Screenshots, Screencaps and Screencasting: The Basics

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Screen capture methods: screenshots or video screen capture

There are basically two different ways to “capture” the information displayed on your computer monitor: by taking a screenshot (also known as a screencapture, screencap, etc.) or by video screen capture (screencam, screencast, etc.). A screenshot is essentially a still photo of either part or all of your computer screen. A screencast, on the other hand, aims to record the continuous action taking place on your monitor. Imagine yourself being on vacation at the beach. Do you want to take a picture of the sunset? Or do you want video footage of it? Your choice depends on how you want to present this moment to your audience.

Uses of screen captures and screencasts

Oftentimes they appear in manuals or other software supporting documentation to show a close-up view of a program’s interface. Screencasts are popular among just about anyone “teaching” online. Video screen captures are great for showing the steps involved in using a program such as Photoshop, demonstrating the process of writing computer code or just showing someone how to defeat a villain in an online game.

How to take a screenshot (and what to do with it afterwards)

The easiest and cheapest way for Windows users is to press the Shift + Print Scrn keyboard combination. (Mac users have other key combinations.) This action takes a still photo of everything visible on your monitor – from the application bar at the top to the bottom taskbar with the Start button and the clock in the lower right corner. Try pressing the Shift + Print Scrn buttons now. Although nothing seems to happen, the computer did indeed take a screenshot but you can’t see it yet. Create a new Word document (or Photoshop image) and then paste your screenshot into it by pressing the Control + V keyboard combination. Click once on the image to activate Word’s Picture Tools contextual tab then click the Format tab to access image editing tools. Here users can crop, add borders or other effects, or adjust the contrast or brightness. The keyboard shortcut takes a snapshot of the whole screen. If you want just a portion, then you will need a more advanced screen capture program such as Hypersnap, Snagit, or Jing.

Video Screen Capture (Screencasting)

Unfortunately, there is no way to capture video footage of your desktop using a keyboard shortcut alone (but that would make a great feature for the next version of Windows). Recording moving action requires more advanced tools with prices ranging from somewhat expensive to free. One screencasting program popular among tutorial developers is Adobe Captivate which has many features including full motion capture, text boxes and highlights, and audio recording among others. If you’ve watched any of YouTube’s online tutorials, you’ve probably seen Captivate, or one of its rivals such as Camtasia, at work. Looking for free solutions to record onscreen action? Try CamStudio, a free streaming video program or Jing which not only records but shares your desktop activity. Screenr is another free online video creation tool for both Windows and Macs that makes it easy to record and share videos.