won’t even share the first one, it was so badly aligned!), but for anyone looking to try it here’s a few tips that I would recommend:

  • 2 Photos – Shoot one photo with the old photo held in front of the camera, and another without the photo. (They will be 2 layers in Photoshop later.)
  • Tripod – It may be easier to handhold the camera while you’re trying to find the right spot, but use a tripod for the final photos so the 2 photos mentioned above can be perfectly aligned.
  • Close Focusing Lens – It all depends on the size of the old photo and where you have to hold it to get everything lined up, but you may find that the photo has to be held too close to the camera for some lenses to focus on it.  (I had this problem with the Peg’s Diner image.  I switched to a Sigma 10-20mm for the Parade photo and it worked out much better.)

Why 2 Photos?
There are 2 benefits to the 2 photos.  The first is focusing – when you focus on the old photo the present day background may be too far out of focus to be useful.  But shooting the old photo and then shooting the background by itself allows you to layer them in Photoshop.  (Put the old photo on the top layer and mask out it’s background so the clear version shows through.)

The 2nd advantage is alignment.  Between holding the old photo in front of the camera, trying to look through the view finder to see if it’s aligned, and fighting any wind that’s blowing the old photo – getting everything lined up is nuts.  Just get close – the closer the better of course – but since you’re going to overlay the old photo on top of the clear background in Photoshop anyway – close will do.  Once you’ve masked out the blurry background and have the old photo on it’s own layer, give a little nudge here and there to line it up.

Don’t forget rotation – rotating the layer with the old photo can work wonders.  Sometimes an alignment can’t be easily fixed – like the roof and wall lines on Peg’s Diner.  The top right wall and roof are lined up great, but I just couldn’t get the top left roof to line up.  Rotating it down only threw the other lines off.  However on the Parade photo I was able to rotate the old photo a bit to get the pillars and foundation line on the church to be very close.  I couldn’t be happier with that one.

If you have any suggestions or links to your photos – please post them in the comments, I would love to see what you’ve done and hear tips on doing these.