TECH WRITING HANDBOOK

 

Chapter 6

Photograph the Process

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. They’re right. Don’t just tell readers how to do something—show them.

Historically, photos haven’t gotten much love in manuals—even in service manuals where photos might be the difference between poorly installed brakes and a car that stops when told. The holy grail of standardization, ISO 9001 documentation, is usually text only. Given the historical expense of printing costs, this made sense. But that was then, and this is now. Welcome to the digital revolution: the world is your high-resolution oyster.

 

 

Digital Camera

 

 

iFixit teaches people how to repair their electronics. That’s dicey business. After all, there are tons of little components and little connectors in any given device. Take Zero-Insertion Force (ZIF) connectors, for example. Not only are they tiny, but they’re equipped with even tinier, delicate flaps that have to be pried up and flipped over. Do it the wrong way—a common mistake made by newbie technicians—and you could break the entire device. Those are some pretty high stakes.

 

Here are iFixit’s text instructions for freeing the ZIF battery connector in an iPod Nano:

 

 

Hold down the light-colored socket with your finger. Then use the tip of a spudger to flip the ZIF cable lock 90º upwards.

 

 

And while those are good instructions, they aren’t enough. There’s too much room for error. So, iFixit includes high-resolution, color photos with every single step. That way, you can zoom in and figure out exactly what the component looks like, where the flap is, and how to pry it up. Photos like this one have saved the life of many a ZIF connector:

 

 

Zif cable

 

 

Photography brings instructions to life. It makes things more clear. Compare an Ikea manual to iFixit’s self-repair guides. Depending on the level of clarity, repairing your iPhone can be more accessible than assembling a set of cupboards.

 

 

Ikea instructions

 

 

Tips for photography

 

Not a photography expert? Not to worry! Modern cameras make it surprisingly easy—and fast—to take useful photos. Our tips and tutorials will have you shooting like a pro in a flash. Each of the links below have in-depth, step-by-steps guides from Dozuki on product photography.

 

 

Camera Equipment

 

 

Our company, Dozuki, helps companies create standardized procedures for work instructions, operational guides, and more.

 

 

Setting up the photoshoot

 

The most important component for taking pictures is choosing the right camera. We highly recommended that you use a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera to take professional-quality guide images. If you don’t have a DSLR camera, any point-and-shoot camera with at least 6 megapixels will capture images with sufficient resolution.

 

No matter what camera you decide to use, every hand-held camera is prone to shakes and vibrations that cause blurry photos. Using a tripod, even a cheap one, keeps your images sharp.

 

The better your lighting is, the less you have to post-process the photo. Unfortunately, your old bedside lamp just won’t cut it. Despair not! You can construct a relatively inexpensive DIY photography studio out of simple light fixtures, the right bulbs, and a clean, white surface.

 

If you’re investing in a professional lighting setup, a proper photographic light fixture should house three or four individual light bulbs. To cut down on harsh glare, slip a diffuser over the front of each fixture.

 

 

lighting setup

 

 

Taking the perfect photo

 

Aperture and ISO:

Understanding aperture and ISO will help you take professional-level photographs. The aperture setting changes the amount of light that comes through your lens; folks commonly refer to it as “f-stop.” The ISO setting changes the sensitivity of the camera sensor at the expense of image graininess. We explain both in much greater detail in our tutorial, so use it to practice, practice, practice by taking sample photos before you start documenting your procedure.

 

Shutter speed:

Just pressing the shutter button can cause the camera to shake—producing blurry images. Blurriness is unacceptable. Use a remote shutter release, computer tethering software like Nikon Capture, Canon Digital Photo Professional, or Sofortbild (our favorite tool). If you can’t tether, use your camera’s self-timer to keep yourself from jostling the equipment. Most newer cameras have an incredibly useful 2 second timer just for this purpose.

 

Framing:

When taking photos for your manual, place whatever you’re doing in the center of the frame and from your user’s point of view.

 

Close up:

Zoom in to get detailed shots of specific actions, especially when performing smaller or more intricate tasks. But be careful that the viewer doesn’t lose context—provide an intermediate view in addition to the über-zoomed shot.

 

 

Uber zoom

 

 

Using your hands

 

If you are documenting instructions, we recommend that your images include hands whenever possible. Hands are great at demonstrating the actions described in each step. And not drawings of hands—actual hands attached to actual people performing the actual tasks that users actually want to do. User manuals that feature photos of hands working on intricate components give users a better idea of how to replicate the desired action.

 

 

Pro tip: Don’t cover up the action with your hands. Sometimes this means holding an item or tool differently than you normally would. It may feel awkward, but the resulting image will show the action much more clearly. The second image demonstrates an overhand knot much more efficiently than the first image does.

 

 

Processing your photos

 

Programs:

Pictures rarely come out perfect and will require some editing to make them usable for manuals. There are many photo editing programs, like Photoshop ($) and Gimp (free), available. Learn a decent one and start editing your photos.

 

Color and exposure:

When editing, adjust the light levels to balance whites and blacks properly. Adjust color hues and saturation to correct color errors in the background.

 

Editing:

Not all work environments are perfectly clean, so subjects may end up with hair, dust, dirt or other imperfections on them. Remove blemishes, if possible, with a little editing magic.

 

Markup:

When using photography, we suggest using markup to highlight certain areas of the photograph, like in the example below (Dozuki already has a built-in markup system). Multi-colored boxes and circles are great for highlighting areas you want readers paying attention to. The markup colors below have been chosen so that the color-impaired can differentiate between them.

 

 

Iphone Screw Diagram