How To Document (Almost) Anything

HTMAA Recitation

9.17.2020 // 5 - 6 PM EST

Jack Forman

Today's Goal

To learn simple techniques and strategies that can dramatically improve the perceived quality of your work with minimal effort.


I have no formal photography or video production training. A flaw but this also means all of practices are specifically cultivated/developed for documenting fabrication. I learned everything from a former student of HTM(A)A.
ApfelStruder was really the first video I ever edited on my own.

~Why~ To Document (Almost) Everthing

Live demo is once, documentation is forever

Although it seems obvious you will never forget something, you will, and when trying to recreate it you will be annoyed that you never documented it.

Getting other people to know about your research is just as important as doing thwe research

I promise you that in 1/10/25 years you will want to look back and reflect on the magic of HTMAA

How To Make Things Look Good Fast

1. Black & White backdrops is the easiest way to make everything coherent (within a project, and throughout your body of work)
2. Shoot, and reshoot. While in the short run this takes more time, strong framing is the bones of good documentation. With good shots, all you need to do is throw them together without wasting all your time editing and cropping.


1. Adobe Creative Cloud is free for MIT students so just go with that (specifically photoshopt, illustrator, premier pro)
2. Keynote actually has a really nice instant alpha feature.

Photo Documentation

General Guidelines

1. Focus should usually be set manually.
2. Look at the photo on a large screen before moving on
3. If the photo is a portait, focus should be on the eyes
4. For autofocus, mirror shots will always be blurry
5. How to remove background from images.

Video Documentation


Ana Liu is an example of masterful documentation.



1. Informative Layer
“How would I visually convey this idea if I had no audio or text.”

2. Effort Layer
“What problems did I have so solve to get this to work? ”

3. Evidence Layer
“Which shots are necessary to prove my claim”

4. Aesthetic Layer
“What particular moments are particularly satisfying/sexy”


1. Microphone
1.1 Microphone’s aren’t recording you, they are recording your room with you in it. Make your room quiet (turn off AC). Also a Mic that is close to your mouth can make a big difference. Even a cheap microphone from amazon sounds world's better than your computers

2. Voice
2.1 If you don't have a microphone I would avoid using voice, if possible
2.2 If multiple people in a video are talking, and you are occasionally showing their face, make sure to show their face each time you switch between them.
2.3 If a silent video "has sound" include the sound. It will be very satisfying.
2.4 Audacity is an app that can help filter audiop

3. Music
Royalty Free Music is one commonly used option.
But! My favorite strategy is to (very kindly) reach out to artists directly on facebook. Explain who I am, what I’m doing, and that I want to use their song for academic purposes only (not commercial, no one is making money). Always credit the artist!

4. Typography


Generally, the more acting your video has, the more funny (or corny) it will be. If this is what you want, use it to your advantage. Otherwise, keep it minimal.


This is the one exception to the acting rule. When holding something in your hand, the more dramatic the better (to a point). This comes more naturally to some than others, here some excercises that can help get you in the mindset:
1. "The ball? Try asking me again when this is spotless"
2. Diamond thief

Also, make sure your hands are relatively taken care of (nails are trimmed and free of dirt, hands are clean)



Compact, cheap, and efficient (not hot). These are most commonly used for photo/video, but have poor color rendering that often requires post-processing.

You can also get cheap foldable lightbox, which can be helpful.


Inneficient, expensive, and a hazard; but wow is it gorgeous. These are my go-to, I've never seen LED compare.


Free and ubiquitious. You can get some nice color rendering, but it's contantly shifting and off for 50% of the day.

How To (Not) Get Overwhelmed

1. Documentation can go on forever, don't let it.
2. The pressure to get it perfect can prevent documentation from happening at all, this is the worst thing that could happen. Start small (one polished image/shot a week) and work your way up.
3. Fabrication/fabricated item shots don't have to match exactly. You can reuse the shot of one board being milled for a different board and no one will notice.

Ethics of Documentation

1. Documentation offers incredible control of how you can visually communicate your work. And the tucking away of wire/compressors etc. can help focus on the vision and concept of the work.
But it also provides a route for faking a working prototype or making things seems faster, which is never (!) acceptable unless clearly stated.
The one exception is if something is extremely close: the subassemblies work but the final integration needs some small refinement.
2. Diversity is important, consider this when you are selecting your models. Reflect on internal biases you may have when casting.

Other tips

1. If you are filming an experiment, always have the sample number visible in the shot! You will forget what is what.