Remember that old saying, a picture says more than a thousand words? Sometimes you run into something that is just beyond description. It could be an error message, a weird problem on the screen, or something indecipherable. Whatever it is, you wish you could show it to somebody who’s trying to help you online.
There is a way of doing exactly that. You can “take a picture” of your screen or a window (called a screen shot), save it as an image file, upload it to a public web server, and then send the address where the picture can be found to the other person so they can look at it.
This process involves several steps:
Don’t be scared by the steps involving graphics software or uploading to a web server. It is not as difficult as it sounds, and there is some good free software out there that you can use for this. Here’s how.
Taking the screenshot
Before you do anything, please decide carefully whether the screenshot is really necessary. If you want to share a simple error message, write it down and mention it in your message. Please don’t waste your time or other people’s bandwidth by posting unnecessary screenshots just because you can or to show off your wallpaper.
Now you’ll have to decide what you want to take a screenshot of because there are several options.
Full screen – To take a shot of the entire screen and everything that’s on it, press the key on your keyboard that is labeled Print Screen or abbreviated PrtScrn. It is usually located towards the top right of your keyboard. Pressing this key will take the shot of the entire screen and put the image into the Windows clipboard, a temporary storage place in memory. It does this without any confirmation or message, so don’t worry if nothing seems to happen when you press the key.
Active Window – To take a shot of only one open window or a dialog box/error message, first make sure that the window or dialog box is active. Do this by clicking once somewhere inside that window or dialog box to bring it to the foreground and make it active. Now hold down the Alt key on your keyboard (located to the left and/or right of your space bar) and press the button on your keyboard that is labeled Print Screen or abbreviated PrtScrn. It is usually located towards the top right of your keyboard. Pressing this key combination will take a shot of only the active window and put the image into the Windows clipboard, a temporary storage place in memory. It does this without any confirmation or message, so don’t worry if nothing seems to happen when you press the key.
A section of the screen – To take a shot of a section of the screen, follow the instructions for taking a full screen shot as described above. You can use the graphics program to crop the part you don’t want as described in the next step.
Editing the image
OK, so the image is in the clipboard. What now? The next step is to paste the image into a graphics application. If you do not own any graphics software, we recommend you try out this excellent freeware program called Irfanview.
After you open Irfanview or another graphics program of choice, paste the image from the clipboard into the application. You do this by either pressing the key combination Ctrl + V on your keyboard, or by clicking the Edit menu and selecting Paste. You should now see the image appear on the screen.
There are a lot of different graphics programs out there, as well as many different ways of editing an image, and it is well beyond the scope of this article to provide step-by-step instructions to edit an image. Therefore we’ll touch only on a few general suggestions for editing the image.
If the image that you see is already what you had in mind and does not require any trimming, then skip this paragraph and move on to the next one. If you need to cut out a particular section of the image that you see, you need to crop the image. The way you do this is by using your mouse to draw a box around the part of the image you want to keep. Then you use the crop function of the graphics software to cut out the selected area and discard the rest.
The next step is to resize your image. If your image is rather large you should resize it to a smaller size. If it is very small you might want to enlarge it for better viewing. Either way, the resize function is a very helpful tool – use it.
Saving the image to a file
Now that the image looks the way you want it, it’s time to save it to your hard drive. In most applications you select the File menu and choose Save As. Choose a location for the file on your hard drive, e.g. C:\Temp, and enter a name for the file, e.g. screenshot1. Now choose the file type you want to save the picture as. The best choice for your purpose is probably the JPG format. It uses compression to make the resulting file nice and small, without sacrificing too much of the picture quality. In addition, JPG is a image format that can be used on the web. Other formats like Bitmap (BMP) or TIF cannot be used online.
Uploading the file to the Web
You now have the image saved on your hard drive as a file, e.g. C:\Temp\screenshot1.jpg. In order for somebody else to be able to see it, you have to copy the file to a web server that is accessible from the Internet. Most Internet Service Providers offer their customers a few MegaByte of free web space to create their own little web site. Check with your ISP to find out if they offer it and how to access it. If your ISP does not offer free web space, do a search on Google for free web space. You’ll get plenty of free web space providers to pick from. Create an account and get the necessary instructions for uploading to your free web space.
Whether you use your ISP’s web space or a free provider, you’ll need FTP software to upload files. FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol and is the standard way of uploading files to web servers. A good, free, and easy-to-use FTP program is WS_FTP LE.
After installing the program, use it to connect to your web space and upload the file you created. If you need some help with FTP, check out our article about the basics of FTP, which includes a tutorial on how to use WS_FTP LE.
Note: Some forums allow you to upload images up to a certain size. The PC Q&A forum currently allows user attachments up to 50KB. When you post a message, use the link labeled Click here to choose your file to upload an attachment. After you select the file and successfully upload it, the name for the file will be displayed in the Attachment field. After you post your message and view it, you’ll see the file attached to your message. If you want to reuse this image, the URL for it will be http://www.pcanda.com/dcforum/User_files/ followed by the file name. For example, if the file name is 3ad2565225dd0c15.jpg, then the complete URL will be http://www.pcqanda.com/dcforum/User_files/3ad2565225dd0c15.jpg.
Linking to the image file
Once the image is uploaded, try to access it in your browser to make sure it works. For example, if your web site is http://www.whatever.com, and you uploaded the image into a directory called images, and the image is called screenshot1.jpg, then the address to use would be http://www.whatever.com/images/screenshot1.jpg. Verify that the URL works and that it brings up the screenshot in your browser window.
That’s it, you’re done. Now you can give that URL to other people so they can view it in their browser. If you copy and paste the URL into an e-mail and send it to them, they will then copy and paste it into their browser window to view the image. You can also copy and paste the URL into the message that you are posting on a forum.
Keep in mind that different forums handle URLs differently. In some forums the URL will automatically be turned into a hyperlink that can be clicked to open the URL in a separate browser window. Other forums will automatically download the image and include it in your forum post. While this is very convenient, it is important that your image is not too big, otherwise it might annoy people that have a slow dial-up connection and have to wait for your image to download.
Now you know how to create, edit, and upload screenshots. As you saw, it’s pretty easy, and it is a very helpful tool for troubleshooting problems when the person helping cannot see what’s going on on your screen. Just remember to keep the images down to a reasonable size, and don’t include anything offensive in the image.