In my opinion, taking great screenshots is a practiced art. There's many factors that can help - camera techniques, proper composition, creativity in using one's surroundings. But I think the best skill one can hone and use is simple hard work and effort.
Remember the Golden Rule? Take tons of screenshots? That's the start. Don't be satisfied with a screenshot that's okay. Experiment. Try different angles. Don't settle for "adequate" or "decent". Keep shooting until you get a shot you're truly happy with, a shot that is uniquely yours, that no one else would be able to get.
If you're willing to strive for something exceptional, and put in the effort to earn that perfect shot, that's how you get screenshots that you can look back on and be proud of. That's art.
I would be remiss if I didn't bring up post-production, aka Photoshop. (Or Gimp, or whatever your image editing program is.) I wrote about basic Photoshop touchup methods before, and I'll just reiterate how big a difference a little cropping and color tinkering can make.
Look at the above shot of Thisalee Crow. It's a simple one, but it's one of my favorites. I'll be honest, though - Photoshop did a lot of the work here. This one below is the uncropped, unedited original, before any Photoshop trickery. (Click for full-size version.)
It's a pretty drastic difference.
If At First You Don't Succeed...Quit. (And Retry.)
Some of the coolest moments in WoW take place during quests. Maybe it's Garrosh dispensing some Horde justice at the end of Stonetalon, or maybe it's John J. Keeshan annihilating hundreds of Blackrock Orcs in Redridge. These scenes are exciting, dramatic, and really memorable!
But the tragic part for us screenshot nuts? Once you hand in the quest, THAT'S IT. You can't redo the quest, and you can't go back and take more screenshots later. (You could do the quest again on a different character, of course, but this can be quite difficult and/or time-consuming, and sometimes virtually impossible.)
Now obviously, a simple solution to this problem is to take screenshots of everything during these quests, so you've got captured everything you might possibly need or want in the future. But things can still go wrong. An NPC might run by at a crucial moment and photobomb your shot, or the focal character might be blinking or in a weird pose when you hit the button, ruining your dramatic screenshot. And if you miss that key moment, it's gone! Opportunity LOST!
Well, except not quite. You missed the climactic shot? That's okay. Just abandon the quest and redo it. And keep abandoning/redoing the quest until you're fully satisfied that you've captured everything you want.
Here's an example. During the final steps of the Stonetalon Horde quests, there's an important fight scene. I wanted a nice action shot, but this was harder than expected - there were spell effects, or one of the three combatants would be in some weird fighting pose, etc. Take a look.
What's even happening in this shot? Is that orc dancing? Is he being beamed up to space? And Masha (the female tauren) is just sort of waving her totem at him? In a weird, phallic gesture? And what an exciting background. A lump of dirt.
I was pretty dissatisfied with the results, so I abandoned and re-did it, changing the angle.
This one is better - look at Masha's pose. It's very dynamic, she's clearly in action, swigning her totem around. Nice. And the background is more interesting, clearly showing that they're in a Tauren camp.
But what is her husband doing in the background? I have absolutely no idea. And that orc, Grebo...Grebo is dancing. Again. Or playing hopscotch limbo or something.
So I went back and tried it again.
Now THIS was a shot I could work with. No spell effects, nice action, no one is blocked or obscured. And it's really badass, too - Masha is burying the jagged "wing" of her totem right into Grebo's side, and he's being knocked off his feet by the impact. Awesome!
So remember, any time you see a cool scene that's part of a quest, you can always keep doing the quest for more screenshot opportunities. I've repeated some quests dozens of times trying to capture a single split-second cool moment, such as Wrathion igniting a tree on fire with lightning during his Legendary questline, or Jaina and Vereesa both loosing attacks at the same time during the Thunder Isle solo scenarios.
And speaking of those two situations...
Special Screenshot Opportunities
There are some quests and game moments that are incredibly unique events that you will basically never have the chance to screenshot again. You really, really want to make sure that you take the time and screenshot them extensively while you can! The rarer the scene, the more thorough you want to be.
The Stonetalon finale quest I mentioned earlier? If I needed to I could get to that quest again on an alt. It'd be a pain in the ass, since I'd have to do the entire zone, but it's definitely doable.
But something like the final quests in Wrathion's Legendary questline? The Battered Hilt/Quel'Delar questline? The climactic battle in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms when you hit Exalted with the Golden Lotus? These are NOT easy events to repeat! We're talking months of effort, or thousands of gold.
And some events aren't repeatable at all, like the Scourge Invasion, the Battle for the Undercity, or more recently, the Darkspear Rebellion. I hope you took a lot of screenshots at the time, because these event are no longer in the game. Same goes for characters that are no longer around. I grabbed a few shots of Cairne in the final days of the pre-Cataclysm Elemental Invasion, because I knew it would be my last chance to do so.
Finally, sometimes the game itself will give you some unexpected opportunities. Early in Mists, my game client glitched up and I got disconnected, but could still run around in-game. I was completely alone, there were no enemies or NPCs. So I ran around and wandered everywhere I could get to, taking screenshots of all the empty buildings and environments. These areas are normally populated, so shots of them all deserted and quiet are quite special and rare!
