How to Take Photos of a TV Without the Squigglies - Digital Photography School
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How to Take Photos of a TV Without the Squigglies

If you’ve ever taken a photo with a TV in it, you might notice just how hard it can be. The picture can seem squiggly or, as in this photo, not even visible. You don’t have to be a Photoshop pro to replace the screen in post production. The answer is in shutter speed.

The screen on a TV is rolled down one pixel at a time at lightening speed. Use a speed of 1/30 or slower to catch the fully ‘rolled out’ screen of pixels.

If your camera doesn’t allow you to set a shutter speed, take a look at the automatic modes. For example, ‘sports’ mode wouldn’t be any good because the shutter is too fast.

Today’s new television technologies don’t present this problem because they no longer work with a scanning electron beam like older televisions. But as you can see from my photo, some us still have the old types :)

Other factors that present themselves when setting such a low shutter in an indoor environment are camera shake and motion blur from your subjects. A tripod or resting your camera on an object can help with camera shake as can IS (image stabilisation) lenses. As for your subjects – well – tell them to freeze! And if they’re kids and there’s a TV in the room you probably won’t have to tell them :)

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Elizabeth Halford is a Hampshire Photographer and keeps a rockin'photography blog where she writes about photography and business in "real.plain.english". She's addicted to Facebook and can be found answering photography and business questions every day here on her page

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/theclubhousekid the clubhouse kid

    I just took said picture a few days ago while playing with spot metering.
    Came out pretty decent…

    (flickr link)

  • Dzhonny

    the problem is more complex than “slower than 1/30″ you have to set it to the multiple of TV refresh rate (1/60 or 1/50 (depends on if youre on PAL or NTSC)), otherwise the ray of TV will expose different times the tvscreen which cause differently exposed bars on the screen. So 1/60, 1/30, 1/15 will do the thing or 1/50, 1/25 or 1/13 if youre on the other tv standard.

  • Ken

    I knew about this trick, but I’d like to know if there’s any way to take a closeup picture of a screen (e.g., LCD display) without getting crazy moire. I’ve tried different focal lengths, different camera angles. The only thing that seems to work is to defocus, but that sort of ruins the idea of the photo (to sharply reproduce what is on screen).

  • http://ad.vu/mg3r Mikey Garcia

    magnifico!

  • G

    Ken, you need to go back to film. Check any digital image, or analogue TV screen, when displaying a pattern tightly packed squares or lines. This wil lproduce the effect you are describing. Basically the pattern is close to the spacing of the pixels on the sensor, or gaps in the scintillation screen of a CRT, so that every 1 in x lines in the image overlaps this restriction of the technology. Hence why most portait and photo studios usually ask people not to wear clothing with tightly packed repetitive patterns. You can limit it, but not remove it by getting closer or further away from the subject, so that the pattern is either as close to perfect fit for, or considereably larger than, this division on the sensor. I appreciate this is a bit difficult when trying to get a close up of the screen.

  • http://tricolour.net Richard Guy Briggs

    I’ve actually had more trouble with large exposure differences and white balance issues, but these are easier to fix in post-production than properly capturing shutter timing to avoid the problem described above.
    You should be able to take images of a TV at 1/60 second, but you will miss one of the interleaved frames. If you can afford to, better to use 1/30 second.

    The same problem above presents itself with some types of lighting such as fluorescent and LED. When photographing two strings of LED Christmas lights that happenned to be connected out of phase from each other, one string always appeared to be off. This was because I was using a shutter speed of faster than 1/120 second, guaranteeing I would miss half the cycle. To fix this, I had to either put all strings in phase and hope to capture the correct half of the phase, or set my shutter speed to 1/60 second to guarantee to get both phases.

    The issue with fluorescent lighting is the difference between the light detected at the time your metering reading was taken and the phase of light at the time the shutter was open. Again to fix this, you would be best to fix your shutter speed to 1/120 second or a multiple (1/60, 1/30) and use manual mode to avoid your light meter built into your camera making an incorrect guess. Video surveillance cameras have settings to force the electronic shutter to use a multiple of the local power line frequency.

