Taking a screen capture of a videoSnapping photos of my little girl at the precise moment when she’s a) sitting still, b) smiling and c) looking directly into the camera is more a matter of luck than skill—and indeed, I’ve got hundreds of blurry, scrunchy-faced outtakes to prove it.

Having the same problem? If so, here’s a quick (if somewhat dirty) solution: Take a video instead of a picture, and then go back and take a screenshot to capture the perfect, fleeting moment.

The upside of taking a screen capture of a video is, of course, that you can pause and rewind to a frame where (for instance) everyone is smiling and looking directly into the camera.

The “dirty” part of the trick, though, is that a photo captured from a video won’t be nearly as sharp as a standard still image.

How much fuzzier are we talking? Well, that depends on the quality of the video recorder on your camera or smartphone, as well as whether you’re capturing the photo on your PC (where you can zoom the size of the video image) or directly from your smartphone’s smaller display.

In general, you can expect to lose more than half the resolution of a regular snapshot, and you may notice more digital “noise,” to boot.

For many of us, though, a softer but perfectly timed photo might be worth a lot more than a razor-sharp image of half-closed eyes and blurred faces.

Here’s a few ways to take a screenshot of a video, starting with…

On an iPhone:

  • Open the Camera app, tap the switch in the corner of the screen to turn on the video recorder, and tap the big silver button with the red dot in the middle to start shooting. When you’re done, tap the silver button again.
  • Next, tap the little video thumbnail in the bottom corner of the display. drag the progress bar at the top of the screen until you find the perfect moment, and tap the middle of the screen to make the playback controls disappear.
  • Take a screenshot by pressing the iPhone’s “Home” and “sleep/wake” buttons at the same time. You can find your captured image in the Camera Roll.

On an Android phone:

  • Open your phone’s camera application, switch to video mode (the method of doing so varies wildly depending on the make and model of your handset, by the way), then tap the settings button to make sure you’re shooting video at the highest resolution possible (preferably 1080p).
  • Once you’re finished shooting your video, open your phone’s gallery app (which, again, will vary depending on your particular device), then flick the progress bar to just the right frame.
  • Finally, take a screenshot. On newer Android phones, you can capture the screen by pressing the power and volume-down buttons at once; if that doesn’t work for you, check your user manual.
  • Trying to take a screenshot of your video, but can’t get the playback controls to disappear? If so, the next section’s for you…

On a PC or Mac:

  • Transfer the video from your phone or digital camera to your computer, open the video and expand the playback window as far as you can—the bigger the better, so we can pull as much resolution out of the video frame as possible.
  • Find the perfect frame, then snap a screenshot. To do so on a Mac, press COMMAND + SHIFT + 4, or launch the handy Grab app. On a PC, tap the “Print Screen” button. (If your PC doesn’t have a Print Screen key, check your user manual for help.)
  • Import the screen capture to your favorite photo editor app to crop the image and tweak any image-quality settings.

Bonus tip

The latest iPhone software (a.k.a. iOS 6) and newer Android phones will let you snap still images as you shoot video.

On the iPhone, just tap the camera button in the top-right corner of the display while you’re shooting; for (some) Android phones, tap the middle of the screen.

It’s a handy feature (provided you have a steady hand and a quick trigger finger), but it won’t let you go back in time and choose a precise frame to capture.

Got questions? Post ’em in the comments below.