Make your own 'transparent' display

With a few clever photography tricks and some tweaks in your favorite photo editor, you can create the illusion of a see-through PC monitor.

Once you've seen some amazing pictures of seemingly transparent LCD screens, you may want to create your own optical illusion. After researching the topic, I wanted to give it a try, too. So I'm going to show you the simplest way I've found to create the effect. All you'll need is a digital camera, photo-editing software, and about an hour to produce the image.

In this step-by-step guide, I use Gimp, the free photo-editing software for Windows, Mac, and Linux; but any standard photo editor that can produce layers and perform basic editing will work as well.

Take Your Photos

Before you get started, you need to determine (and write it down for later reference) your screen's resolution. Microsoft has two online tutorials--one for Windows 7 users and one for Windows Vista users--that show how to obtain this spec.

Next, you need to take a photo with your computer screen in the frame, and another without your screen in the frame. If you're using a laptop, the only adjustment you have to make is to fold the clamshell down before taking the second shot. Desktop users must remove their monitor from the desk entirely to achieve the right effect. You should also mark the location where your monitor sits on your desk with tape or pencil. This will make it easier to restore the screen to the right spot later on.

201935-whatnottodo_original

When taking your photo, make sure that you have enough light in your environment, but avoid having a strong light source--like the sun or a bright light--directly behind you, as it could cause screen glare in your final picture, decreasing the illusion of transparency.

The other key is to be sure to take two shots at an identical angle.The best approach is to mount your camera on a tripod. If you don't have a tripod, you can create a makeshift one. To take my shots I just used my nightstand, with a few boxes piled on top of it. You should also turn off your display or give your desktop a solid color background. This will simplify the task of editing the screen in your photo-editing software later on.

When it comes time to take your final shot, you may want to use your camera flash or to be in a room with a lot of natural light. This is because both light sources help create the transparency effect in your final shot. But if you use a flash, take care to use an angle that doesn't let the flash slip onto the screen. In the experimental shot above, the shot is pretty good overall, but the flash ruins it.

Tip: Have at least two items that run beside and behind the screen. Doing so will make it easier to line up your final shot later, and it will add to the transparency effect.

After you've captured two shots that you like you can upload them to your computer. Here's how my two photos looked initially:

201935-image1_350

201935-image2_350

Tip: If you're using a laptop, try not to move the base of your computer at all from start to finish of this project. That way, the only adjustment you'll have to make will be to the screen angle when lining up your final shot.

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Ian Paul

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