    Sorry for the long technical details… (These numbers apply to 60Hz. For 50Hz, divide by 6/5.)

    As far as the moire patterns go, if you use a capture resolution that is significantly higher than the screen you are trying to capture, defocus makes sense, then resample down to the original resolution of the TV since you can’t get more information than your original source without interpolating by using defocus or blur.

  • http://mcpactions.com Jodi Friedman

    Interesting… I was at a museum a few weeks ago – and they had a green screen and my kids were dancing. I wanted to capture the TV. I just had my P&S and there were lines on my images of the TV.

    As I see it since they were in movement, I needed to let light in and needed speed to freeze them. So unfortunately, this may not have helped me. But it is good to know for the future…

    Thanks,

    Jodi
    MCP Photoshop Actions
    http://www.mcpactions.com

  • http://tricolour.net Richard Guy Briggs

    @Jodi: I don’t know if you would have enough control over your P&S to be able to do it, but if you can set it up, get the TV far enough away, use a shutter speed for TV synchronization, then use a flash to light your kids much closer than the TV and you may be able to balance both needs. This is certainly doable with an SLR and even more help if you can get the flash off the camera.

  • http://mcpactions.com Jodi Friedman

    I may have – as this was the Canon G11. I usually use a Canon 5D MKII, but did not feel like lugging it all day for a few snapshots of my kids… This is good info to have and know in the back of my head.

    So another question, since I normally am not photographing TVs… For new TVs – the HDTV type, would this apply or would I just shoot as usual and it would be fine?

    Jodi
    MCP Photoshop Actions
    http://www.mcpactions.com

  • PhotoKenetic

    This is slightly off subject but I think it applies well enough to mention. After I upload a photo to my PC and tune it up (PS Elements) I use my the camera on my cellphone to photograph the pic on my computer’s LCD display. That ends up making some good images for wallpaper on my cellphone.

  • cliff

    Now that plasma and LCD screens are in play this issue shouldn’t be a problem as CRT monitors are dissolved out. Am I wrong? Isn’t this just a CRT issue?

  • http://tricolour.net Richard Guy Briggs

    @Jodi, I can’t comment on newer HDTVs, since I don’t know the tech details and haven’t tried it since we don’t have one. Coincidentally, I’m also shooting a 5DmkII…

    To clarify my “get the flash off the camera” comment above, part of the reason for that is to get your kids to eclipse the flash from the TV so that the flash doesn’t wash it out.

    Another comment from above about white balance. TV tends to be a very high colour temperature, anywhere from 6500 to 9300K where much other indoor lighting (incandescent and fluorescent) is around 2700-3300K, causing the white balancing issues. Passive lighting from the TV, flash lighting, daylight or other daylight-corrected sources are going to be closer to the colour temp of the TV, but still not quite there. Dusk might actually work…

  • http://www.accountant-bookkeeper.com.au/sydney/accounting_services.html Sydney Accounting Services

    Brilliant article. I always thought that it wasn’t possible to take a photo of a TV without the squiggles due to the interlacing. It is interesting to see that it can be done.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/46645318@N02/ Joe D’Silva

    I pointed my 5d mk II to our LCD HDTV tonight, while there’s definitely no issue with “scan lines” … it ain’t pro quality stuff either … I do get the that “crazy moire” that ken mentions …

  • http://www.singaporegrooms.com James

    Capturing the images is now mch easier since most people owns a LCD or plama YV where images are not projected as pixels. :)

  • Joe

    it should be “lightning fast”, not “lightening”

  • Cynthia M.

    If it’s a show being broadcast, I hit the freeze button on my remote. If it’s a move or tv show on dvd/blu ray, I either press the freeze button on my tv remote or hit pause on the dvd player remote. Today I took a bunch of shots at various shutter speeds. I have a Nikon D5100. Using a tripod I used ISO 100 and found the shots that came out best were usually shot at about F22 and 1/6 of a frame. I kept shooting at various shutter speeds to see what came out with no weird lines that my eye didn’t see on my LCD HD tv, but my camera picked up.

