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How do I take screenshots in Mac OS X? - fixedByVonnie

How do I take screenshots in Mac OS X?

Apple Keyboard

Are you tired of your friends belittling you because you adore your little Mac?

Sometimes I hear zealous PC guys recounting the onerous process of taking screenshots on the Mac and how no one can remember the silly key combinations.

So you’re telling me to take my right index finger and place it on the command button, then stretch my pinky all the way to the number pad while holding the Shift key with my chin?

Or I could just press the PrtScn key on my PC.  Hmmm… yeah I’m sticking with my PC.

In all candor, the first time I started using my Mac I couldn’t figure out how to take screenshots.  I’m a PC guy because it’s what I grew up on; however, that doesn’t mean I feel antipathy toward Apple.

I think Apple makes good products and my Mac Mini rarely gives me problems but there is one thing that bothers me:  I keep forgetting how to take screenshots on my Mac.

That’s why today I’m not only going to tell you how to take screenshots on your Mac but also give you a mnemonic that will permanently prevent you from ever forgetting.

It’s a graphic memory tool but that’s why it works.

Children close your eyes.

Taking full screenshots

Have you ever noticed if you take the number 3 and rotate it 90 degrees it looks like two voluptuous breasts?

Now that I have your attention: think of yourself as a professional photographer with your wife as the model (I’m really trying to keep this clean)

In a rare moment of creative genius you ask her to stand on the porch in front of the screen door while you focus the lens on her gorgeous physique from the other side.

You’re trying to capture her physical beauty through the screen door. The screen adds an intriguing moire pattern that produces a captivating aesthetic.

So this is the thing: she’s posing topless and you want to take a full frontal snapshot but it’s noisy because a bunch of loquacious models just walked in and your vociferous assistant keeps prattling about last night’s episode of The Voice.

So instead of quietly instructing your wife how to pose you elevate your voice above the chatter and shout a Command telling her to Shift her position so you can capture the perfect view of her jewels through the screen.

Command Shift 3

Command Shift 3 takes the full screen

It may sound perverted but it doesn’t have to be.   If you really visualize this scenario: I guarantee you’ll never forget how to take full-screen screenshots on your Mac again.

Smell the summer air… the scent of freshly cut grass… hear the background chatter of your unwanted guests… see the beauty of your wife’s figure through the fine gray grid of the screen door… really insert yourself into the scene and you’ll never forget this key combo.

Command Shift 3 takes the full screen.

Alright so my next mnemonic is less licentious and won’t engender controversy.

Only Capturing the window with focus

Now maybe you don’t want to take a snapshot of the entire screen but just want the screenshot of a specific element.

Here’s the mnemonic:

Let’s say you’re fortunate enough to have a billionaire uncle donate his multi-million dollar Yacht to you for your birthday.

In your exuberance he says he’s going to sail you and your family to St. Lucia today.  He tells you that he’s going to circumnavigate the island and wants you to take in the sights.

The Yacht has three levels; however, he advises that the top level offers the best views of the island.

As you ascend the spiral staircase to the upper deck you notice the entire floor is lined with a wall of windows which affords spectacular 360 degree views of the sparkling cerulean sea, verdant island flora and white pillow clouds drifting lazily across the sky.

A warm Zephyr brushes your face as you walk to front of the ship and watch as your uncle adroitly steer it around the perimeter of the island.

He says the best view is coming up but we need to decrease the hull speed by a few knots so we can get a steady shot.

He quickly steps aside, motions you forward and Commands you to Shift the transmission to a lower gear so you can capture just the island in the foreground in front of you.


If you look at the number 4 it looks like the profile of the mainsail that’s attached to the mast of your Yacht.  Thus, whenever you want to take a shot of just the item in front of you, in the foreground, such as a browser window, a chat window a portion of your desktop just press:

Command Shift 4

Command Shift 4 gets the foreground for sure.

Pressing this magic key combination transforms your banal cursor into fighter-jet cross-hairs.

The tiny numbers that follow the cursor reveals how many pixels the cursor is from the left edge of the monitor (the top number) and the bottom edge of the screen (the bottom number).

This gives you pixel perfect precision when you need specific dimensions for a screenshot.

Hover the mouse over the active screen element you want to capture and press Spacebar to select it.  (Sorry , I don’t have a memory trick for that one)

You can keep gliding the mouse over different screen elements to select them.

As you push the mouse cursor over the Menu bar it takes on a soft shade of lake blue.   Keep moving over different things and different windows will highlight in the same shade of blue.  Hover over the dock and it’s selectable too.

When you have the one you want just click once to save the file to your Desktop.

Alternately, if you need to select an element of a particular size just click and drag your selection box to the desired dimensions after pressing Command Shift 4.

Things to keep in mind

Alright so we’re done but I should share a few things:

File names

By default all the screenshots will dump to your Desktop in the format:

Screen Shot yyyy-mm-dd at h:mm:ss

So since today is April 1st 2014 and it’s 1:47 PM – if I took a screenshot I would see a file with the following name sitting on my Desktop:

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 1:47:45 PM

Save to clipboard instead of Desktop

If you would rather save the screenshot to the clipboard instead of the desktop hold the Control Key with the others.

So for example, to copy the Desktop to the clipboard press Control + Command + Shift + 3.

Now you can paste the image into an email message or a Word doc with Command + v

Don’t use the numeric keypad

For some reason the numeric keypad on my Apple keyboard refuses to accede to my screenshot commands.  In other words, pressing Command + Shift + 4 (on the numeric keypad) doesn’t do anything.

I can only use the numbers under the function keys… does anyone else have this issue?

Apple keyboard Numeric Keypad

Anyway here’s the bottom line.

The Bottom Line

Taking screenshots with your Mac is pretty easy:

  • Command + Shift + 3 takes the full screen
  • Command + Shift + 4 gets the foreground for sure
  • Command + Shift + 4 + Space captures the element under the cursor when you click and saves it to the Desktop
  • Add Control to copy to the Clipboard instead

Hope this helps!


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Posted in Apple, Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks Tagged with: