Quandry: How to get a screen-shot of the Windows login prompt.

The Dilemma

I was working on some documentation recently and needed to grab a screen-shot of the Windows login prompt for an exhibit in a manual. I quickly realized that my normal techniques for capturing screen-shots were impractical.

Method 1: Windows Built in Screen Capture (Failed)

Unless you have been living in a cave, or are new to Windows, you are probably familiar with this technique. Press the PrintScrn key to copy a bitmap of the desktop to the clipboard, or use AltPrintScrn to capture just the active window. It’s a simple and free solution for screen-shots. Here is a good reference, if you would like more information on this approach.

The problem is that it doesn’t work from the login prompt, probably as part of the security mechanism of Windows that correctly doesn’t allow unauthenticated users to monkey with anything including the clipboard.

Method 2: Screen Capture Software (Failed)

The problem with using any screen capture software is that it has to be running and accepting commands (usually via hot keys) to take a picture of what you see on the screen. Because you can’t run an interactive user program before you log in to Windows, this method is dead-on-arrival. I am unaware of any screen capture software that offers a workaround for grabbing the login prompt.


 The Solution

After experimenting with a few ideas, I arrived at a solution that works pretty well. As with most things, the answer was quite simple, it just required some sideways thinking about the problem.

Step 1:Using terminal software, such as Windows Remote Desktop, open a connection to another machine, but don’t go into fullscreen mode as shown here.  And yes, I appreciate the irony of using a screen-shot to demonstrate taking screen-shots.

Using Remote Desktop to get a screen-shot of the login prompt.

Using Remote Desktop to get a screen-shot of the login prompt.

Step 2 (option A): Grab the screen-shot of using the PrintScrn approach. The AltPrintScrn technique, unfortunately, will grab the whole remote desktop window and not just the login dialog, so you will need to do some cropping in a graphics package to get down to just the dialog.

Step 2 (Option B): Take the screen-shot with your screen-capture software, which should allow you to only capture the part of the screen with that contains the dialog.

That’s it! The consumer of your screen-shot  will be none the wiser that they are looking at a capture from  a nested window unless you do a really shoddy job on the cropping.