How to Photograph an LED Sign

What do LED signs, UFOs and the Loch Ness monster all have in common? All three are notoriously difficult—some say impossible—to photograph. And while LED signs aren’t literally impossible to photograph, there are certainly enough bad sign photos to know it can be a challenge.

Sign shops that build LED signs need to take quality images of them in order to impress potential clients with their great work. But bad sign photos just don’t do justice to the beautiful images LED signs can display. In the worst cases, these photographs show blurry, distorted and washed out images, even when the LED sign looks great in person. By understanding a few concepts and making adjustments to your camera’s settings, your LED sign photographs can improve significantly. Here are some tips for getting better image results.

  • Use Shutter Priority Mode—This camera mode is commonly denoted as “Tv” or “S” on the camera’s dial. This will automatically compensate the ISO and aperture to get a good exposure. If this doesn’t work, try full Manual Mode and adjust the shutter speeds and ISA settings as outlined below.
  • Use a Slower Shutter Speed—The most critical step is to lower your shutter speed to 1/15s, 1/30s, 1/60s or possibly 1/125s. These speeds help mimic the sign’s refresh rate and will better ensure that you don’t see “tiling” or grid lines across your photos as the modules refresh. Keep in mind that the lower the shutter speed, the steadier the camera will need to be to prevent blurry images.
  • Lower the ISO Setting—Once you’ve changed the shutter speed, you may also need to change the ISO setting, which controls your camera’s sensitivity to light. Using a slower shutter speed lets more light into the camera an may result in blown-out photos. One way to prevent this is to set your camera’s ISO setting as low as it will go, typically 100.
  • Increase the F-Stop—Similar to shutter speed, your camera’s aperture setting, or F-stop, controls how much light can reach the image sensor inside the camera. When using a lower shutter speed, you’ll likely need to increase the F-stop to prevent washed out, overexposed photos. We recommend using the highest F-stop number available on your camera (typically f/16 to f/22).

While using the appropriate settings will make a big difference, you’ll still want to pay attention to the ambient light and the environment. Here are a few adjustment tips to consider:

  • Try to avoid taking photos of LED signs in bright sunlight. On most consumer cameras it’s difficult to get the settings dialed in correctly with that amount of ambient light.
  • Take photos of the shaded side of the sign to get a better exposure.
  • Compose your photos so that you can see the whole sign structure, not just the LED sign.
  • Take a few photos from slightly different angles to show the cabinet depth and construction.
  • Take photos of the various artwork displayed on the sign. Try to capture the most colorful or impactful images.
  • Pay attention to clutter in the background like cars, power lines and other buildings. Take a moment to walk around the structure and look for angles that eliminate, or at least diminish, these background distractions.

Editor’s note: This shop tip is provided courtesy of Watchfire Signs (