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Or, anywhere outside "userspace?" For example, the login screen, or in Single User Mode.

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

You most definitely can do a screen capture from Recovery.

  1. Boot into Recovery
  2. Open the Terminal from the Utilities menu
  3. In Terminal type:

    /Volumes/name_of_HD/usr/sbin/screencapture -s /Volumes/name_of_HD/Users/name_of_user/Desktop/name_for_file.png

You will get crosshairs so you can select what you want a screenshot of (like CMD-Shift-4)

name_of_HD=whatever the name of the HD is
name_of_user=any user on the system
name_for_file.png=whatever you want to name the file

When you login as that user, the screen capture will be waiting on your Desktop.

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This use of Terminal automatically mounts the filesystem as read/write which prevents the saving of files using the default keys. – bmike Oct 12 '15 at 22:28

Where OS X is booted but you can't take a screenshot because you're not logged in (e.g. the login screen, lock screen) you can take a screenshot over SSH. Connect over SSH to your Mac and run…

sudo screencapture /path/to/screenshot.png

Where OS X isn't displaying a GUI (e.g. single user mode, boot sequence), you can't take a screenshot. This doesn't apply to virtual machines though, if you're determined to get a screenshot.

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In Recovery, the filesystems are mounted read only, which makes the key shortcuts not work. See the Terminal utility to mount a writeable filesystem and save the pictures from the command line. – bmike Oct 12 '15 at 22:29

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