    Then, just using the basic photo editing software that comes with Windows 7, I cropped the shots and playe around with brightness, contrast, shadows and highlights a bit. But ont the whole the “lineless” shots, needed not tweaking.

    If you don’t have a freeze button on your tv remote control, try recording the program onto a dvd (if you have a dvd recorder), then play the program back and freeze it at the point you want to take a picure of.

  • Cynthia M.

    Oops I should have proofread my post a bit better. I meant 1/6 of a second. Even with my bicofals down my nose, I can read half what I write!

  • mia

    Still it doesnt work

Some older comments

  • Cynthia M.

    May 12, 2013 03:28 pm

    Oops I should have proofread my post a bit better. I meant 1/6 of a second. Even with my bicofals down my nose, I can read half what I write!

  • Cynthia M.

    May 12, 2013 03:25 pm

    If it's a show being broadcast, I hit the freeze button on my remote. If it's a move or tv show on dvd/blu ray, I either press the freeze button on my tv remote or hit pause on the dvd player remote. Today I took a bunch of shots at various shutter speeds. I have a Nikon D5100. Using a tripod I used ISO 100 and found the shots that came out best were usually shot at about F22 and 1/6 of a frame. I kept shooting at various shutter speeds to see what came out with no weird lines that my eye didn't see on my LCD HD tv, but my camera picked up.

    Then, just using the basic photo editing software that comes with Windows 7, I cropped the shots and playe around with brightness, contrast, shadows and highlights a bit. But ont the whole the "lineless" shots, needed not tweaking.

    If you don't have a freeze button on your tv remote control, try recording the program onto a dvd (if you have a dvd recorder), then play the program back and freeze it at the point you want to take a picure of.

  • Joe

    July 29, 2010 06:15 am

    it should be "lightning fast", not "lightening"

  • James

    March 6, 2010 01:43 pm

    Capturing the images is now mch easier since most people owns a LCD or plama YV where images are not projected as pixels. :)

  • Joe D'Silva

    March 4, 2010 03:35 pm

    I pointed my 5d mk II to our LCD HDTV tonight, while there's definitely no issue with "scan lines" ... it ain't pro quality stuff either ... I do get the that "crazy moire" that ken mentions ...

  • Sydney Accounting Services

    March 2, 2010 07:58 pm

    Brilliant article. I always thought that it wasn't possible to take a photo of a TV without the squiggles due to the interlacing. It is interesting to see that it can be done.

  • Richard Guy Briggs

    March 2, 2010 05:34 am

    @Jodi, I can't comment on newer HDTVs, since I don't know the tech details and haven't tried it since we don't have one. Coincidentally, I'm also shooting a 5DmkII...

    To clarify my "get the flash off the camera" comment above, part of the reason for that is to get your kids to eclipse the flash from the TV so that the flash doesn't wash it out.

    Another comment from above about white balance. TV tends to be a very high colour temperature, anywhere from 6500 to 9300K where much other indoor lighting (incandescent and fluorescent) is around 2700-3300K, causing the white balancing issues. Passive lighting from the TV, flash lighting, daylight or other daylight-corrected sources are going to be closer to the colour temp of the TV, but still not quite there. Dusk might actually work...

  • cliff

    March 2, 2010 03:43 am

    Now that plasma and LCD screens are in play this issue shouldn't be a problem as CRT monitors are dissolved out. Am I wrong? Isn't this just a CRT issue?

  • PhotoKenetic

    March 2, 2010 02:08 am

    This is slightly off subject but I think it applies well enough to mention. After I upload a photo to my PC and tune it up (PS Elements) I use my the camera on my cellphone to photograph the pic on my computer's LCD display. That ends up making some good images for wallpaper on my cellphone.

  • Jodi Friedman

    March 2, 2010 12:11 am

    I may have - as this was the Canon G11. I usually use a Canon 5D MKII, but did not feel like lugging it all day for a few snapshots of my kids... This is good info to have and know in the back of my head.

    So another question, since I normally am not photographing TVs... For new TVs - the HDTV type, would this apply or would I just shoot as usual and it would be fine?

