The title of this article is a bit redundant; there is only one way to capture an image with the Apple Watch: by taking a screenshot. This choice seems odd to those thinking in terms of a Dick Tracey spy-watch, but in fact it is quite brilliant, given the adverse reaction to Google Glass and its privacy invasive photo and video functions, to create a Wearable device that is totally free of image capture functions. It also makes sense for a number of other reasons; the wrist is a natural spot for a watch, but not a flexible location for aiming at things you might want to photograph.
This does not mean that the Apple Watch is not a useful photo accessory, but the emphasis is on accessory. Its initial function is as a remote trigger, allowing you to put your phone in an awkward location, or in a spot far enough away from you to lure animals in for a close-up, or in front of you for a less cramped version of the group selfie, and then trigger the phone’s camera with your watch. As third party apps become more powerful, other photo functions are inevitable.
But internal image capture with the Apple Watch is restricted to screenshots, and we tend to think of screenshots as something only reviewers and how-to authors use. In fact, there are many end-user justifications for screenshots. These include capturing a sketch someone sends from their Watch to yours, or an image that you have on your Watch, but not on your phone, and want to forward to someone, or basically having a visual record of anything that may pop up on the watch face.
There are a few details to be aware of when dealing with images on the Apple Watch. First, to maximize screen real estate on such a tiny screen, the non-screen border is used to create the outside edges of the watch layout. But screenshots will only capture the “live” section, and will not include this black border, resulting in shots of black background apps (and virtually all apps should be black background on the Apple Watch), that will look tight and poorly laid out in the screen capture. In some cases you may want to place a larger black background (or Canvas, if you are working in Photoshop) behind your shots to restore the elegance that they show on the Watch itself.
Next is the issue of image orientation, proportions, and borders. All images moved to your Watch will be in portrait orientation (so it is best to focus on portrait images when choosing images to store on the Watch), and at the Watches 4:5 screen ratio. This means borders from landscape images, such as the one shown below, will be clipped on the edges, but retained at top and bottom, which is less than ideal. Best to crop borders from images before selecting them for storage on the Watch.
Triggering a screenshot on the Apple Watch is as simple as pressing both buttons at once, similar to the “two button” approach on iPhones and iPads. The only difference is that the two buttons are side by side, so require a thumb on the opposing side of the Watch to squeeze against them, assuring that this is not an action that is likely to occur by accident.
The remaining mystery has to do with where the Watch shots go, after the familiar camera sound and screen flash occurs. They do not show up in the Photos app on the Watch, which is certainly the first place most people would look for them. Instead they are saved in a much more useful location: the Camera Roll on your iPhone. There are many more things you can do with them from here, so once this method is understood, it makes a great deal of sense.
So enjoy creating Apple Watch screenshots, and try to not post your daily activity graph to Facebook too often.
C. David Tobie