The Hidden Trick for Capturing Document-Modal Dialogs in Mac Screenshots

Originally published at: The Hidden Trick for Capturing Document-Modal Dialogs in Mac Screenshots - TidBITS

Sometimes you want to take a screenshot of a dialog that’s attached to a window. It turns out you can do this by pressing Command-Shift-4, pressing the Space bar, and then holding down the Command key when you mouse over the desired dialog.


I also can’t believe I didn’t know this, as I’m a heavy user of cmd-shift-4 + space. So useful, thanks for writing it up :raised_hands:

And thanks for the steer to Retrobatch. Gus Mueller will be getting more of my money…

Yeah, I really need to write more about Retrobatch. I feel a little bad, since I use it only one way, but it’s such a useful one. TidBITS members can save 20% on Retrobatch too.

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This is best tip I’ve seen on screenshots in MacOS! How many times I’ve needed to show a process, what to click, and check, etc. And Retrobatch…that is news to me!

I highly recommend Xnip as a screen capture utility. Read more here: (Sorry, the website isn’t great, but the app is great)

Annotation with choice of colors and sizes of text…
Scrolling capture.
Capture just one or two windows.
Lines, arrows, boxes, circles.
Pixelation of sensitive data.
Step Capture
Save to a named file, an automated name with incremental numbering, or save to clipboard.

All for the amazingly low price of $0. It is 100% free. It is great compared to Apple’s primitive system going back over a decade or more.

A few more hidden Tricks. Command-Shift-5 opens up a whole plethora of screen shot tricks including screen recording. It also included the Command-Shift 3 and Command-Shift 4 options. Be sure to check under its Options contextual menu.

I also suggest trying Command-Control-Shift 3. You will hear a click but see nothing happen. Then open a new document with a word processor, even TextEdit and do a paste into the new blank document. Be prepared for a big and pleasant surprise.

It would really be nice if Apple provided full documentation for its features instead of treating them like Easter Eggs.

fogcitynative - thanks for the xnipapp recommendation. I came to this comment section wishing the built-in screen capture had a preference for storing the image as a JPG (which has robust metadata) instead of a PNG file. But even before that I used the occasion of reading this tip to work through saving a Quick Action script to convert a PNG to JPG directly from the Finder menu. However, xnipapp adds annotation capabilities that I’m usually forced to fire up Photoshop for, which is overkill.

I used to use SnapZ to screen capture videos but it went away. Now I use the built-in MacOX Command-Shift-5 to do that. Has that always been there?

The “new” trick (Command over the dialogue) exists as far back as 10.8.

They do.
In any application, open Help (from the Help menu). Type “screenshot” in the search field. Choose “Take screenshots or screen recordings on Mac”.
It’s all spelled out there in plain, lucid english.
(OK, they don’t mention Adam’s modal dialog trick, but everything jweil describes is there.)
In my experience, Apple documents a lot more than they are often given credit for.

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What I didn’t know was the Space bar trick to grab just the dialog you want. Very useful! I just tried it!

But all the other combinations mentioned in the article (holding command down while moving the cursor, option-clicking to grab the screenshot) all end up with the same screenshot with or without those actions when I try it.

Still, just knowing about the Space bar part is very useful!

I loathe the drop shadows on screenshots enough to disable them entirely with this Terminal command:
defaults write disable-shadow -bool true
killall SystemUIServer

There’s a Terminal command to do that.

defaults write type JPG

This MacRumors article has the details. It also includes some tips I didn’t know (though the Shift and Option key ones are kind of obvious):

  • While dragging out a selection from Command-Shift-4, press Shift to constrain the box to moving either horizontally or vertically.
  • While dragging out a selection from Command-Shift-4, press the Option key to expand it from the center rather than the corner you started from.
  • After dragging out a selection from Command-Shift-4, press the Space bar to move the selection around.

And in case you don’t like terminal commands, TinkerTool allows you to choose from all available formats in a nice little GUI.

The built-in screen capture does have a preference to change the format it captures the image in, but there’s no UI to set it. You can use the Terminal defaults command to set the format, but the easiest way to do this is by using TinkerTool. Make sure to download the version for the MacOS version you’re using:



There are some other hidden options as well. In particular, I’m reminded of one that might be useful for @ace (and why when reading the article I didn’t recall shadows being an issue for me). If you don’t want a shadow in your screenshots, you can disable the option Include shadow when capturing window. For those that don’t want to install a third-party utility, this can also be done in the Terminal – all defaults keys for screenshots (and much more!) are listed on the macOS Defaults site:

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