Re: Photographs vs Line Illustrations

Subject: Re: Photographs vs Line Illustrations
From: Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- COM
Date: Fri, 17 May 1996 08:20:00 -0600

For many reasons, photographs are generally NOT as effective as
technical (line) illustrations.

All true. Some of the drawbacks can be ameliorated with software such as
Photoshop (getting rid of extraneous background, improving contrast,
highlighting areas) or Streamline (tracing software which can turn a
bitmapped image into a crude outline drawing -- success rate depending upon
the image, of course).

One factor that hobbles photographs is the skill of the photographer. Too
many people seem to think they can just point the camera and pull the
trigger. Not so. You need to spend some time dealing with lighting, point of
view, depth of field and similar issues. A sheet can be used to exclude
extraneous background, for example. Or a fill-in light can be used to keep
the natural shadows from darkening the shot. A badly-done photo, like a
badly-done illustration, is worse than none at all.

Another factor that can play into this decision is recognizability. An
illustration is quite good at highlighting the act in question. But some
people find photographs easier to deal with in recognizing just where they
are looking, relative to the entire machine. Part of this, I'm sure, is
simply psychological. We are accustomed to "photographs don't lie" and
"people make mistakes." It's been my experience that people referring to the
manuals seem more comfortable about locating parts of the machine when
referring to a photograph than a drawing. This is not to say that all
drawings contain mistakes. I'm hard pressed to think of more than one or two
cases of that. Like I said, the reason is psychological.

Even so, this doesn't mean photos are always superior to drawings, Just that
each has a worthwhile function to perform in technical documentation. (I
hate adding all these qualifiers, but feelings seem to be running high on
this issue, and I want to be sure not to give anyone involved an excuse to
misunderstand me.) I've seen manuals which included only photographs, and
I've seen manuals which included only drawings, and each way has its

Have fun,
Chief Managing Director In Charge, Department of Redundancy Department
DNRC 124

Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- Com
In God we trust; all others must provide data.
Opinions expressed are mine and mine alone.
If JCI had an opinion on this, they'd hire someone else to deliver it.

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