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Screenshot vs. Snapshot — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on August 22, 2023
A screenshot is a captured image of what's displayed on a computer or mobile screen; a snapshot typically refers to a brief record or representation of a particular moment or state.
Screenshot vs. Snapshot — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Screenshot and Snapshot


Key Differences

A screenshot refers primarily to the act of capturing what's currently displayed on a computer or mobile screen. This action might be done to record visual evidence of something, share with others what one is viewing, or provide guidance in tech support. On the other hand, a snapshot can have multiple connotations. It can denote a casual photograph taken without much preparation, representing a moment in time. It can also signify a record of the current state of a system at a particular instant.
A screenshot is highly specific to the digital world. When someone says they've taken a screenshot, it's understood they've captured the current visual display of their digital device. This capture can include anything from desktop icons to a frame in a video. A snapshot, in its photographic sense, does not necessarily pertain to the digital realm. It refers to a quick photo taken, often without much thought or preparation, capturing a spontaneous moment.
In the realm of computing, particularly concerning virtual machines or databases, a snapshot is a term used differently. Here, it indicates a copy or backup of a system at a particular point in time, allowing for a rollback or recovery to that state if needed. This meaning contrasts with a screenshot, which remains consistent in its definition across various domains, emphasizing the capture of visual data on a screen.
In terms of usage, the word screenshot can be both a noun and a verb. One can "take a screenshot" or "screenshot something". In contrast, snapshot is primarily used as a noun, referring to the picture or record itself. Both terms, however, encapsulate the idea of recording or capturing a particular moment, be it visual or system-based.
It's essential to recognize the nuances these terms carry. A screenshot implies precision, capturing precisely what is on a screen at a specific moment. A snapshot, especially in its casual photographic sense, carries a more relaxed, spontaneous connotation, indicating a quick capture without much forethought or preparation.

Comparison Chart

Primary Domain

Digital (computer and mobile screens)
Photography and Computing


Capture visual display of a device
Capture a moment in photo or a system state

Common Usage

Both noun and verb
Primarily noun

Contextual Nuances

Specific to what's on a screen
Can be spontaneous (photo) or precise (system state)

Associated Actions

"Take a screenshot", "screenshot something"
"Take a snapshot", "Create a snapshot (of a system)"

Compare with Definitions


A captured image of a device's current display.
She took a screenshot of the error message to show tech support.


A casual photo capturing a specific moment in time.
She took a snapshot of her dog playing in the park.


A digital record of visual content on a screen.
The developer saved a screenshot to document the software's interface.


An image that provides a quick visual representation.
The traveler showed a snapshot of his favorite city view.


A tool used for capturing on-screen content for evidence or reference.
She quickly took a screenshot before the content disappeared from the website.


A brief record or representation of a particular situation or state.
The manager wanted a snapshot of the company's current financial health.


An image that displays the current state of a computer or mobile screen.
He shared a screenshot of his high game score with his friends.


A backup or copy of a system's current state.
Before making major changes, he created a snapshot of the virtual machine.


A visual representation of data or activity on a display screen.
The tutorial used screenshots to guide users through the process.


An isolated observation
A sociopolitical snapshot of the electorate.


A screenshot, also known as screen capture, or screen grab, is a digital image that shows the contents of a computer display. A screenshot is created by the operating system or software running on the device powering the display.


(soccer) A quick, unplanned or unexpected shot.


See screen dump.


(firearms) A quick offhand shot, made without deliberately taking aim over the sights.


(computing) An image of computer or smartphone screen output at a given moment in time.
I grabbed a screenshot of my desktop.


To capture the state of, in a snapshot.


To take a screenshot of something.
To help to improve the software, make sure to screenshot any bugs you find.


A photograph usually taken with a small handheld camera.


A photograph, especially one taken quickly or in a sudden moment of opportunity.
He carried a snapshot of his daughter.


A glimpse of something; a portrayal of something at a moment in time.
The article offered a snapshot of life in that region.


(computing) A file or set of files captured at a particular time, often capable of being reloaded to restore the earlier state.
This game is so hard that I find myself taking a snapshot every few seconds in case I get killed.


(transitive) To take a photograph of.


A quick offhand shot, made without deliberately taking aim over the sights.


An informal photograph; usually made with a small hand-held camera;
My snapshots haven't been developed yet
He tried to get unposed shots of his friends


A quick, informal photo often taken without prior planning.
At family gatherings, there were always snapshots being taken.


An instantaneous photograph made, usually with a hand camera, without formal posing of, and often without the foreknowledge of, the subject.


A brief summary or appraisal, especially one that describes the state of a situation at one particular time; as, a snapshot of the moon project in 1966.

Common Curiosities

How does a snapshot differ in computing from photography?

In computing, a snapshot often refers to a backup or copy of a system's current state, while in photography, it denotes a casual photograph.

Why might someone take a screenshot?

Someone might take a screenshot to document something, share visual information, troubleshoot issues, or keep a record of on-screen content.

Can you "snapshot" a screen?

While "snapshot" traditionally pertains to photos or system states, colloquially, it can sometimes be used to mean capturing a screen, though "screenshot" is more precise.

Is a screenshot always a still image?

Yes, a screenshot is a still image capturing a particular moment of a screen's display.

Do all devices have screenshot capabilities?

Most modern digital devices, like computers, tablets, and smartphones, have screenshot capabilities, but the method might vary by device.

Is a screenshot only related to computers and mobile devices?

Yes, a screenshot specifically refers to capturing the current display of a computer, tablet, or mobile device screen.

What does a snapshot refer to in photography?

In photography, a snapshot is an informal, spontaneous photograph taken without extensive preparation, capturing a particular moment.

Can a screenshot be used as evidence?

Yes, screenshots can be used as evidence, but their authenticity can be questioned since they can be altered or manipulated.

Do both screenshot and snapshot refer to capturing moments?

Yes, both terms involve capturing moments, but a screenshot pertains to digital displays while a snapshot usually refers to photographs or system states.

Is a snapshot always candid?

While snapshots are often candid and taken without much preparation, they can sometimes be planned or posed, especially in the context of system backups.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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