There's an awful lot of gimmicky toys and trinkets in WoW. Keep them in mind when you're taking screenshots! Pop down a Brazier of Dancing Flames and get a fiery draenei in your shot. Playing a class with a pet? Move it around and use it!
There's so many props scattered throughout the game that spawn things (literal props), or transform you, or do other cool effects you can utilize in your screenshots. Now, I'm not saying just pull out any prop and it'll make your screenshot great - you have to consider context, of course.
Or how about Elune Stones? Adding a big beam of light from the heavens can have a pretty dramatic effect on your scene.
Using NPCs as Props
Sometimes you want an NPC in a screenshot not because they're the focus, but because they add authenticity or flavor to the actual subject. Fabulor on the Karazhan dance floor? Well, instead of killing the ghostly civilian mobs, let's leave them there so they create a crowd in the background!
You can also really up your screenshot game by incorporating NPCs directly into a shot to create a fake scene. For example, there's a high elf woman in the Shattrath bar. She just stands at the bar all day and occasionally takes a swig from her mug.
But with careful (and I mean CAREFUL) positioning and timing, you can use her animations to create the illusion of an elf couple out partying and having a good time.
(You don't want to know how long it took me to perfectly time Fab's emote with her drinking animation to exactly capture their arms around each other's waist.)
You can also occasionally manipulate NPCs during quests or scenarios and reposition them to set up exciting shots. (Dance, puppets, dance!) For example, during the final Thunder Isle solo scenario, Lor'themar, Aethas, Jaina, Vereesa, Taran Zhu, Taoshi and Yalia all start fighting and brawling with Zandalari trolls.
You can join in and help them mop up the trolls and finish the scenario...or you can keep taunting Lor'themar's current troll target away to pull the Regent Lord over to you, and then get a fun shot of Lor'themar fighting alongside Jaina.
Now, I'm not going to lie, this didn't always work. In fact, it rarely worked. 9 out of 10 times Lor'themar would just wig out and run across the courtyard to start fighting someone else. I had to abandon/redo this quest quite a few times to get the shots I wanted. But eventually it did work, and will we ever actually see those two fighting alongside each other like this, in canon? Probably not, which makes this screenshot even cooler.
Using Dialogue (aka I <3 PerfectScreenshot)
A few spoken lines can completely alter a screenshot's significance. And sometimes you just want to capture what is being said in a scene. But how exactly do you do this? When you press Alt-Z, all the dialogue vanishes. And if you just press Print Screen, there's all those names and your UI getting in the way.
Well, here it is, my biggest screenshot secret behind literally ALL of my screenshots with any spoken dialogue, as well as all my screenshots without names. It's an addon called PerfectScreenshot.
I use PerfectScreenshot for EVERYTHING. You simply bind it to a key (I use F12, so it's right next to Print Screen for when I want normal screenshots), and when you press it, it automatically hides all names, guild names and titles, takes a screenshot, and then re-enables all your name settings.
Now, here's where it gets a little tricky. The funny thing about PerfectScreenshot is that until recently when my guildie Corv took it over, it hadn't been updated since 2009. 2009!! So every time a new patch came out, I would PRAY that PerfectScreenshot would continue working, as I would be utterly lost without it.
Thankfully the addon has continued to function through the years, and now Corv has taken it over. And he's improved it! Perfect Screenshot 2.0 (downloadable here) has the ability to take PerfectScreenshots in combat - the old version couldn't do this - as well as having options to hide everything except names, and a time delay setting.
Now, there is one minor drawback. PerfectScreenshot 2.0 won't capture visible dialogue (/say text, NPC dialogue, etc.) in its screenshots. Mind you, most people are probably fine with this, and would prefer not having dialogue visible! But if you're like me and want all that interesting spoken text in your screenshots, you can still accomplish this by simply downloading the original PerfectScreenshot here.
PerfectScreenshot is a powerful tool, and once you get used to its capabilities, you can do some amazing things. For example, you know how when you talk to NPC, they turn and face you? And when you close their dialogue window, they turn back to their original position? Since PerfectScreenshot hides your UI before taking a screenshot, this counts as closing dialogue windows, so you can actually capture NPCs in mid-turn. Combine this with the animations NPCs often do when you interact with them, and you can create some very evocative scenes.
With careful timing and using PerfectScreenshot to "turn" Wrathion, I could take a stationary, standing Wrathion and create a twisting, gesticulating Black Prince who's looking in shock and surprise, mouth agape, at what's coming up the path behind him. (For an actual explanation of why there's two Wrathions, read this post.)
And that about does it! That's basically every bit of screenshot trickery and expertise I can think of. So get out there and start shooting! Don't just hit the button and take a generic, boring shot. Spend a few moments thinking about what you're looking at, and create a piece of art.
How to take Awesome Screenshots
Part 1: Through the Lens
Part 2: Composition
Part 3: Posing Tricks
Part 4: Going the Extra Mile