1Check your facts. One of the most important aspects of any type of journalism is accuracy. If you use incorrect information, the story or photo loses credibility. Before uploading or printing any photo captions, make sure you’ve checked that anything stated in the caption is accurate.
2Describe something that isn’t obvious. If a photo caption simply describes the visuals in the photo, it’s fairly useless. If you have a photo of a sunset and simply caption is as “a sunset” you’re not adding any additional information for the reader. Instead, describe details of the photo that are not obvious, like the location, the time of day or year, or a specific event that is taking place.
3Do not start a caption with certain words. A caption should not begin with the words ‘a,’ ‘an,’ or ‘the.’ These words are too basic and take up valuable captioning room when they aren’t necessary. For example, instead of saying: “A blue jay in the boreal forest;” simply say: “Blue jay flying through boreal forest.”
4Identify the main people in the photo. If your photo includes important people, identify who they are. If you know their names, include them (unless they’ve asked to remain anonymous). If you don’t know their names, you might want to put a description of who they are instead (e.g. “protesters on the streets of Washington, DC”).
5Be as specific as possible. This advice goes hand-and-hand with being accurate. If you are unsure of where the photo was taken, or who is in the photo, find out. Showing a photo without any specific information may not be useful to the reader, especially if you cannot inform them of the context in which the photo was taken.
Label historical photos properly. If you’re using an historical photo in your story, make sure it’s labelled properly and includes the date (at least the year) it was taken. Depending on who owns the photo, you may also need to credit another photography and/or organization (e.g. museum, archive, etc.).
7Use the present tense in captions. Because most photos being shown as part of a news story are of things happening “right now,” use the present tense in the caption. An obvious exception would be any historical photos, where using the past tense makes sense.
Avoid humour when the photo isn’t intended to be humorous. If the photo you’re captioning is of a serious or sombre event, don’t try to be funny in the caption. Funny captions should only be used when the photo itself is a joke or of a funny event that is intended to make the reader laugh.
9Remember to always include credits and citations. Every photo should include the name of the photographer and/or the organization that owns the photograph. In actual photographic magazines and publications, photos also include the technical details of how the photo was taken (e.g. aperture, film speed, f-stop, lens, etc.)
1Use the caption to tell the reader something new. When a reader looks at the photo they’re usually confronted with some form of emotion and some information (based on what they see in the photo). The caption, in turn, should provide the reader with a piece of information they were unaware of from simply looking at the photo. In short, the caption should teach the reader something about the photo.
2Avoid making judgemental statements. Captions should be informative, not judgemental or critical. Unless you were actually able to speak to the people in the photo, and asked them what they were feeling or thinking, don’t make assumptions based only on their appearance in the photo. For example, avoid “unhappy shoppers waiting in line” unless you actually know they were unhappy.
Do not worry about length of the caption. A photo may say a thousand words, but sometimes a few words are required to put the photo in context. If a lengthy description is required in order to allow the photo to make sense, that’s okay. While you want to try to be as clear and succinct as possible, don’t limit the information in your caption if it will be helpful.
4Write in a conversational language. Journalism, in general, doesn’t use overly complicated language. But it also doesn’t use cliches or slang. Captions should follow the same basic language requirements. Write your captions in a conversational tone, similar to the way you’d address a family member if you were showing them the photo. Avoid cliches and slang (and acronyms). Don’t use complicated words if they aren’t needed.
5Include unessential story items in the captions. Stories that accompany photos tend to be about something specific and, obviously, tell a story. If there is a piece of information that is useful to understanding the photo, but isn’t necessary in telling the story, put it in a caption instead of in the body of the story.
6Determine what punctuation should be used. If the photo is simply of a person (e.g. headshot) or a photo of a very specific item (e.g. umbrella), it’s okay to caption the photo with the name of the person or item without any punctuation. In other cases, it is also okay to use incomplete sentences in a caption, but this may depend upon the publication and their requirements.
7Simplify descriptions in subsequent captions. If multiple, consecutive photos in a story show either the same place or person or event, it is not necessary to keep repeating the details of these items in each caption. For example, if you introduce the person in the first caption using their full name, you can simply refer to them with they last name in subsequent captions.
8Identify when photos have been digitally altered. Photos are sometimes enlarged, shrunk, or cropped in order to fit the situation, story, page, space, etc. This type of altering doesn’t need to be explained because it doesn’t change what is in the image. However, if you’ve changed the photo in any other way (i.e. changed the colour, removed something, added something, enhanced something unnaturally, etc.) you must identify this in the caption.
9Considering using a caption-writing formula. Until you get use to writing captions, you might want to start by using a specific formula. Eventually your captions will likely follow this formula, or something similar, without you needing to think about it. But until then, rely on the formula to ensure you’ve included all the needed items.
1Do not be arrogant. Arrogance in captions comes when the person writing the caption doesn’t care about the reader, and simply writes a caption that is easy at the moment of writing. This can also be consider being selfish because the writer cares more about themselves than the reader who is trying to decipher what the photo and story are about.
2Avoid making assumptions. You know what they say about people who assume … ! The same goes for writing captions. These assumptions could be on the part of the journalist, photographer, or even someone else at the publication where everything is being put together. Don’t make assumptions about what was going on in the photo, or who the people are. Find out the truth and only include what’s accurate.
3Make sure you aren’t sloppy. Sloppiness happens when someone just doesn’t care, or doesn’t consider the situation important enough to double-check. The result of sloppiness can be incorrect spelling, the wrong names for people in the photo, captions that don’t match the photos, referring to a photo in the story incorrectly, etc. If you’re proud of your work, do a good job from start to finish.
4Remember that what you print is considered fact. As a journalist, whatever you print either in your story or caption is usually considered fact by your readers. They rightfully assume you’ve done your fact-checking and that what you’re telling them is accurate. If you were too lazy or sloppy to do the job, you risk passing along incorrect information to a large number of people.
How important is it to include time and date in the photo caption?
In photojournalism, it is important to include a reference to when the photo was taken. This can be a specific time, an event, or a year.
How do I mention an unknown photographer?
Cite the work as 'author/photographer unknown'. This is the correct form for anonymous pieces.
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To write good captions in photojournalism, always write in the present tense and strive to be as specific as possible. Be sure to accurately identify individuals in the photos and include the necessary credits and citations when applicable. Avoid writing humorous captions unless the story itself is amusing, and never make judgemental statements. Lastly, fact-check your caption content to ensure the credibility of your story!Did this summary help you?
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