As PC gamers, we love taking our own screenshots. A great screenshot can show off the insane detail of high-end graphics, ground us with a , maybe even instill . In the perfect world, a great screenshot is nothing less than a great photograph—it’s just shot in a digital place.
Taking amazing screenshots is a bit of an obscure art, but it’s not beyond you. In fact, most of our favorite screenshotting software is free—many of them are already installed on your PC right now. All you need is a little work and a careful eye to make the best of them.
Step 1: Capture
When you play a game, your GPU crunches data to render textures, draw shapes, and fill your game world with color. The starting point of a great PC screenshot is wringing the finest image quality and utmost possible detail out of your GPU, and for that, you’ll want to render a game at a higher resolution than your monitor supports. These days, that usually means 4K or beyond.
You don't need to upgrade to a 4K monitor to take great screenshots, though. By capturing images before they get scaled down to fit your display, you can take 4K (or higher!) screenshots on a plain old 1920x1080 display. This process is called downsampling or super sampling, but graphics card software implementations call it (AMD) and (Nvidia).
To use Nvidia’s DSR, you’ll first need to enable it in the . To use AMD's VSR, enable it in Radeon settings. There are also other tools that can help with downsampling, like modder Durante's GeDoSaTo, which works with many DX9 games. Once you enable higher resolutions using one of these avenues, they will then be available in most games.
Capturing this high-resolution image without losing any detail is where the right capture software comes in. All of the screenshotters I spoke to had the same recommendation: . Afterburner is primarily for overclocking, but it also captures screenshots in a lossless .PNG format. We like being able to use the same tools for monitoring system hardware, tinkering with overclocking settings, and taking screenshots and video. This makes MSI Afterburner our recommendation as the best tool for the job. As of , it supports DirectX12 games and the latest AMD and Nvidia GPUs.
Windows DVR and are also good options for taking lossless .PNG screenshots and sharing video. If you’re not doing any editing, then GeForce Experience’s ability to upload high-res screenshots directly to Imgur might be a better fit for you. Windows DVR, meanwhile, is already installed and ready to go for anyone with Windows 10, and will work with Microsoft’s UWP games.
The key here is taking screenshots at the highest resolution you can and at the highest file sizes you can. You can always scale down later, but you can’t scale up. Downsampling is a huge boon to image quality, and if you’re an Nvidia user, you can also look into the Nvidia Inspector to force better anti-aliasing in some games. .
Putting these tools to work is step one towards competent screenshotting. Now let’s talk about how to shoot like a pro.
Step 2: Find the perfect angle
If you’re taking shots in a game you love, you may want to take over complete control of the in-game camera to put it into positions it normally won’t support. There’s no single tool for this, since each game handles camera views in a different way. If you want to get game-specific information or tips on hacking into a free-floating camera, you’re going to have to do some research. I asked PC Gamer contributor James Snook how he works the camera to take .
“As far as I know, the only location on the internet that is dedicated to information on in-game screenshots is the forum on ,” James says. “Duncan Harris started up that forum so people could create guides containing all information necessary to get the best screenshots out of a specific game … That said, the forum has fallen into neglect in the last year and many of the guides are outdated. Many of the tools used to achieve free camera movement rely on scripts being able to hook into memory addresses in games, and sometimes game patches will play merry hob with those methods.”
When it’s time to take control of a camera, James turns to as a source for nicely polished, free-moving camera tools for some popular games. If HattiWatti doesn’t have a camera tool available, an alternative is to dive into . CheatEngine is a debugging tool that is most commonly used to, well, to cheat in games. Aimbots are commonly made in CheatEngine, but for our purposes, CheatEngine will let you “cheat” by moving the camera in ways it shouldn’t move.
How exactly you use CheatEngine is way beyond the scope of this guide, but be aware that it may take a while to learn. This is varsity-level screenshotting now, but if you can control a game completely, you can take any picture you can imagine. The Deadendthrills forums are a good place to start: if you Google Deadendthrills + a game you want to screenshot, you might find a CheatEngine table guide like .
Step 3: Screenshot like a photographer
I wasted my education on a journalism degree, so I have the benefit of two semesters (two whole semesters!) of darkroom and photography training. If you studied something useful instead, you might not have learned about composition and exposure. Don’t worry about it: the internet has you covered.
You can learn how to set up great photographs on the (there’s also a ). Go through the tutorials on or , even if it’s just to pick up the basics like the . Heck, you can even enroll in a or work through photography series.
If you look at some of the screenshots we’ve linked to in this guide, you may notice that they often shy away from the typical 16:9 aspect ratio in favor of ultrawide panoramas or vertical portraits. Don’t be afraid to crop your screenshots to focus the eye.
One deep, deep pool to dive into is post-processing. , a set of shader effects with endlessly tweakable setting profiles, is the king of post-processing software suites right now. If you’ve ever seen a screenshot that looks , it was probably post-processed.
The easiest way to get started with SweetFX is to borrow preset configurations made by others. The SweetFX Settings Database even lets you see a comparison screenshot so you can see exactly what the preset will change. This is one of the most popular on the the database, and you can immediately see why.
Step 4: Process and upload your images
Learning to process photos to preserve color and contrast separates decent family snapshots from professional photographs. And again, creative cropping can help bring out the focal point of your screenshot.
The best guide I’ve found for processing photos is at . They’ll walk you through how to tweak brightness, contrast, exposure, and filters for the best effect. Many screenshotters take pride in presenting their images au naturel, so if that’s your thing, you may just want to use software like Photoshop to shrink full-res images down to a resolution like 1080p.
Another trick is knowing where to host your screenshots. Many screenshot hosts like Imgur will compress screenshots. We’d recommend creating a free account at , which will give you a free terabyte of storage and has a great gallery interface for presenting your screenshots.
Step 5: Look around and learn
Even if you’re not diving so deep into screenshotting that you’re having your camera and playing with post-processing, learning from other screenshotters is essential. is a great place for game screenshots in their huge, uncompressed glory, and you can learn a lot about style and composition by following members of the screenshotting community. Here are a few of the greats:
Whether you put a lot of effort or a little into this, it won’t be hard to improve on the simple screengrabs a lot of us are taking now. There’s a ton to learn here about the art of photography... or you could just wing it. When I asked James about composition and scene setting, he told me to look elsewhere. “I know jack monkey squat about that. I just go with my gut and capture stuff that looks pretty.”
And there it is. Set up your super-resolution lossless capturing, tweak the color and contrast, and capture stuff that looks pretty.