How many times have you sat in the dentist’s waiting room, opened a magazine, read the first paragraph of an article and flicked over to the next page? Now think about the times that first paragraph or maybe the heading photograph caught your attention and you carried on reading. When writing illustrated articles you have seconds to grab your readers attention. Here’s how.
Writing photo captions is simple. All you need are the six Ws who, what, where, when, why and how (OK so the w in how is at the end).
The caption under the photograph of the Qosarif mosque in Kazan uses most of these but if you click on the picture you will see a different version.
Why Different Versions?
If you are producing a general caption for a picture, e.g. an image that is being sold by a stock agency then include as much information as possible. An editor can always remove surplus information but it is difficult to add.
I hate talking about gear when I am using it. As a long suffering wedding photographer I used to dread the approach of the serious looking old gentleman with a scuffed brown leather cased, 50’s vintage, camera round his neck. Usually he had just been fiddling with for at least ten minutes to take one photograph of his rather overweight, and definitely bored, wife in her best hat. I knew the inevitable question was coming. ‘What sort of lens have you got on that?’
‘That’ was usually a 6×4.5 Bronica film camera. We used to use medium format cameras because no one believed you were a pro with a 35mm SLR My reply was often a completely genuine, ‘I don’t know.’ I could see him debating as to whether to rush off and exclaim to the bride that she had booked a complete idiot to take her wedding pictures, or whether to tell me not to be such a sarcastic bugger.
Writing for people to read online is vastly different from writing for readers of a paper or even ebook page. You’ve probably scanned this first paragraph to see if there is anything interesting. Maybe you are already scrolling down and reading the sub headings to see if I am going to convey anything relevant. If you had bought a book; having flicked through it, read the cover blurb and spent your hard-earned cash on it you would probably start at page one and read on from there.
This B12 steam locomotive, 8572 was built in 1928 by Beyer Peacock for the LNER (London and North Eastern Railway). The original design, although modified by 1928, dated back to the GER (Great Eastern Railway) in 1908.
The fast and agile North American P51D Mustangs that ranged over Europe in the last two years of the second world war probably played as larger part in Germanys defeat as the Spitfire and Hurricane did in the Battle of Britain. The Mustang was the first single engined long range fighter able to escort US army air force bombers all the way to Berlin and back. The Luftwaffe fighter pilots could no longer wait for the American fighters to turn back before attacking the unescorted bombers.
Many years ago, when the only things that were digital were your fingers or your watch, I won a photographic magazine’s cover girl competition. Not me personally you understand – one of my photographs.
A couple of weeks later an excited young photographer and his girlfriend, who just happened to be the scantily clad subject of the winning photograph, arrived at a posh Park Lane hotel for the prize giving. I don’t remember much about the event apart from one rather disparaging comment from the editor. ‘Your picture won because you were the only one who left space for the title.’ This was probably not the most tactful thing to say to an aspiring young photographer about his first competition win.
Taking better photographs depends on a lot of factors. I recently took part in a critique where a photographer put up a technically perfect but aesthetically boring picture of a nude. He commented that he had no concept or message when taking the picture but would like to do more ‘artistic’ work. I suggested that if he worked on having the former then the latter might naturally flow.
Writing a captions is easy right? Just put in what’s in the photo. As the saying goes ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’. So why duplicate what is in the photo? It is what is not there that is more important. And then we need to consider our audience. The average person might not spot the ‘mistake’ in the title of this post but and enthusiast might.