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How to take a screenshot on PC

Assassain's Creed: Origins

Screenshot by CHRISinSession. See more on Flickr.

If you're still pressing the PrintScreen button every time you want to take a screenshot on your PC: Stop. As of 2020, Print Screen is illegal. Okay, not illegal, but there are better ways to take a screenshot on PC these days than mashing PrintScreen, pasting it into Paint, and cropping. And for games, there are so many choices in screenshot tools, it can be hard to decide what to use. What they have in common: They're all better than PrintScreen.

In this guide we've narrowed down the many screenshotting tools for Windows into a few specific recommendations, with tips on how to use them. We've also got some advice on how to take good game screenshots with the tools available to you. Studying some basic photography concepts, can help anyone learn how to take screenshots that do justice to the gorgeous games they come from.

Ready to get artsy? Studying some basic photography concepts, can help anyone learn how to take screenshots that do justice to the gorgeous games they come from, and we'll get you started.

The best tools for taking a screenshot in Windows

Snip & Sketch

The best screenshot tool for most uses

Windows has several built-in options for taking screenshots: PrintScreen, Snipping Tool (which is being phased out) and the new Snip & Sketch, which we recommend. Snip & Sketch is the way to go for screenshotting a portion of your screen, a window, or the entire screen, and quickly saving it.

Just hit Windows + Shift + S to bring up a small menu that lets you draw on the screen or capture a portion of it. It's simple and really quick, and lets you edit the file before saving it.

Windows Game Bar

The best tool for quick snaps and video

If you want to take a full-screen snap, or want to record video of your screen, another built-in app has you covered. It's the Windows Game Bar (sometimes also named the Xbox Game Bar). To access the Game Bar, press Windows + G at the same time. The popup that appears will have buttons for taking a screenshot, recording gameplay video, and other features.

To take a screenshot without opening the bar first, use the keyboard shortcut Windows + Alt + PrintScreen. (You may also need to hold the Function key at the same time if you're on a laptop keyboard). A notification should appear telling you that the screenshot was saved, and by defualt it goes to the ‘Captures’ directory of your Videos folder. 

We also recommend Game Bar for taking screenshots in games, but two specialized recommendations below are better for Steam and Nvidia users.

ShareX

The best tool for power users

If you’re looking for more features (and don’t mind downloading an additional tool), you should check out ShareX. It can capture full-screen or partial images in multiple formats and has some crazy powerful automation tools. Want to set it up to take a screenshot of part of your screen every 3 seconds? Need a built-in color picker? Record a GIF? Copy a screenshot to clipboard? Set up your own custom keyboard shortcuts?

Once you’re ready to show off your shot to the world, you can upload your capture to over 80 services without leaving the application. ShareX can upload screenshots directly to Imgur, Twitter, Google Photos, Dropbox, OneDrive, and dozens of other services in just a few clicks. That means less time fumbling with the Twitter web app just to share your new house in The Sims, and more time you can spend playing games.

There are more advanced features you can play with too, like image filters, watching a folder for new images (so you can use ShareX to upload images saved by other applications), blurring sections of a photo, and even adding text. ShareX can do so many things, it's a bit intimidating to use, but there's nothing better.

The best tools for game screenshots

Steam's screenshot

The best tool for Steam games

The overlay in Steam also has a screenshot feature, and it's so convenient it's the best way to go for any game you play on Steam—just press the F12 key while playing to save an image. When you’re done playing, a popup will appear with all the screenshots you took. You can also access them from the View menu in Steam, and it'll show your latest screenshots on each game page in your library. Neat!. From the VIew menu you can open the image in the Windows file manager, or upload them to a Steam cloud library to access from another PC later.

Tip: Steam’s screenshot tool has a few options to make your screenshots better. Go to Settings > In-Game > and select ‘Save an uncompressed copy’. Images will be saved as crisp PNG files instead of just compressed JPGs.

GeForce Experience

The best tool for Nvidia users and fancy screenshots

If you have a PC with an Nvidia graphics card, GeForce Experience gives you more options than other screenshot tools. Once you have GeForce Experience installed and log in (ugh, we know), press Alt + Z to open the overlay. Here you can take a screenshot, record a video, or even start a livestream.

Where GeForce Experience really stands out is with Ansel. When Ansel is activated, your game is paused and the camera positioning is unlocked, allowing you to take a screenshot from any angle. You can even apply photo affects at the same time, and in select games, Ansel can generate 360-degree and VR images.

The catch is that most of Ansel’s functionality requires games to integrate Nvidia’s SDK, and even though Ansel is several years old at this point, most major games don’t work with the free-moving camera mode. Still, many big games released over the past few years are at least compatible with with Ansel’s super-resolution upscaling and photo filters. You can see a list of compatible games here.

To try out Ansel, click the ‘Photo Mode’ button in the GeForce Experience overlay, or use the keyboard shortcut ALT + F2.

Tip: In GeForce Experience's Notification Settings, you may want to disable the notification that pops up when you take a screenshot. It lingers on the screen for several seconds, making it impossible to take multiple shots in quick succession without capturing the notification. Annoying!

How to take great gaming screenshots

You have the tools, now learn how to show off your games with style.

Screenshot by Frans Bouma using custom camera tools. 

Screenshot by Frans Bouma using custom camera tools. 

Free up the camera

It's possible to take nice screenshots of the back of a character's head, but we're interested in composing shots with as much freedom as possible, and with the HUD hidden. Regarding the latter, some games allow you to turn off the HUD with a hotkey or within the graphics or interface menu, while others may require console input or the editing of a config file. It's case-by-case, but usually you can find the answer via search engine.

Freeing up the camera is trickier, and typically involves entering something into the console or hunting down a Cheat Engine hack that does it (not to be attempted in multiplayer games). More and more games include photo modes, though, so this is becoming less of an issue.

Minor White; Vicinity of Dansville, New York, 1955; print

Minor White; Vicinity of Dansville, New York, 1955; print

Think like a photographer

Before you start, study the work of established photographers for some inspiration. Whether it’s the majestic landscapes of Ansel Adams, the evocative portraits of Annie Leibovitz, or the striking photojournalism of Steve McCurry, you can learn a lot from the masters.

I’m not saying every screenshot you take has to be high art, but sometimes when I’m feeling uninspired, browsing the portfolios of real-world photographers can trigger a creative spark. Also, studying the work of the masters can lead you to think about other elements of photography like, composition, angle, lighting, exposure, etc., which we'll talk about individually below.

Assassin's Creed Odyssey

 Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Screenshot by kakona

Rule of thirds

One of the main aspects of composing a great shot is the rule of thirds. Mentally divide your scene up into a grid of nine rectangles, then make sure your subject is placed along the lines, or at the points where they meet.

This technique is a great way to aid you in achieving an artful, balanced composition, and has been used by photographers, painters, filmmakers, and pretty much every kind of visual artist for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Not every shot has to obey this rule, as there are many composition techniques, but it’s a main one worth keeping in mind.

With any composition technique involving action or people, make sure the subject is positioned so it's entering the frame, not exiting it. It's called 'falling off the edge,' and it happens when the object seems to 'aim' outside the frame of the shot, via either its movement, its eyes, or its focus. It looks and feel awkward. Positioning the subject to the other side of the frame usually fixes this.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Screenshot by HodgeDogs. See more on Flickr.

Field of view

Widen your field of view to show more of a landscape or fit large, distant objects into the frame, such as the mansion in the example above. This is one of the best ways of conveying the scale of a landscape or object, but don’t go too far with it. You’ll get a fish-eye effect if you overuse it, making your image look warped and unnatural (unless that's what you're going for). Just because you can slide the FOV all the way to the end doesn’t mean you should. Everything in moderation. 

Hitman

Hitman

Get closer

Alternatively, you can tighten your field of view to focus on the smaller details in a scene. Vistas and sunsets are fun to shoot, and modern games are getting ridiculously good at them, but the little things can be every bit as impressive. Whether it’s a flower, an animal, a costume detail, or a subtle architectural flourish, using your virtual lens to study the finer points of a game world can be just as compelling as capturing the bigger picture. 

Scale

In a trick used regularly by Batman comics, this shot of Gotham City seems even bigger and more sprawling when you notice Batman’s silhouette set against it. Placing your character in front of a vista, or anything large for that matter, enhances the sense of scale massively. This is especially effective in space games such as Elite Dangerous, where the silhouette of a ship can make its various celestial bodies—planets, stars, and so on—seem impossibly vast.

Assassin's Creed Odyssey

Assassin's Creed Odyssey

Depth of field

Also know as the aperture on a traditional camera, knowing how depth of field works lets you focus on a subject in the foreground or background, intentionally blurring the rest of the image.

Adjust the intensity of the blur and the focal point and you can create some impressive, photorealistic images, but keep it subtle. Again, this is one of those effects that’s often overused. Artful use of shallow depth of field, particularly when focusing on a specific subject in an image, can really enhance the feeling of presence in a shot. 

Assassin's Creed Odyssey

Screenshot by Frans Bouma. See the complete collection on his website.

Portraits

While we're on the topic of depth of field, portrait photography is an entire art form, but a good technique is adjusting the depth of field to make your subject the focal point of the  image, without any background clutter distracting the eye.

Portraits can be close-ups of characters’ faces, full body shots, and everything  in between. The important thing is that it’s a person at the heart of the image, not a place, but you can also use the environment to reveal something about their personality. 

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

 Screenshot by Julien Grimard.

Exposure

Exposure, in a camera, determines how much light reaches the film or sensor, and many photo modes simulate it. If an image feels like it lacks punch, bump the exposure up a little to make it sharper and brighter. 

But if you go too far, you’ll blow the image out and it’ll look like a nuclear bomb has just gone off. Increasing the exposure can also reduce or erase the detail around light sources or shadows, so as with all things, find the right balance depending on what you want to convey. 

 Metro: Last Light

 Metro: Last Light

Time of day

One thing that goes hand-in-hand with exposure the time of day/night of your scene. Changing light in games with day/night cycles can radically alter the mood of a scene (think Dying Light). So, wait for the right moment to  shoot. A location can look uninspiring at midday, but transform into something beautiful at dusk.

Some games give you manual control over the time of day, for example the photo mode in No Man's Sky or GTA V's director mode. Otherwise, much like real photography, it’s all about  watching and waiting.

No Man's Sky

No Man's Sky

Filters

A lot of photo modes come with built-in filters that can replicate various effects: old movies, analogue film, retro games. But most of them are ugly, and you should avoid using them in most cases. But in some games you can adjust the intensity of the filter, merging them with the natural colors of the image, and it’s possible to create some interesting, stylish effects if you get the balance just right. They’re worth experimenting with.

Destiny 2

Destiny 2

Post-processing

The best thing to do is take your raw images into a graphics package like Photoshop or Lightroom and tweak the brightness, contrast, and color levels by hand. Even the slightest tweak can make a huge difference to the final composition. Just make sure whatever you’re using to capture your screenshots, whether it’s Steam or something like Fraps, is outputting an uncompressed image. You don’t want a load of gnarly JPG artifacts spoiling your shot.