How is a Setup Diagram Different from a Setup Photo?

A setup diagram is different from a setup photo.  The diagram is either hand drawn or created using a simple sketching program. The photo is taken during the lab experiment.

In my classes, I ask students to include both a setup photo and a setup diagram. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

A setup photo with some labels that disappear into the darkness of the background.

I have found that when students just add labels to a photo, it is often difficult to read the text. This happens when the text and background have similar color or brightness.

In the photo here, it is difficult to read the labels for the spring and the mass because of the darkness of the background. Lighter text may have been hidden by the light color of the bookshelf.

Other Advantages of Including Both

It can also be difficult to get a good photograph.  Sometimes the perspective of your photo can be misleading.  In other cases, some equipment might be hidden behind other equipment. With a sketch, you can adjust the location of each piece a bit.

Up until recently, it was difficult to include a photo in your lab report. Ask your parents (or maybe grandparents) about taking your film to the drugstore to be developed. The diagram was an easier way to include a representation of your experiment.

If you are printing out your lab report using only black and white ink, a setup photo could lose a lot of detail, both from the color and from the brightness. In my classes, all labs are submitted electronically, so this isn’t as much of an issue as it was a few years ago.