How to capture difficult screenshots on the Apple Mac

Taking screenshots is easy and there are several key combinations that save the whole screen or part of it to disk as an image file. Some screenshots appear impossible, but there are ways to take them.

Take a screenshot

The easy way to take a screenshot is to press the following keys all at once: Shift+Command+3. The whole screen is saved to disk as a .png file on the desktop. This is how most of the screenshots on this website were taken.

Instead of capturing the whole screen, you can save a single window or app. Press Shift+Command+4 and the mouse cursor changes to a target. Press the spacebar and it changes to a camera. The window under the camera is highlighted and when the mouse or trackpad is clicked, the highlighted window is saved to disk as a .png image.

Menus can be captured in a similar way. Open the menu by clicking it, then press Shift+Command+4. press the spacebar to turn the crosshairs into a camera, and click to take a screenshot of the menu.

That can be useful on occasions, but all my screenshots have to be processed in a photo editor before being used anyway, so I tend to simply capture the full screen and then crop it if I just want a window, menu or small part of the screen.

Timed screenshots

Sometimes it is impossible to take a screenshot of what you want. Occasionally you might come across an app you want to screenshot, but as you press Shift+Command+... it triggers something in the app. A pop-up window might close, a menu might open, something happens because you pressed a key.

It’s impossible to use the keyboard to take the screenshot.

I recently needed to take a screenshot of the lock screen - when a password is set for the screensaver, so when you return to your Mac it’s locked and you need to enter your password.

The usual keyboard commands for taking screenshots would not work.

The solution in both cases is to use the Grab utility to take a timed screenshot. This takes a screen shot after counting down to zero from 10 and it does not require you to press any keys.

Go to the Applications folder and open Utilities. Run and then go to the Capture menu and select Timed Screen.

Take timed screenshots using the Grab utility on the Apple Mac. Save them as TIFF files.

Click it and a small window appears with a Start Timer button. Click it and the screenshot will be taken in 10 seconds.

Take a timed screenshot on the Apple Mac using the Grab utility.

The window stays on the screen, but don’t worry, because it magically does not appear in the screenshot. The image captured opens in a window and you use the File menu to save it as a .tiff file.

This enables you to take screenshots that are otherwise impossible. The 10 second delay gives you time to put whatever window, app or menu on the screen that you want and the screen image is saved.

It enabled me to capture the lock screen too. I enabled hot corners in the screen saver so I could start Grab’s timer, push the mouse into the screen corner to trigger the screensaver, hit a key to cancel it and then wait a few seconds for Grab to capture the screen.

Terminal screenshots

There is a third way to take screenshots and that is by using a command in a Terminal window.

Go to the Applications folder, open the Utilities folder and run Terminal. At the command prompt enter:

screencapture pic1.png

This captures the screen and saves it to the current folder (Terminal opens in your home folder), as pic1.png. Use whatever filename you want.

There is a serious flaw with this command and the problem is that it captures the Terminal window. If you are running an iMac with a big screen, you could tuck it away in the corner, but on a MacBook it takes up a lot of screen space and ruins the screenshot.

The solution is to use multiple desktops and a timed capture. At the Terminal command prompt, enter:

screencapture -T 10 pic2.png

This sets a timer to 10 seconds before capturing the screen and saving it to pic2.png. Change the time to 5, 15, or however many seconds you need, and change the filename to save it with a different name.

How does this help? Well, screencapture saves the current desktop, so you can swipe down the trackpad with three fingers to access Mission Control. From there you can create or switch to a new clean desktop that doesn’t have the Terminal window.

I have set up Ctrl+Right arrow and Ctrl+Left arrow to switch from one desktop to another. A timed screen capture can be started, I can Ctrl+Right to switch to the next desktop and take my screenshot.

Another useful feature of the screencapture command is that you can save screenshots in other formats like this:

screencapture pic3.jpg

The screenshot is saved as a JPEG file, but you can just as easily use other formats including TIFF, PDF and others.

There are many more options and the full list is in the OS X Man Pages. Here’s just one more.

To take a screenshot after 10 seconds and automatically insert it into a new email message as a JPEG, use this command:

screencapture -T 10 -M snapshot.jpg

The -M tells it to open it in Mail. I found the new message window underneath the Mail window, so watch out for that. If you don’t see it, it might be under another window.

Take screenshots on the Apple Mac using the screencapture Terminal command.

Check out those commands in the OS X Man Pages, you can capture windows with or without shadows and more.



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