Thoughts on screen shots: hard-to-capture screens

Here's another bunch of handy tips in my ongoing series on a topic no one thought would ever spawn so much writing...

Ever needed to capture a screen shot, but the system state just doesn't support or allow running another program or even a clipboard for Alt-PrtScn? Maybe during system boot, or on a mobile device or phone? Maybe you thought these screens were uncapturable.

There are a few relatively simple things you can do to get these images, and most of them involve bringing them onto a system that does support the tools you need to make the capture.


One possibility is to run the system you want to capture in a virtualized environment like Virtual PC 2007 or Virtual Server 2005 R2.

VRMCPlus includes a one-button feature to take a screen shot of a virtual machine and automatically save it to your local machine.

Remote connection

If you have a separate physical computer running the environment you want to capture, use Remote Desktop Connection (also available for Windows XP) to connect with that machine via a window on your desktop.


For taking screen shots of applications running on mobile devices (smartphones and PDA phones running Windows Mobile, for example), use one of the emulators available for Visual Studio 2008.

There is also Microsoft Device Emulator 3.0, a standalone version of the ARM emulator that ships with Visual Studio 2008.

Video capture

What if the system you want to capture isn’t directly supported by any of the software we’ve discussed so far? If your target system can output video to a TV, and your desktop computer has a video card with TV input, you can use Windows Movie Maker to capture video or a single screen from that input.


As a last-ditch effort, you might end up resorting to a really old-fashioned method of recording images on a TV or CRT: photography.

You need two items to make this work: a camera capable of adjusting the shutter speed and a tripod to hold the camera steady. Both digital and film cameras are acceptable, though digital SLRs will give you instant feedback, allowing you to make adjustments and retake the shot as necessary.

You don't need a flash, and you'll want to make sure there aren't any reflections on the screen from nearby lights or windows.

There’s a useful article on the subject in Tom's Shutterbug Archive.

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