Are your reviews dull, lifeless and lacking that certain something? Then you need screencaps!
(I am based in the United States and using screencaps in film reviews is generally reckoned to fall under fair use but please check with the copyright laws of your country. I’m not a lawyer and cannot offer any legal advice.)
Movie reviews that are massive walls of text can sometimes seem dull next to brighter, zippier reviews filled with screenshots. But how can you capture your own movie frames to illustrate your insightful reviews? It’s actually really easy.
This post will cover capturing screenshots from DVDs and downloaded video files. Bluray is a whole other kettle of fish (and a painful one) so I won’t be covering it in the main article. To capture shots from a streaming film, here are instructions for Windows PCs and instructions for Macs. Linux users are on their own but if you’re running Linux, you probably don’t need my help with anything.
So, here’s what I use to capture images from DVDs and downloaded video files:
VLC. It’s a free, open source multimedia player. It’s so convenient and easy to use that I pretty much play all my movies with it. You can download it here.
Here are instructions for getting screencaps using VLC. They’re so well-written that there’s no point in me redoing them but I do have a few tips to improve your experience.
Change your hotkey
The default screenshot hotkeys use S, which doesn’t really work for me. It’s too close to a similar hotkey I use for a different program and I was always hitting the wrong combination. I switched the screencap hotkey to Q, a key I rarely use. Here are instructions for changing hotkeys in VLC.
Change the format to JPG
The default file format for VLC screencaps in PNG with options to switch to JPG and TIFF. Both PNG and TIFF are larger than JPG and since I have space limits and slow internet, I opt for JPG.
If you have your own reasons for selecting TIFF or PNG, go ahead on.
If you have no idea what any of this means, then you should choose JPG. You’ll save scads of disc space and be able to upload images more quickly.
Go to Tools, then Preferences and then click Video and you will see a dropdown menu that lets you change formats.
Add sequential numbering
While you’re tinkering with file format, you’ll also want to check the box that says “add sequential numbering” which I find more useful than VLC’s default date/time format.
Change the destination folder
Just above the options to change prefixes and formats, you’ll see a category called Directory. This controls where the video snapshots are saved on your computer. VLC saves them in your pictures folder or desktop by default but you will probably want to give them their own special folder to be better organized. I use something like Pictures/Snapshots.
Whew! That’s it! Happy screenshots!
Time and Use
So, how much time does all this take to create screencaps for a feature film? It depends on the length of your reviews and how many screenshots you wish to include but for me, about an hour per review. That’s a fair chunk of time but, in my opinion, it’s worth it. I am able to illustrate the exact moments that interest me, share the exact scenes that I am discussing
Oh, and where possible, you’ll also want to provide information on the source of your screencaps. Which edition are they from? I know I always like to know if I see a particularly pristine set of images. (Silent and classic movies are very much hit and miss on image quality and screencaps are a great preview.) For example, the screencap at the top of this post is from the Kino Lorber release of The Devil’s Needle.
“But I just use Google Images!”
A couple of problems with that. First of all, your images won’t really be your own. People who screencap with their reviews do so to illustrate the points they are trying to make and everybody is different. You’ll never get perfect screencaps unless you make them yourself.
“Anyway, isn’t everything on the internet public domain?”
No, it is not. If you end up using someone’s screencaps, especially if you’re ALWAYS using someone’s screencaps, a link back to their post is internet courtesy.
Of course, finding the original source of an image can be difficult or impossible and nobody is perfect on this score, least of all me, but come on, people. If your Google Images search constantly sends you to MyCoolOldMovieReviews.com, then linkage to that site is in order. And, no, just because something appears on Google does not mean it’s in the public domain. Long story short, making your own screencaps is always the answer!
What do you use?
This is my method for screenshots. Which programs and techniques work for you? Please share in the comments!
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