Film Frame Illustrations

Readers will note that I use frame captures to illustrate this blog. And, like many, I use them in teaching, especially in lecture classes for which visual examples go a long way to aid explanation.

US copyright rulings have cleared the way for academic fair use in such frame illustrations, yet DVD software remains encrypted to prevent such captures. So I get a lot of questions about the process. What is the easiest to get good illustrations?

I have only done these with a Mac. PC users can contact me or share their experiences in the comments. There are some programs designed for the process. DVD Capture (freeware: download) I have used before, but it also runs into hardware problems on some Mac, so can be problematic.

The easiest route is to download VLC player (freeware: download), a buggy but good all-purpose media player application. To make the capture, put in your DVD. Very likely, Mac's built-in DVD Player will start running. Quit out of it and open VLC player. From the menu, or with Control-D, open the DVD; this will bring up the menu. Play as normal, then pause where you want the capture. Next, open the Grab utility (in the Utilities folder under Applications): you can grab by window or selection. (Note: via the comments, I find out you can use the Tools> Snapshot feature directly in VLC. This will save a .png file to your desktop.) Either way, you will need to save the image with your chosen filename/location, then open it with an image viewing program (such as Preview). In Preview, you can crop the image; just drop and drag over the image to select, then Tools>Crop (or Control-K) to crop it. The image will be in a .tiff file format, which may be fine for some uses, but .tiffs do not work well across platforms (i.e going online or to a PC), so you should probably Save As and choose a .jpg format. It doesn't hurt to add the .jpg extension at the end of the file name, either.

There are limits to the image resolution using this method, but it produces fairly sharp images for most everyday uses.

Anyone have another method for producing captures?

UPDATE: Jason Mittell points me to Jeremy Butler's excellent tutorials on grabbing frames (for PCs and Macs), making clips (for Macs), and capturing video.


I'm a PC user, so I should probably chime in! This method works for PCs too, and I generally use VLC for all movie watching.

Although, if you're on Vista or Windows 7 (they may have introduced this earlier too, I'm not sure) you can use the 'Snipping Tool.' I usually use the Snipping Tool, because it is so quick and easy to use.

Just go to the start menu, or run, and type in Snipping Tool and it will pop up. You can select the whole window, or drag to select the area you want to save. Then you can just save the image as whatever file type you prefer.

I figure it is worth mentioning, because most Windows users don't realize that the Snipping Tool is already on their computers.
Anonymous said…
You can also take "snapshots" using VLC, without having to open Grab. From the VLC "Video" menu, select "Snapshot," or use the keyboard shortcut.
Jason Mittell said…
You should take a look at Jeremy Butler's tutorials on his TV Crit site - quite helpful.
Paul Harrill said…
For Mac, use CaptureMe (donationware).Very simple, and you can even use it with Apple's own DVD player. You size up CaptureMe's window over your dvd window. Pause the movie where you want a screengrab, click the window -- done. Much simpler than anything else I've tried.

CaptureMe website:
Jonathan said…
I just did this on my Mac today, and, while I did have dark suspicions when the normal screen capture didn't work, I read some convincing sound explanations that it's not in fact deliberate.

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