A Travellerspoint blog

November 2005


A picture is worth a thousand words...but only if it's got a really good caption or cutline

As a photographer and writer, I'm constantly challenged by my alter ego (now, which is it - the photographer or the writer in me?) to show my audience what I "see". I mentally struggle with photographic images, trying to find the right one to go along with my story, and with the words, to try to say the right thing to make my point.

Actually, it isn't about what I really see, but what I want my audience to see when I'm done and finished. This interpretation of showing what is not seen sums up much of what photography and writing is all about...

Words and images work together to provide maximum reader impact

Words tell their own story. They bring forth rhyme and reason, colour attitudes, and move people. Combining the power of the visual image with the verbal image can either enhance your story or overpower it. Finding that happy medium is the challenge facing every photo journalist.

And like words, a photograph tells a story. It can either tell the whole story or part of the story. It is up to the photo journalist to determine how much of the story is told by the image.

My Dear Watson, be a Sherlock Holmes...study the photos and look for the "hidden elements".

1. Does the photo communicate quicker, stronger, better or more eloquently than a simple sentence?
2. Does the photo have visual content, or stop short of elevating the story?
3. Does the photo go beyond the trite or the obvious?
4. Does the photo have enough impact to move the reader?
5. Is the photo mindless documentation?
6. Does the photo communicate effectively? A good photo should either move, excite, entertain, inform or help the reader understand the story.

The tree is struggling to fight all the odd to survive...

Whether you float like a butterfly or sting like a bee, you've to explain the action...in other words, translate the action (what you see and what the readers don't in the photo) into words...With the story of the tree, the words may tell of a recent forest fire or deforestation (you are aware and have the knowledge of it.

None of these images you have can tell a complete story, but together with words, they add to the entire content, enhancing your photo essay.

Avoid the known; explain the unknown.

You should avoid characterizing a picture as beautiful, dramatic, grisly or other such descriptive terms that should be evident in the photograph. If it's not evident in the photograph, your telling the reader won't make it happen. However, the caption or cutline should explain something about how the picture was taken if it shows something not normally observable by the human eye. For example, was a wide-angle lens used? Or time-lapse photography?

Reflect the image.

You should make sure that the words accurately reflect the photo. If a photo shows two or more people, you should count the number of identifiable people in the photo and check the number and sex of the people identified in the caption/cutline to make certain that they match. Where a photo shows two or more people, you should name them, starting from the left.

Right ingredients bring out the right taste and flavour...so it's with captions or cutlines

Well, there’s nothing very mysterious about the process of captioning.But, there are some things you need to know about it.

You must provide caption information that is as complete as possible for each and every picture.

What information goes in a caption?

The best captions answer two fundamental questions about the picture content: What (or Who) is it? Where is it?

The order of importance of those two questions may vary depending upon the circumstances of the photo(s). Shots made in a studio or certain closeup photos may not need to answer the Where? part (although, for biological purposes, the Where? can be important for natural history closeups even though surroundings may not be apparent).[For landscapes, scenics, cities, people or culture, and travel shots the Where? is essential].Certain historical pictures may also have to answer the question When? This may also be true for some photojournalism coverage.

Remember, the question to ask as you write a caption is, “Given the specifications, what can I say in the caption that will most likely pull in a reader?” This requires you to think like a reader (what would they immediately need or want to know?.

Think like a reader ? Hmmm...ask or remind yourself:

· What am I trying to say?
· What is the point of this photo?
· Does it add to the story?
· Does it subtract from the story?
· Is my point really evident?

Good luck.

Posted by danalasta 05:43 Tagged photography Comments (1)


Putting life into a photograph...

I am tempted to write something about photojournalism because of my association with the newspaper industry for over 30 years. As an editor, part of my job - apart from editing the stories of reporters - was also to select photos (taken by the photographers) that were not only relevant to a story but those which " told a story" - emotions, actions, etc.

We are not talking about "studio photographers" - aim, shoot,and print! Or "say cheese" kind of photographer!

Maybe this article will be of some use to those who want to put life into their shots....you dont have to become a photojournalist but the approach taken by a photojournalist can surely help you become a better photographer...

So what is a photojournalist?

A journalist tells stories. A photographer takes pictures of nouns (people, places and things). A photojournalist takes the best of both and locks it into the most powerful medium available--a single frozen image.

Photojournalists capture "verbs."

Although photojournalists can take properly exposed and well composed photographs all day long, they hunt verbs. They hunt them, shoot them, and show them to their readers. Then, they hunt more.

A photojournalist has thousands of pairs of eyes looking over his shoulder constantly. The readers are insistent: "What are they doing?" "What did you see?" and "What happened?". The eyes always want to know what they missed. Readers cannot see what they missed with a noun. It works if the question is specific enough (what did the condemned building look like?), but normal answers require verbs.

To tell a story, a sentence needs a subject, a verb and a direct object. News photos need the same construction. Photojournalists tell stories with their images. Also, words are always used in conjunction with photojournalist's images.

The words below a photo are called a cutline (or photo caption,hmm...a kicker is something else!). I write the cutlines that go with most of my images. At many newspapers, photographers provide names and nothing else. They do not write the cutline because they sometimes cannot write a lead graph for a story. They also may not be able to photograph a sentence (sports being the exclusion, and there are plenty of supporting images to prove my point in this genre as well).

But, to be a photojournalist, you must understand the relationship between the image and these basic elements of language (all languages--worldwide).

The girl (must) hit (or miss) the ball. There are no other options.
The girl is easy to photograph. The ball is easy to photograph. The verb is the hard part.

As a servant of the citizens, it is the photojournalist's OBLIGATION to capture the entire sentence involved in EVERY event. There are no excuses. It is hit or missed. Some photographers don't care. They have a picture of the bat. "Hey, that's what tried to hit the ball." They just don't get it.

What makes a photojournalist different from a photographer?

Photographers take pictures of nouns (people, places and things). Photojournalists shoot action verbs ("kicks," "explodes," "cries," etc. ...). Photojournalists do shoot some nouns. These nouns can be standard photos of people (portraits), places (archeological sites or excavation work)and things (name it). However, the nouns we seek still must tell a story. This is where the reader may en-counter a "photo illustration."


Does this photo tell a story ? Look at the expression on the girl's face. She is a native alright...but is she trying to tell us:"Now, what's this?" or something more ?

Photo illustrations normally show something impossible to photograph (i.e. a particular anniversary date, an idea or opinion, etc. ...). A photo illustration is a visual representation of something that is either non-tangible, non-visual or has not yet happened. Most photo illustrations are very stylized and look similar to commercial advertising. Often, these images will have unusual lighting and a controlled environment....


Posted by danalasta 19:03 Archived in Malaysia Tagged photography Comments (3)

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