RE: User documentation - drawings or photographs?

Subject: RE: User documentation - drawings or photographs?
From: "Al Geist" <al -dot- geist -at- geistassociates -dot- com>
To: "'TECHWR-L'" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 22 Jan 2008 16:09:40 -0500

Kevin McLauchlan wrote:

" ...a photograph is a complete representation of the real thing. People
react to a photograph differently. If you don't yet have a production
version when you create your docs, you pretty much have to go with a

Not necessarily. I use (shoot) photographs all the time of product
development units. Some of the images are replaced just prior to publishing.
Some are shot of components that I know will not be changing as the systems
move from development to production. All are available to the other members
of the writing staff.

"For a photo to look professional, especially among other photos in the
same document, it must be of the same style - thus, either you must have
all the photos done by a competent photographer with the expensive
lighting equipment, the nice, seamless backgrounds, etc., or else you
must take your own photos and then Photoshop/GIMP them to match
lighting, remove shadows and variations of background, and so on."

I shot product shots for a company that has a virtual monopoly on the
high-end (read Emmy Award/Academy Award level productions) wireless
microphone manufacturer. I used a Canon Pro digital camera and a "studio"
that consisted of a table, an innovative home-made light baffle system,
three run of the mill tungsten shop lights and a variety of backgrounds, and
I didn't spend a lot of time cleaning things up in Photoshop. My shots were
used in the company product catalog through convention banners. The "lab"
cost about $50 to put together. If you know what you are doing, have a
creative mind, a little knowledge of photo composition, and a few hours
practice with a digital camera, you don't need expensive lighting equipment,
seamless backgrounds, etc. BTW...even the best photographers can't shoot
every shot without shadows, especially if it's the innards of a complex
manufacturing system.

"Photos can easily become dated, when somebody decides to change the
silk-screening on the product, or change a component (even substituting
a different brand of connector, indicator, card-reader, etc. With all
the extraneous detail fully present in a photo, the person looking at it
- against the current version of the actual hardware - might wonder if
they received the right equipment, or if they're reading the instructions
for the right model. At our place, managers won't sign for
the purchase-from-inventory of a new $20,000 appliance just because the
cosmetic bits have changed."

Each place is different. I never had a problem with dated photographs or
drawings, because I reshoot whenever I can and put the new images in a
library for all writers to use. If I can't reshoot, I use Photoshop to
update if I can't. (Updating often means erasing extraneous stuff.)

"It's easier to tweak a vector drawing than to acquire a clean-looking
sample of the current hardware and schedule a photo shoot."

Our company moves so fast in development that the SolidWorks drawings are
always months behind, so tweaking a vector drawing may be nice, but it ain't
gunna happen 'cause there ain't no time.

My staff and I also don't schedule photo shoots, we either have the
engineers shoot the images we need/want, or we shoot them ourselves. (I
always shoot my own images and then put them in a library for others writers
to use.) As I said, each place is different. Sometimes, when we get really
desperate, we borrow images from Marketing.

Al Geist
Technical Writing, Help, Marketing Collateral, Web Design and Award Winning
Voice/Msg: 802-872-9190
Cell: 802-578-3964
E-mail: al -dot- geist -at- geistassociates -dot- com
URL: (Online portfolio and resume)
See also:
URL: (Fine art photographic prints for home or
office and beautiful note cards for all occasions.)

" ... I walked to work, quit my job, and kept walking. Better to be a
pilgrim without a destination, I figured, than to cross the wrong threshold
every day." (Anon)


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User documentation - drawings or photographs?: From: SB
RE: User documentation - drawings or photographs?: From: McLauchlan, Kevin

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