    Jodi
    MCP Photoshop Actions
    http://www.mcpactions.com

  • Richard Guy Briggs

    March 2, 2010 12:05 am

    @Jodi: I don't know if you would have enough control over your P&S to be able to do it, but if you can set it up, get the TV far enough away, use a shutter speed for TV synchronization, then use a flash to light your kids much closer than the TV and you may be able to balance both needs. This is certainly doable with an SLR and even more help if you can get the flash off the camera.

  • Jodi Friedman

    March 1, 2010 11:46 pm

    Interesting... I was at a museum a few weeks ago - and they had a green screen and my kids were dancing. I wanted to capture the TV. I just had my P&S and there were lines on my images of the TV.

    As I see it since they were in movement, I needed to let light in and needed speed to freeze them. So unfortunately, this may not have helped me. But it is good to know for the future...

    Thanks,

    Jodi
    MCP Photoshop Actions
    http://www.mcpactions.com

  • Richard Guy Briggs

    March 1, 2010 11:35 pm

    I've actually had more trouble with large exposure differences and white balance issues, but these are easier to fix in post-production than properly capturing shutter timing to avoid the problem described above.
    You should be able to take images of a TV at 1/60 second, but you will miss one of the interleaved frames. If you can afford to, better to use 1/30 second.

    The same problem above presents itself with some types of lighting such as fluorescent and LED. When photographing two strings of LED Christmas lights that happenned to be connected out of phase from each other, one string always appeared to be off. This was because I was using a shutter speed of faster than 1/120 second, guaranteeing I would miss half the cycle. To fix this, I had to either put all strings in phase and hope to capture the correct half of the phase, or set my shutter speed to 1/60 second to guarantee to get both phases.

    The issue with fluorescent lighting is the difference between the light detected at the time your metering reading was taken and the phase of light at the time the shutter was open. Again to fix this, you would be best to fix your shutter speed to 1/120 second or a multiple (1/60, 1/30) and use manual mode to avoid your light meter built into your camera making an incorrect guess. Video surveillance cameras have settings to force the electronic shutter to use a multiple of the local power line frequency.

    Sorry for the long technical details... (These numbers apply to 60Hz. For 50Hz, divide by 6/5.)

    As far as the moire patterns go, if you use a capture resolution that is significantly higher than the screen you are trying to capture, defocus makes sense, then resample down to the original resolution of the TV since you can't get more information than your original source without interpolating by using defocus or blur.

  • G

    March 1, 2010 11:09 pm

    Ken, you need to go back to film. Check any digital image, or analogue TV screen, when displaying a pattern tightly packed squares or lines. This wil lproduce the effect you are describing. Basically the pattern is close to the spacing of the pixels on the sensor, or gaps in the scintillation screen of a CRT, so that every 1 in x lines in the image overlaps this restriction of the technology. Hence why most portait and photo studios usually ask people not to wear clothing with tightly packed repetitive patterns. You can limit it, but not remove it by getting closer or further away from the subject, so that the pattern is either as close to perfect fit for, or considereably larger than, this division on the sensor. I appreciate this is a bit difficult when trying to get a close up of the screen.

  • Mikey Garcia

    March 1, 2010 11:27 am

    magnifico!

  • Ken

    March 1, 2010 11:10 am

    I knew about this trick, but I'd like to know if there's any way to take a closeup picture of a screen (e.g., LCD display) without getting crazy moire. I've tried different focal lengths, different camera angles. The only thing that seems to work is to defocus, but that sort of ruins the idea of the photo (to sharply reproduce what is on screen).

  • Dzhonny

    March 1, 2010 08:09 am

    the problem is more complex than "slower than 1/30" you have to set it to the multiple of TV refresh rate (1/60 or 1/50 (depends on if youre on PAL or NTSC)), otherwise the ray of TV will expose different times the tvscreen which cause differently exposed bars on the screen. So 1/60, 1/30, 1/15 will do the thing or 1/50, 1/25 or 1/13 if youre on the other tv standard.

  • the clubhouse kid

    March 1, 2010 06:44 am

    I just took said picture a few days ago while playing with spot metering.
    Came out pretty decent...

    (flickr link)

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