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Overview arrow Resources arrow Frame-Grab Tutorial: HD
Frame-Grab Tutorial: HD
Written by Jeremy Butler   
Wednesday, 07 October 2009

This tutorial may not be reproduced for commercial purposes. However, educational and other non-commercial uses are permitted, if proper attribution is given. Please see the Creative Commons License for details.
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Capturing Stills From High-Definition Video

Since writing the original "Frame-Grab Tutorial" there has been a minor revolution in video image quality. Blu-ray discs (BD) and high-definition (HD) video formats contain images of much higher quality than the standard-definition video found on DVDs. HD video thus offers the promise of better quality images for print and other venue, but BD and HD formats are also crippled with new copy-protection schemes -- so-called Digital Rights Management (DRM) mechanisms -- that make it more difficult to obtain these images.

This tutorial focuses on HD video legally purchased from the iTunes store and not Blu-ray discs. We will see how free software may be used to capture high-quality stills, with relatively little effort. A subsequent tutorial on the more-challenging BD image capture may follow (someday).

For more information on how to manipulate still images and how best to present them in print, please see the original "Frame-Grab Tutorial."

  1. If on a Windows computer, open Google's Picasa image-management software. (This will come into play later.)
  2. Buy an HD video from iTunes.
  3. Find the movie or television-show episode in iTunes.
  4. Control-click its name and choose to Show in Windows Explorer (Mac: Show in Finder). This will open Windows Explorer (not Internet Explorer) or the Finder in Mac and display the video file's name.
  5. Control-click the name of the file with (HD) next to it and choose Open With -> QuickTime Player. You may have both HD and standard-definition versions of the video on your system; the HD version is distinguished with (HD).

    This presumes you installed QuickTime player when you installed iTunes. Almost everyone does, but if you don't see this choice then you need to go to and obtain the player.

    This will start QuickTime Player and display your video in HD format (1280x720 pixels, for you technical minded folks).
  6. Pause the video where you want to capture an image.
  7. At this point, the capture technique for Windows and Mac computers differs.
    • Windows: Click anywhere on the image itself so that it's selected.
    • Hold down the ALT key and press the PrintScreen key, which may be labeled PrtScrn or something similar. It's usually next to the Scroll Lock key on full-sized keyboards. This will launch Picasa into action and it will create what it calls a screenshot and it will automatically store it in a Screen Captures folder in the BMP format.
    • Mac: The Mac version of Picasa does not support screen captures, but Mac OS X has a built-in screen capture function. First, press COMMAND-SHIFT-4, then follow that key combination by pressing the spacebar. You'll see the cursor change to a camera.
    • Move the camera-cursor over the QuickTime player and click. (Note: the entire player window does not have to be visible for this to work.) The frame you want and the QuickTime player controls will be saved as a PNG file on your desktop.
    • This technique requires the additional step of loading the PNG file into a photo editor such as Photoshop and then cropping the QuickTime controls off it. As far as I know, there is no way to automatically capture just the image and not the controls. You can, however, press COMMAND-SHIFT-4 without pressing the spacebar and then manually click-and-drag to select which portion of the screen you want to capture. There are two problems with this, however:
      1. The entire frame must be visible on the screen before you start clicking-and-dragging, and this is sometimes difficult with the large HD image.
      2. It's hard to click-and-drag precisely over the image you want -- capturing exactly 1280x720 pixels. At least with Photoshop, you can create an "action" that will do this trimming for you.
  8. You have just created a high-defintion frame grab! Be careful. These captures can create large files!
Last Updated ( Saturday, 24 October 2009 )

© 2009 Jeremy G.Butler