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Synonyms: telepix, tele-pic, screenshot, screencapture, cap, frame grab, frame capture
See also: icon, picspam, film clip fandom, photo reference
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A telepic is a captured image from a television set.

Beginning in the late 1960s, and well before home computers, fans used this analog method to capture stills or images from the aired TV shows. Fans would set up cameras on tripods in front of their TV screens (often only 10 inch sized and in black and white) and snap photos of actors and various scenes.

It was one way for fans to by-pass obtaining official publicity photos and for obtaining more detail on fleeting scenes. A fan in 1989 asked others: "I'm tired of using the same studio released photos as reference for my illustrations. Got any suggestions?" [1]

To today's fans, telepics are primitive and low-quality, but to fans of yesteryear, they were often the only source of photo references and illos for sharing with other fans and for printing in zines.

The monetary cost of telepix were the film and processing fees (which could be pricey) and access to a good camera.

Telepics predate screencaps and clipping. Also see film clips.

In 1969, a fan readies her tripod to photograph her 10-inch TV screen.[2]
example of some telepics in the 1988 Professionals print zine, Affairs of the Heart

Some Fan Comments

In a 2005 interview, a fan told of the challenges of getting images from the television itself and VCR stills:

In the early years, we artists were mostly dependent on a very limited number of publicity stills for our reference. In order to paint the beautiful scenes that had inspired me from the show, I had to depend on very poor quality photographs taken off of the TV screen. I had help from other fans who took photos for me... Each of us had video taped from the broadcasts (there were no commercial tapes yet) on different VCRs. We were using different TVs and different cameras, so we all captured slightly different versions of the same shots which provided me with more visual information that way. What I couldn't see in one photo, I could in another. But the reference I had to work from still stunk! Oh to have high quality screen captures from commercial DVDs!! [3]

[2013]: I remember doing that back in my early X-Files days. Many many photographs of Krycek taken from the TV screen. I had whole photo albums full. We called 'em telepics. I had friends who did Blake's 7 telepics and we'd trade with each other. Fun times![4]

How to Take a Telepic

In Star Trek Action Group #28 in April 1978, there is a long, detailed article called Taking Photos from the TV Screen. An excerpt:

I would suggest that before you try to take pictures of something that you really want, you first try a spool on something less important, and experiment as far as your camera will allow. Keep a note of what you've tried, so that you can judge which results are best, and stick with that speed, aperture, etc, thereafter. I don't promise that you'll always get perfect results, but it will minimise the chances of losing pictures you really want. If you decide to use up an entire film on one show, have a saucer containing dry peas or something like that sitting beside you - one pea for each exposure on the film. Take out a pea every time you take a shot, and you'll know how you're doing for available exposures as the show progresses. Remember, too, some TV sets do not give good results. I lost an entire spool once when visiting a friend; although the eye didn't catch it, the set had a very clearly defined scanning line, and the camera picked it up; every shot was ruined. Luckily there aren't many TV sets like that around.

From a fan in 1989 in Shooting Pictures from a TV:

I'm tired of using the same studio released photos as reference for my illustrations. Got any suggestions?

Sure do. If you have access to a VCR and tapes (or live broadcast can do in a pinch—more about this later) containing images of your subject, and a totally manual camera (typically a 35mm SLR— single lens reflex; no instamatics), you've got an excellent and exciting alternative. You can shoot your own photos off of the TV screen, thus increasing the poses and facial expressions available to you.

From a 1994 post:

It's been awhile since I've taken telepics, but I thought I'd dig up my old references and put my two credits into the discussion. I have two articles I consult for this, one by long-time telepic taker and dealer (at media cons) Elyse Dickenson, who at one time put out a one-sheet on how to take them, and an old TV Guide article entitled, "How to shoot J.R.--and others."

I'm going to quote Elyse verbatem, since we don't have to worry about copyright with her: "It's best to use a good 35mm camera as you get the best results with them. Set the camera up on a tripod, a nice sturdy one, in front of the television. It's best to make sure all lights are out in the room to avoid glare from lamps, etc. There's nothing worse than seeing a lamp superimposed over the face of the person you took a picture of! If you have lights on _behind_ the set, or to the side (as long as you don't get glare) it should be okay. Adjust the TV picture so you don't have exceedingly high contrast. On the camera, set the appeture for 8, and the shutter speed for 1/15th. You can always set the appeture for 4, and the shutter speed for 1/30th, but the clarity and definition will not be as high. I always use Kodacolor 400 film. "Take pictures when the person is standing motionless, or nearly so. If you take pictures while the character is running, it will come out as a blur; the same will occur if you take a close-up shot and the person turns their head. It is possible to take pictures while people are talking if they don't turn their head. Practice makes perfect." TV Guide suggests you open up the f-stop to around f/2.8--f/4 and set the shutter speed at either 1/8 or 1/15 sec. They also suggest setting the video recorder to freeze-frame mode (though personally I don't like to do this...the pictures don't seem as crisp to me).

Of the two, I'd go with Elyse's suggestions. She's had more experience at this than anyone. Personal suggestions: Make sure that lamp is off! I've screwed up several pictures that way. Make sure you're not getting the rim of the tv in the pictures. Do get a tripod...even a cheap one will do and it's important. Be very patient and very persistant. I guarantee you (unless you're incredibly talented at this) that your first few rolls will not have lots of terrific pictures...this is something that takes lots of practice. Even after you get the hang of it, not every shot will turn out. But it's worth it for those really great, really unusual pictures that you'll never find at any commercial dealer's table.[5]

Examples of Use

[1986]: It's very sad when fans start to prey off one another: It's true that we all prey on the licenced copyright holders, but producers and fans have come to a sort of understanding, and we thought the understanding between fans themselves was very clear: when piracy raises its head, fandom comes unglued, and if we don't have ethics, we've got nothing ... The photocopier and the SLR camera are the fan producer's worse enemies. We at Entropy are trying to market a range of high quality zines and telepix, and it's recently been brought to our notice that the main reason why our sales have been so poor is that our potential customers in the USA are obtaining copies of both our zines and our photos from ... somewhere.[6]

[1995]: Our lovely room decor [at MediaWest*Con ] consisted primarily of dozens of Blake telepix stuck to the wall (the Blake Shrine), and a few pieces of Blake art strategically placed around the room.[7]



  1. ^ from Shooting Pictures from a TV
  2. ^ Source: "Have TV...Will Photograph, Star Ledger, July 1969
  3. ^ from Winterfest Interview with Clare Sieffert
  4. ^ Cody Nelson's comment in morgandawn's Fandom and Tech: Always On the Cutting Edge post dated Feb 5, 2013; WebCite.
  5. ^ Lysator, Pat, 4, 1994.
  6. ^ In Universal Translator #32, a fan, Jane of Australia, complained about other fans pirating her telepix.
  7. ^ from a fan in Rallying Call #14 (1995)