Screenshots are a great way to capture the fun and energetic moments that pop up in a Team Fortress 2 match and help crystallize that feeling of personality that makes this such a wonderful game, but you aren't limited to just taking screenshots of killcams or your FOV! Using the tools available in-game with no mods necessary you can create awesome screenshots to share in your Steam profile for all your friends to see!
You will need a Replay-enabled server to make use of this guide.
1) The first thing you need to do is capture a replay. It doesn't have to be anything spectacular, there are all kinds of surprise little poses, angles and moments to be found even in replays where you didn't kill anybody. If you feel like a life has screenshot potential, capture a replay of it.
2) When you exit the match and return to the main menu you'll want to open up Advanced Options, scroll all the way down and make sure Save Screenshots to Steam Cloud is unchecked. For whatever reason having this box checked won't let you take uploadable Steam screenshots while you're in Replay, and if you hit the screenshot button and it doesn't make the "vweet!" noise this box is probably checked. Nothing is more frustrating than finding the perfect moment, lining up the perfect shot, hitting the Screenshot button and not having anything happen! You will also need to open up your normal Options menu, under the Keyboard tab there is an Advanced button, click this and make sure Enable Developer's Console is checked. This will be important later.
2a) There are actually two settings for screenshot keybinds, one in your normal Options for TF2 Screenshots and a separate Steam Screenshots keybind, which can be found in your Steam menu -> Settings -> In-Game tab. It is safe to bind both of these keys to the same key so you know no matter what you're taking the "right" kind of screenshot. Screenshots with metadata that upload to the Steam cloud come from the Steam Screenshots setting, not the TF2 one.
3) If you run your game on low settings, it might be ideal to go into your Video options and boost the graphics for this, or run the client with a more recent Direct X setting than dx8 or 9- since you're not actually playing in a match and the replay is entirely rendered client-side things like low FPS won't make a difference if you're looking to just take a pretty snapshot. You can always reset your settings before playing another live match.
4) This is the fun step! Run your replay, play through it and look for an interesting moment to capture. Running the replay with the third person camera is a good way to get a sense of what is happening around the subject you're following. If you rewind to re-examine a scene hit the third person camera button again to reset and restore control of the camera, otherwise it'll be locked in the path you just sent it on. Things you could look for are interesting poses; ragdolls; near-miss rockets, pipes or Huntsman arrows; a fun jump or even just a neat kill. Having a good eye for "moments" will help you find an interesting subject.
4a) A notable error with the Replay system: sometimes when you load up your replay and click into third person your player model will be invisible. The fix for this is to let it play for a second in third person, pause, set an Entry point, play again, pause and then hit the Rewind to Entry Point button. This should force Replay to render your model, hats and everything. It's a bit of an old bug but it's worth pointing out here so you know how to handle it when it comes up.
5) Once you've found your moment and the camera is paused around it (spacebar by default) switch over to the Free Camera to find an angle and compose your shot. Two important camera settings- which pop up when you mouseover the Free Camera button in the bottom right- are Speed and FOV. You'll want to lower your Speed so you can inch the camera into position without a keystroke sending it sailing in that direction. Widening and lowering the FOV broadens or narrows your depth of field- it's generally better to lower the FOV because it creates much greater focus on your subject and makes the kind of screenshots people will think you took in Source Filmmaker. A low-FOV depth of field can be used to capture two distant subjects when they're lined up in the frame- like a Sniper's victim and the Sniper himself, or a Scout and his Sandman ball, or a Spy stalking his prey. Play around with these settings and find a shot you're happy with! Experimenting is half the fun and this is the step to do it in.
6) With your shot composed and your camera positioned, open up the developer console (~ by default) and type "cl_drawhud 0"- what this does is it disables your HUD, which means all the black vignette borders and camera lines will disappear, leaving you with a nice clean image. Once all your ducks are in order, hit your Screenshot key and snap a picture! If everything works out it should make an audible "vweet!" sound and a little window pops up in the corner of your screen saying the screenshot has been successfully taken! This is good, it means that screenshot is eligible to upload to the Steam cloud and share in your gallery for all your friends to see. With the HUD disabled feel free to move the camera around and try snapping shots from multiple angles. If you need to make camera adjustments "cl_drawhud 1" re-enables the HUD so you can click your camera buttons again. It's that easy!
7) The last step of the process is to close out your replay and bring up your Steam Screenshots window- it usually pops up on its own once you close the client but you don't need to close the whole game down to access it. Pick and choose which of your shots looks the best, give it a nice caption and upload it to the cloud! Boom, done. You did it! You've posted a beautiful screenshot to Steam!
Tips & Tricks
Now that you know how to take really nice-looking screenshots in TF2, here's some tips on how to make them really stand out:
-- Use the Rule of Thirds: Imagine a set of four lines dividing your screen into nine squares- these lines create intersections a third of the way in from each side, and are actually the lines created by the Replay HUD itself! The Rule of Thirds is a trick where placing the most interesting subjects of your shot over one of those four intersecting points makes the most visually-interesting compositions. It isn't a hard-and-fast rule or the only way to do things but it is a good way to balance your shots and make the frame look nice.
-- Try different camera angles: The camera is essentially the viewer's eyes, and controlling where they go has a big impact on the photos you take. Eye-level cameras can create an in-the-moment shot, like you're right there in the fray with the mercenaries. A low-angle shot, like the camera is sat on the ground, places more focus on your backgrounds by almost eliminating the ground plane from the FOV- there is lots of beautiful scenery in maps and this is a good way to capture it. Low cameras looking upward at a subject can also make them feel much more imposing. A birds-eye camera can give you a greater sense of surrounding and context, giving the viewer a sense of omniscience about the scene unfolding. You can take advantage of props in maps to make shots look really cool as well- putting the corner of a crate or barrel in a shot gives the viewer the sense they're peeking over an obstacle to watch a scene unfold, or placing the camera up near one of the game's many surveillance camera props creates a shot the Administrator might be seeing- letting the camera edge into the frame could enhance this shot as well!
-- Give your shots a focus: Whether its the shooter, the victim, a prop, a ragdoll or the background itself, try to find one or two primary subjects to focus your camera on- it gives the viewer's eye a specific point to anchor on and helps them explore the rest of the shot more easily.
-- Use contrast: By placing dark subjects against a light background, colorful against grey or red against blue you can create elements that really pop out to the viewer! Be conscious of the background when you line your subject up against it- will it get lost in sameness or is there an element to make it really stand out? This is very helpful in finding the right camera angle to make a shot really shine!
This is a fun way to capture your highs as well as your lows and an excellent way to share your hat and misc combos with the whole world. Experiment, play with different subjects and settings and see what you can come up with!
Thank you for reading my guide, have a nice day!
A handful of shots to help show what Replay can do.