Yanik's Photo School

Using Your Monitor as a Light Source – Part 1

As photographers, we use our computer monitors more than our cameras since it’s the window to our digital darkroom. Personally, for every hour of shooting, I have roughly 2-3 hours in front of my monitor. So my monitor is my buddy when it comes to post processing.

But what if we thought outside the box for a minute. What if we could use our monitors as a light source? That’s exactly the kind of thinking that one of Yanik’s Photo School’s readers, Jamie Gilbert from the UK, thought for shooting some small objects for his stock collection. He was kind enough to take the time to write up his steps in achieving his wonderful images. Hat’s off to you Jamie!

In part 1 of “Using Your Monitor as a Light Source”, I’ll explore replacing your other light sources (lamps, flashes…) with that of a monitor and get some amazing results.

First off, let’s set up our monitor to act as a light source.


Step 1: Create a new file in Photoshop (or any similar program) with a resolution that matches your computer monitor.  Mine is 1280×1024 pixels. To verify your monitor resolution, right click on your desktop, select Properties and select the Settings tab (in Windows XP).

Step 2: Select your colour.

Step 3: Fill the canvas using the Paint Bucket tool or going to Edit – Fill…

Step 4: Save the file as a jpg.

Step 5: Open the file in a picture viewer with full screen capability. The default Windows viewer does the trick. Select the Slideshow.You may need to pause the slideshow to stop the image from changing automatically.

Step 6: Angle your monitor so that it illuminates your subject.. perhaps with the help of a book wedged underneath.

All right. Our monitor is ready. Time for the setup.

Step 1: This will be a long exposure shot so make sure your camera is on a tripod.

Step 2: Make sure that the room is dark so that the ambient light doesn’t affect the shot.

Step 3: Use a trigger or the timer to prevent camera shake while pressing the shutter.

Step 4: To control your DOF (depth of field), set your camera on aperture priority and adjust the aperture to your liking.

Step 5: If you’re having problems with your auto focus due to the dark room, use another light source like a flashlight to light your subject, press your trigger halfway, shut the light and take the shot.

Here are some of Jamie’s results.

If you have 2 or more monitors, use your creative juices to light your subject with different colors! 🙂

In part 2 of “Using Your Monitor as a Light Source”, I look at using your computer monitor as your photo background.

** If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to DIGG it or STUMBLE it using the “bookmark” icon below! :) **

6 responses on "Using Your Monitor as a Light Source - Part 1"

  1. What about taking apart the monitor and using it as a filter over a flash? Basically an LCD monitor filters out all but the colours it wants to project. If you took off the back, removed the backlight, and mounted it between your flash and your subject you could have a flash filter with any one of millions of colours.

    If one had an extra LCD arround this would be a cool project.

  2. You’re right, of course. I do spend more time in front of my monitor than behind my camera. I DUGG THIS!

  3. Profile photo of Yanik

    @ Stephen D

    I’m glad I made you get your camera out! 🙂

  4. This is a fantastic idea! Thanks for the inspiration. Now I am going to stop reading your website and get out my camera!

  5. Wow, incredibly simple but incredibly clever! I love it.

  6. Awesome idea! Thank you for the inspiration!

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