Whether it be a smartphone or a DSLR, I'm sure at one point, you wanted to take a picture of a display (either your TV, computer display, or laptop), and you saw these weird chunks of lines scrolling across the screen which is not only irritating but distracting as well.

Here is an example showing you what I mean. It's a picture I took on my phone for my Instagram a while back:

A post shared by Eric Liang (@ericwliang) on

Notice those black vertical "lines" across the picture of the laptop screen. Those are the lines I'm referring to.

Well, I'm going to teach you how to take pictures of displays without the flickering lines showing up. No, I will not tell you to just simply hit the printscreen button, because not all devices with a display have a printscreen button. Not only that, if it were that simple, I'm sure you wouldn't be reading this article right now. :)

What Causes The Flickering Lines To Show Up On The Display?

Well, believe it or not, the flickering lines is natural to how the display actually works. It has nothing to do with your camera at all. To know why these lines appear in the first place, we must first take a step back and take a look at how displays work in terms of displaying content onto the display.

First off, in the old days before LCD displays were even invented, televisions were built using CRTs (cathode ray tube) which contains electron guns. Because a video is just a fast display of a lot of images in sequence over a short period of time (imagine someone clicking through a picture slideshow super duper fast with music and vocals playing in the background), the display has to quickly update the information being shown to us. Because every dot represents a pixel, and the more pixels there are, the more dots there is to update. How these updates worked was they would change one at a time ridiculously quickly row by row until it reaches the bottom. However, at the same time, the next image has already started loading. Because our eyes can only go so fast in terms of processing how fast information is being fed into our eyes, we're actually being tricked into thinking that there's a moving image. I might be wrong on this, but I should be pretty close.

How To Take Pictures Of Displays Without The Flickering Lines

To take pictures of displays without the flickering lines, you will need to have access to your camera's manual mode or shutter priority mode.

Because the issue is due to the rate of how fast content is being displayed, your camera will need to have a longer shutter speed. What this means is you're going to make your camera keep its lens open for a slightly longer period of time before it finishes the process of capturing that photo.

However, you don't want to slow it down too much otherwise you'll introduce other problems such as blur from lack of still motion, and potentially weird overlapping inconsistent content (especially if a video or animated image is playing on the screen)

  1. Open Your Camera App or Camera Settings (if you're on your DSLR)
  2. Access the manual mode settings (swipe around or touch the gear icon if you're on an app)
  3. Choose the shutter setting.
  4. Increase the value so it stays open longer. You will have to play around with the number. Increase it little by little until the scrolling lines disappear from the display you are going to take a picture of.
  5. Start shooting pictures!

Why Does Increasing the Shutter Speed Solve The Problem?

Increasing the shutter speed gets rid of the flickering line problem because the camera will have enough time to capture all of the information being displayed on the screen you are capturing.

Imagine this. Let's say you are watching someone draw a picture of an apple. At the first few seconds, you decide to take a picture of what he's doing. Now obviously, he's probably not going to finish drawing the picture in just that short amount of time. However, if you wait until he finishes the last detail, and take the picture. Chances are, the moment you take a picture, the artist would be finished with his drawing.

In laymen's terms, that's basically what's happening to your camera as you increase the time it takes for your shutter to stay open. Easy, right?

What If My Camera Doesn't Let Me Change The Shutter Speed?

Don't worry, if your camera is purely auto mode and you can't adjust the shutter speed, I do have a solution for this. It's not as elegant as adjusting it via manual mode, and more of a lifehack that takes advantage of the camera's autofocus and auto mode capabilities. I used to do this sometimes with my smartphone's camera back in the days when I didn't know about adjusting the shutter speed to solve this problem.

  1. Turn on your camera or open your smartphone's camera app.
  2. Point your camera away from the display as a starting point, but near the display.
  3. Quickly move your camera so the display is in the frame and positioned how you want the picture to be laid out.
  4. Once your display is in focus, quickly, and I mean QUICKLY capture the picture.
  5. The end result is a semi-sharp (or sometimes sharp) photo without the flickering lines on your display. Again, like I said before, this is not an elegant solution, but it will work. You might have to repeat the process again until you are successful in getting a sharp, clear, in-focus picture without the lines showing.

If you don't like the results, then consider using a different camera or installing a 3rd party camera app to your smartphone that enables manual mode (there are free options out there in the app store.)

Conclusion

Now that you know that by increasing the time it takes for your camera shutter to stay open, you can now solve most problems when it comes to capturing photos involving displays or speed based scenarios. Just make sure you compensate those changes by adjusting the aperture and ISO (unless you have those automatically handled by the camera).