What IS a Caption?
We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words...but a caption is priceless, especially in photojournalism. It's the background, the explanation to your photograph. It tells us why
we should care. Austin Kleon provides an interesting insight on them in his article The Power of Captions: Words Added to Pictures
Also, I'm trying to compress a 2 hour class into a single journal. If you're interested in writing according to the AP Style Guide (I'm talking about commas, dates, location abbreviations, identification, etc.), there's a pretty sweet link at the bottom of the journal. What's going on in this picture? Is the soldier drawing a beautiful picture of the lady? Is she writing the lady a ticket? Who knows!
The Magical Formula of Captioning Greatness[who] [does what] [where] [date]. [why/how]. (Photograph by [you!]).
Here's the caption for the picture above:
"U.S. Army Sgt. Lidya Admounabdfany writes down information from a local woman at the Woman's Center near the Zhari District Center outside of FOB Pasab, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, Dec.
17, 2011. Sgt. Admounabdfany is a member of 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division's Female Engagement Team (FET) and is gathering information from women so the FET can distribute blankets
and winter clothing to the women and their families. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Kristina Truluck/Released)"
Time to break it down!
This first sentence is the most important - you're linking the photo to the caption by the action. The first sentence is always
written in present tense. Who
are you photographing? Identify the main people in the photograph. Start with names, but don't forget titles, majors, hometowns and other identifying information. Sgt. Lidya Admounabdfany
is my subject. Identifying the subject creates a sense of intimacy with the viewer - now they know who they're looking at. What
are they doing? Don't editorialize by inserting emotions - just state the facts. Ex:
A family eats their lunch outdoors vs.
A family enjoys their lunch outdoors. How do you know they're enjoying their lunch? What if Joe Snuffy snuck a worm into his wife's sandwich and she hasn't yet found it? Gross! Writes down information
is what she is doing. Short, sweet, and to the point. Where
was this photograph taken? Not everyone knows where the women's center is, or even where Pasab is, but they know Afghanistan. Most of the time, just city, state and country is fine for a caption. (Note: there is a specific way to abbreviate countries. You can find it in the AP Style Guide)When
was it taken? We have to know! AP Style Guide wants journalists to write dates in the month-day-year format like this: Dec. 17, 2011. All months except for March, April, May, and June are shortened to three letters. This is especially important for newsworthy events such as combat operations, extreme weather, protests, etc. Why (or how)
is this photo happening? This is your second sentence, your background information. Because the event already occurred, this is written in past tense. Give us a reason to care about this photograph. Sgt. Admounabdfany is a member of 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division's Female Engagement Team (FET) and is gathering information from women so the FET can distribute blankets
and winter clothing to the women and their families.
The credit line is simple - YOU took the photo, so YOU should put your name in there!
If you're photographing for an agency, the release information is added behind your name, but I don't think any of you guys have to worry about this.
Honestly, on DA, as long as you have the 5Ws/H on there in some kind of format, I'm thrilled. I love
reading captions, or even just some background information on the shot.
Interviewing for Information
Oh god, you have to approach people and talk to them?! If you know about the event beforehand, do some research. Sgt. Google knows almost everything! If you want accurate caption information - ask your subjects for their names - how do they spell it ? Do they want their name written a specific way? Don't forget to ask them for their hometowns - it can be used to encourage conversation and is an awesome extra bit of information to add to your caption. It also builds trust between the two of you and makes you more memorable. Who doesn't
want to be known as the cool, friendly photographer that everyone wants to photograph their event?!
Your subject can also give you some cool information about the event that you're photographing (-coughsomethingtoputinforyoursecondsentencecough-). The more information you get, the better, especially if you have to caption multiple photographs.
Tell your viewers what's going on in your photo!
This doesn't apply to just photojournalism - try using it on all of your photos! It's a wonderful way to encourage discussions on/about your work. For more information, check out the links below:Techniques for Caption-Writing
- AP Style Book - The Journalist's Bible4 Critical Reasons Why Photos Need Captions
- In Praise of Captions
What about YOU?
Do you find reading captions to be useful?
What do you think when you see photos without any
information or the ever-popular ellipses?
If you don't already, are you planning on adding background information to your photos? Why or why not?