What's the best way to take a picture of an LCD or CRT screen?

  • I have seen many bad pictures of LCD and CRT screens. How do I get a good picture of an LCD or CRT screen?

    Many LCD TV's (possibly monitors) have a pause option to freeze the current frame. This may be useful if a longer exposure to get more light in the surroundings is needed

    @VaishakSuresh No. I mean an actual picture, since TVs, iPods (click wheel), etc. don't allow screenshots.

    @VaishakSuresh I think if they wanted to know about how to take screenshots, they would have said so. There are ample reasons to take photos of your devices, e.g. to show off your awesome new plasma to your buddies. (Even though that technically might or might not qualify as "LCD or CRT".)

    @Cornelius I understand. The question technically asked how to take a picture of an LCD and CRT 'screen'. Not monitor, not TV. Anyway, my mistake!

  • It's not very hard to take a good photo of an LCD or CRT screen. I'll add oscilloscope in here as a special case of both as I've taken many such over the years.

    A few pointers. Some of the following may sound complex and daunting at first glance,
    but it's all fairly intuitive taken a section at a time.

    • Shutter speed is critical for a frame-refreshed device due to the way the image is written to screen. Understand the nature of the image – it's a line-scanned image refreshed in interleaved half-images with non-HD 525/625-line TVs, and may be something quite different if using a monitor or oscilloscope or e.g. plasma screen. Play with exposure times to see what works.

    • Whole screen refresh rate on a non-HD TV is 30 Hz with 60 Hz mains and 25 Hz with 50 Hz mains. It actually writes a screen at double that speed but with only half the data and then writes the second half interleaved with the first. Whether you can see that half is missing if you shoot at 60/50 Hz depends on the image and phosphor persistence and brightness and image content.

    • CRT frame rate will vary with screen mode - you can look it up or check the computer video settings - or just try different shutter speeds until you get one or several that are best. Be aware that frame rate may change if you change the mode.

    Using exposure times that are not equal to these can give partial pictures with bright or dark areas or no picture at all if you are especially clever.

    Take a series of images at rates from say 0.1 s to 0.01s and probably faster and see what "artefacts" appear. There will (probably) be a shutter speed that best suits and after that you use aperture and ISO and leave shutter speed alone.

    I just tried various speeds on a 1080p plasma screen and anything below (slower than) 1/90th second is good. Above 1/90th the image artefacts are bizarre and almost inexplicable.

    A CRT oscilloscope usually scans left to right but a modern LCD screen oscilloscope may combine trace write time with frame writes, so start playing.

    Once you are happy with shutter speed effects:

    • Use minimal background light - have a desk lamp handy that you can turn off when taking photos. Washing out the image is easy.

    • Tripod or solid support! Frame the screen and leave it there or if that's not convenient have a setup where you can promptly put it back in the exact position. For some work I've used two drawer slides with a board on top that allows the camera to be "dollied" sideways out of the way with minimal loss of position on return, given due care tm.

    • Small aperture but not so small as to get diffraction.
      With a flat screen yje depth of field needed is minimal.
      A curved CRT screen needs only a little. f/8 is probably ok and f/11 or f/16 are usually very usable. Exposure time will go up.

    • ISO - something that gives quality with your camera. The higher the better that gives acceptable quality. I have a Sony SLT-A77 that probably would be OK at ISO 800.
      A Nikon D700 or any newer FF camera is liable to be OK at ISO 2400.
      My older 5D & 7D Minoltas may need ISO 400. A700 Sony: 400 to 800.
      ISO 50 or 100 if you must, but quality usually does not justify it.

    • Manual focus and exposure are not essential but may help.
      If having to move and replace the camera, if available set to "Manual focus with press to focus when needed" and do NOT use 'focus with shutter button'.

    • Set LCD/CRT/scope scope picture and camera exposure to what produces good results. Phosphor persistence will usually cause blurred lines at settings that look OK to the naked eye. Probably have scope trace dim and well focused.


    With an oscilloscope, if it has an "illuminated graticule" adjust the level to look good – not blazing bright with regard to trace and not invisible.

    LCD screens' best viewing angle will vary with contrast setting. If contrast is not adjustable you may find that an angle above or below horizontal works best.

    It's funny that you started with, "it's not that hard," then wrote 16 paragraphs explaining all the things to keep in mind. :)

    @jm3 Hard <> Multi-faceted :-). As I noted "... Some of the following may sound complex at first glance but it's all fairly intuitive taken a section at a time. " -> Once you understand what works it is usually 'quite easy' [tm] to replicate. Some things are 'hard' but we grow into them (eg playing a piano or riding a bicycle) and some are just hard (for most of us) (eg a climb to the top of K2 and back, alive -> long term fatality rate 25%). Others are made up of many steps any one of which is trivially easy. Most of programming and 1/3 of photography is like that :-). You knew all that :-)

    "Most of programming and 1/3 of photography" has a long term fatality rate of 25%?!?! I better hurry to get a safer career and a safer hobby, *stat*! =D

    @scottbb It's more fun parsing it your way, but "hard" to achieve. I think the more usual, but more boring, manner would be to take this section as an integral comment -> "Others are made up of many steps any one of which is trivially easy. Most of programming and 1/3 of photography is like that." :-)

    =) I admit, mine was a fairly tortured parsing. But I couldn't resist the joke. Cheers! =)

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM