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I hope everyone had a wonderful spring break and feels ready for the final race to the semester’s finish line. Today’s tech tip will be short and simple. I will be sharing with you some basic steps for how to get your computer take a snapshot of the items displayed on your screen, or what is variously referred to as a “screen capture,” “screenshot,” or “screen grab.”

Screen grabs can serve a number of instructional purposes. As a professor of media studies, I most commonly use this to grab a still image from a television show or film so that I can incorporate it into my slideshow for class. For example, here is a screen shot I took from Episode 1, Season 3 of Netflix’s original series, House of Cards:

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 10.38.44 AM

I might drop this into a slideshow and ask the students to analyze how lighting and composition are working together to set the tone for the entire season. I’ve also included screen grabs in articles that I have written for publication in academic journals. However, do read the brief caveats about image resolution at the bottom of this post.


How to Take a Screen Shot on an Apple device (OSX):

The process for grabbing a screen shot is quite simple. There used to be an array of software you could download that was designed specifically for this purpose. Now, almost all versions of OSX have built-in commands that allow you to do this with the flick of a few buttons.

If you’re working on a desktop or laptop, there are several sets of keyboard shortcuts (a.k.a. a combination of keys that you can press to activate specific functions on your computer) which will allow you to grab a snapshot of either your entire desktop or a selected area.

1) To grab a snapshot of a selected area of your desktop, hold down the shift, command, and 4 keys at the same time and then release them. Your cursor will automatically transform into a crosshair. You can now click and drag your mouse over the area on your desktop that you would like to grab. It should look something like this:Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 10.18.56 AM

Once you’re done dragging your mouse, a small digital image of your screenshot will automatically save to your desktop with the file name, “Screen Shot” + the date/time that you took the image.


2) To grab a snapshot of your entire desktop, hold down the shift, command, and 3 keys at the same time and then release them. If you have the volume on your computer’s audio output turned on, you will hear the simulated sound of a camera shutter opening and closing. Again, a small digital image of your screenshot will automatically save to your desktop with the file name, “Screen Shot” + the date/time that you took the image. Of course, you could always use the process outlined above and just drag your mouse across the entire desktop. This just makes things easier.


If you’re still confused or are curious about other options for taking screen captures, Apple’s Support site also explains the process.

Apple iPhones also allow you to take screen captures of your phone’s display by simultaneously holding down your lock and home button. An image of your snapshot will automatically save to your phone’s photo library.


PC desktops, laptops, and Android-based mobile devices also allow you to take screen shots. You can find more detailed instructions here.


A Quick Note about Image Resolution:

Screen shots will automatically save at 72 dpi (or, “dots per inch”). While I don’t have time to get into a more thorough explanation of output versus image resolutions, suffice it to say that an image at 72 dpi will look just fine when you’re viewing it on a computer monitor. HOWEVER, if you print an image at 72 dpi, it will look blurry and pixelated. Thus, it is always recommended that you print images at at least 300 dpi. Academic journals that are still print-based generally require you to submit images with at least that resolution, though they may make some exceptions. I will talk in the coming weeks about some options for procuring higher-resolution images online.


A Quick Note about Copyright:

If you are taking a screen grab of something that you did not originally produce yourself, ALWAYS be sure to credit the source. I am including the University of Minnesota’s overview of copyright policy for you to review.