Re: Using photographs in documentation

Subject: Re: Using photographs in documentation
From: David Neeley <dbneeley -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 05 Apr 2011 12:32:59 +0300

The other suggestions regarding file formats are quite good. On that score, the only thing I would emphasize is to consider carefully the original photograph and its file format...and, if that is appropriate for your purposes, stay with it. As someone said, many cameras already produce the originals in .jpg.

The largest problem with most cameras is that they are far higher res than you can use.

However, with all of that as a starting point, I find a huge difference is in the creation of the original photos. Many years ago, I was called in as a consultant for the first effort at Xerox to incorporate digital photos into printer service documentation. In that case, as you may imagine most of the pieces inside a large laser printer happen to be shiny metal--and getting any sort of contrast or decent lighting was a serious problem.

Also, it is common for installation manuals to have photographs which may contain far more information than the installer needs for a particular step. More extreme cropping, on the other hand, may yield detail photos that are difficult to look at and immediately place in context of the actual equipment. Several techniques can make that much simpler--such as placing a small mask over the immediate area of concern, and darkening the rest of the image so the eye is drawn to the sharp and clear detail, while the darker areas around it are still present in enough detail to easily see the context of the location of the particular item called for in that step.

Another method I've seen work quite well is to have a large establishing shot with call-outs leading not only to textual information but also to small "balloons" of larger-size detail of particular areas the text describes. The call-outs give the positioning info the installer needs, while the detailed images clearly illustrate the steps to be performed at that point.

Of course, if this is all to be viewed on an Internet or intranet site through a browser, it is also quite feasible to use roll-overs that pop up the detailed steps and detail views. That way, the basic image simply has strategically-placed numbers that the user either rolls over or clicks on to bring up the further details; the sequence of the numbering shows the order they are to follow.

You could also embed short video clips especially of any particularly important steps to be performed--in other words, you may wish to get the maximum use of the medium you are using, not simply to create an electronic document that would have little advantage over a printed manual.

David
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