If you Don’t Document it, it Doesn’t Exist

Photo by Flickr user joelogon.
Photo by Flickr user joelogon.

There are so many reasons to document your project that after considering all of them it seems silly not to. I was taught the titular mantra when attending ITP, but it can apply to any maker working on a project. If you want to share your work with anyone beyond your close circle of friends and family, you need video and/or photo documentation almost every time.

When I first started getting into this habit it disrupted my workflow. When you’re on a tear you just want to keep going and going– you might be afraid that stopping for a few pictures will slow your momentum. But as I forced myself to document after important steps of my builds, I found there were benefits beyond the documentation itself. Stopping to take a picture is a sort of punctuation to a segment of the work. It gives one pause to take stock of how to move forward, and to review the work that’s been done so far. Depending on the build, it can also function as a reference when things don’t quite work out later and troubleshooting needs to be done.

These days, getting solid pictures isn’t difficult. With 8 megapixel cameras on many smartphones, you don’t need an expensive DSLR to get the job done. You can build your own light box as seen above, or just use a few well-placed lamps on a clean surface. I keep a piece of white poster board tucked behind my work table if I need some quick, clean shots. I just tape it up to the wall and let it curve onto the table.

Documenting your work also simply lets you share it with a ridiculously larger audience. You can build your portfolio, get some attention for it (perhaps from MAKE), and teach others once you give it a home online.

At Maker Faire New York this year, Elizabeth Fuller will be giving a talk called “Don’t Forget Your Camera: Lessons Learned in Documentation.” She says, “Fuzzy photographs of circuits from 5 years ago are useless. Learn why, what, and how to document your next great project. [I] will share opportunities missed, lessons learned, and specific tips for documenting your next great project.” Her talk will be on Saturday, Sept. 21, at 1:30pm. Come check it out if you’re there for the fair.

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In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens' educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.

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