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5 Tips for Shooting Digital Screens

Caleb Ward

Follow these five helpful tips to capture the best possible footage when shooting digital screens.

All images via Shutterstock

If you’ve every tried to shoot a TV or computer monitor, then you know that it’s much more complicated than simply pointing a camera at the screen. Because of the way cameras work, you have to consider a few things before and while shooting a video monitor or TV screen. Let’s take a look at a few of the best practices for putting screens on camera.

1. Test Your Monitor First

Tips for Shooting Digital Screens: Test Your Monitor

Before you show up on set, you need to test the monitor you’ll be using. Cheaper monitors tend to have slower refresh rates that can produce a flickering screen if you’re shooting at a fast shutter speed. Other factors like rolling shutter and frame rate can also lead to screen blinking or awkward rolling bars. If you realize that your computer monitor won’t work for your given shooting scenario, the best thing to do is simply test out another one to see if it works well for you.

However, if you’re already on set, try turning down your shutter speed. This will get rid of flickering or rolling shutter in most circumstances, but it isn’t ideal. If you’re still seeing a flicker in your monitor, you can try slowing down your frame rate. This may work for a couple of shots, but you should avoid doing this for more than a few shots in your film or video.

2. Expose for the Environment

Tips for Shooting Digital Screens: Expose for the Environment

By default, TVs and computer screens are very bright when compared to the ambient lighting found on set. Instead of adjusting your exposure for the brightness of your computer screen, expose for the environment around the computer and adjust the screen brightness as needed. This will ensure that your digital screen is well balanced in your image.

3. Laptops Are the Best

Tips for Shooting Digital Screens: Laptops are the best.

Laptops use an active matrix power system that holds the color values of each pixel until it is updated by new pixel information. Practically speaking, this means your pixels won’t flicker like on a desktop computer. If you have the option to choose between using a laptop or a desktop computer, I recommend using the laptop.

4. Calibrate Your Monitor

Tips for Shooting Digital Screens: Calibrate Your Monitor

By default, most digital screens are naturally white balanced for daylight. If you’re shooting a video that’s utilizing daylight-balanced bulbs, you’re fine. However, for most situations, you’re probably using a warmer, tungsten-balanced bulb. Because of this, you’ll want to change the white balance of your TV or computer to a warmer setting. You can usually find these settings in the monitor calibration menu.

5. Record Your Movements

Tips for Shooting Digital Screens: Record Your Movements

Instead of having your actor click and type information for each shot, it’s much better to simply do a screen recording and play the video back during production. This will make it easier for you nail your focus and ensure that your take is perfect every time.

While there’s a lot of screen recording software out there, one of my favorite tools to use is the screen recording function found in QuickTime. After you record your screen, you can edit and export the footage in your NLE of choice. Another great tool for recording your screen is ScreenFlow.

If you want to learn more about shooting TV or computer screens, I recommend checking out the How to Shoot a Laptop Screen article over at Wistia. The video tutorial included in the post features a lot of really good tips for anyone looking to practically shoot a screen on set.

Got any on-set tips for shooting digital screens? Share them in the comments below!