How the rolling shutter effect can be used for trick photography

Nowadays, people are literally walking around with a camera in their pocket in the form of a smartphone. People are taking more photos than ever before simply because their phones are with them all the time. Whereas in the old days you lug around a camera because you have a specific intention of capturing photographs, now we take photos of unplanned and unexpected moments.

Because of this, more and more people are discovering the rolling shutter effect with their phones. You’ve probaby seen pictures taken using their smart phones of spinning plane propellers with multiple weird boomerang shapes. It looks even more baffling on video as the boomerang seems to melt, deform, and merge with one another. Another example is when people take pictures out of a moving car or train. The picture looks skewed in one direction.

So what causes the rolling shutter effect?

Cameras fitted with an imaging sensor that has a rolling shutter or performs a line scan suffers from this effect. Not all parts of the image are recorded on the sensor at exactly the same time due to the rolling shutter. This is normally not an issue as the rolling shutter takes very little time to fully capture an image, but very fast-moving objects can still create the effect. The moving object has already moved before the full image has been captured. Most camera sensors are of this variety, especially smartphone cameras so the odds of people encountering this artifact is higher.

Here are the distortions you can get with the rolling shutter effect:

1. Wobble. The image looks “wobbly”, as in straight lines don’t appear straight anymore, and appears wave-like like jello. You are more likely to get this effect if your camera or the object is vibrating very rapidly.

2. Skew. The image appears to be skewed in one direction. This is most common if you take a picture out of a moving car or train.

3. Smear. This is an even more extreme version of the skew as the image appears to be stretched until it looks blurry like a smear.

4. Partial exposure. The image appears like two separate photos joined together. This can happen if in the middle of capturing the image, a flash of light goes off. One part of the image appears brighter because the flash went off then, and the other part of the image appears darker as it was captured after the flash.

Normally these are considered unwanted artifacts in an image. But if you want to capture extraordinary trick photography images, then you can turn these unwanted artifacts into the highlight of the image.

Propellers and fan blades

For example, the boomerang-shaped airplane propellers can look very alarming while you’re in the air, but with a bit of work you can recreate this effect on the ground or in a studio. You can get some abstract and surreal shots using a common house or portable fan. Then try experimenting with different colored fan blades and lighting. Spray or splash water onto the blades. You never know what the end result might turn out to be, either way it is going to be something most people never see.

Vibrating objects and strings

Once in a while a new and interesting use of the rolling shutter effect for trick photography emerges that blow people’s mind. Someone took their smartphone and dropped it inside their guitar facing the strings and began to record while strumming the guitar string. The result are pictures of the string “frozen” in mid-oscillation.

The video version shows the string frozen at different wobble patterns as it vibrate at different frequencies. You could produce beautiful photos or videos of musicians playing their string instrument and be able to see the individual string vibration.

Move the camera instead

For truly bizarre pictures, you can try strapping your camera to something moving very fast. There are videos of people on the Internet subjecting their cameras to extreme conditions like strapping their cameras to the propeller of a toy helicopter to produce some really psychedelic photography. The world wobbles, melts, and flows like liquid unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

People are discovering fun new ways to do trick photography with the rolling shutter effect. Hopefully the explanation, examples, and tips here will encourage you to get started and explore further!

Also, I wrote a post about how fun you can use trick photography to discover back the inner joy of photography!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *