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Taking screenshots of your Mac: Keyboard shortcuts, Grab, and third party apps

Posted: October 21st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Mac, research tools | 3 Comments »

Just as ethnographers working offline produce sketches or photographs of the people, places, and artifacts that they study, so too do ethnographers of online communities. When I was collecting data for my most recent online ethnography, I decided to try capturing images of the online places & spaces I was studying, as well as the activities that I observed and engaged in there. These visual records proved to be valuable data for analyzing and making sense of the online community I studied.  They have also been incredibly useful in writing up the results, since they help readers see and understand the places and phenomena being described.

Since I did my online ethnography on a MacBook Pro, I used the free native Mac functionalities (certain keyboard combinations) and apps (Grab) that I had available, which worked out very well.

Mac OSX keyboard combinations for screen captures

Using simple keyboard combinations you can quickly and easily take screenshots of your full screen, a selected area, or an open window.  The images will be saved either to your desktop or the clipboard, depending on which combinations you use.  I learned about these keyboard combinations through this MacRumors:Guides webpage. The basic ones listed on the page are:

Command-Shift-3: Take a screenshot of the screen, and save it as a file on the desktop

Command-Shift-4, then select an area: Take a screenshot of an area and save it as a file on the desktop

Command-Shift-4, then space, then click a window: Take a screenshot of a window and save it as a file on the desktop

Command-Control-Shift-3: Take a screenshot of the screen, and save it to the clipboard

Command-Control-Shift-4, then select an area: Take a screenshot of an area and save it to the clipboard

Command-Control-Shift-4, then space, then click a window: Take a screenshot of a window and save it to the clipboard

With my version of Mac OSX the images were saved as .png files.  (The file type that they get saved as depends on which version you have, as the article notes.)

Once I had these images I renamed them and archived them with the rest of the data (fieldnotes, interviews, transcripts, etc.) that I collected.  Later, when I was writing up the results, I imported them into my Word documents using Insert > Picture > From File….  It couldn’t have been easier.

Grab

Grab is a screenshot application that comes bundled with Mac OSX.  Find it by opening Preview and clicking File > Grab, or simply by scrolling through your applications.  Using Grab you can take pictures of your full screen, an open window, or a selection determined by you.  You can also do timed shots, enabling you to take shots of things (menus, for one) that have to be activated.  Once Grab is running simply click Capture on the main menu, select the type of screenshot you want to do, and follow the prompts.  Images will be saved as tiff files to whatever location (desktop, folder, etc.) you select.

Third party applications

MacRumors lists several third party applications for taking screenshots, including applications that can produce moving images i.e. live action movies of the activities happening on your screen.  Some of these are free and some you have to pay for.  I haven’t tried these out myself.  If you have, please write in and let me know how they worked for you.

Which option is best for you?

Deciding which tool is best for you is, of course, depends in large part what type of images you are trying to capture.  In my case, I only wanted simple snapshots, so the keyboard combos and Grab were well suited to my needs.  The decision also rests on how you work when you are doing your participant observations.  Ultimately, I found the keyboard combos to be the most useful, because when I was “on site” doing participant observation, it was easy and convenient to hit the keys without breaking stride in my interactions.  This was preferable to fiddling around with menu options, which distracted me from the activities that I was participating in.  At the end of my participant observation sessions I’d have a huge stack of images on my desktop, which I’d then sort through, name, and archive.  Not all of them proved to be good images, but since I erred on the side of caution by taking a lot of shots, I always ended up with enough of what I needed.


3 Comments on “Taking screenshots of your Mac: Keyboard shortcuts, Grab, and third party apps”

  1. 1 Peg Achterman said at 11:25 am on October 21st, 2011:

    I like Skitch – lets you draw on the grabs with ease.

  2. 2 Tabitha Hart said at 12:29 pm on October 21st, 2011:

    Hi Peg — I have heard good things about Skitch but haven’t tried it out yet. Thanks for the tip!

  3. 3 Tabitha Hart said at 5:11 pm on October 23rd, 2011:

    Just got Skitch. Seems like a great tool for taking screen shots. I like how you can use it to draw, type, and insert text boxes onto the images — very useful!