How to write a Photo Caption By Andi Mulshine Garden State Scholastic Press Association For the Spring Advisers Conference May 7, 2010
On the job, the reporter and photographer discuss how best to get the shot, based on the reporters research and ideas on how he or she will write the story. The photographer meanwhile, also gets to write. The caption, or cutline, is the one- to two-sentence story under the photo, which helps to tell the story.
Captions serve to: 1.Grab the readers attention. 2.Provide information for the busy reader who may not read the related story.
Two types of photo captions: 1. Photo with a story: the caption is one to two sentences and aids in getting the reader to read the story. 2. Photo without a story: also called Stand-Alone Art, it needs two sentences, usually has a headline.
1.Write one sentence, usually the first, to explaining whats happening in the photo. The 5 Ws. 2.Write a second sentence giving additional information about the event.
Dos for writing captions: Do use the first three to five words to grab attention. Do state the obvious without being obvious. Do use second IDs. Do include the 5 Ws and H.
In stand-alone art, the first three to five words sometimes serve as the headline, which is in all caps and bolded. For example: BLUE MAN ARMED – Long before the night was over, Baby Face Nelson took out his gun and cleaned it for old times sake. Nelson will be in town for the next three weeks, appearing in Blue Man Crew.
What is a Second ID: Instead of using a subjects name twice in the caption, use another label for them – a second ID. SEPTEMBER SUNSET – Mary Jones walked her baby in the park as the sun set on Manhattan. The district court judge has been on maternity leave since August and hopes to return to work in December. Jones second ID is district court judge.
Dos for Captions, continued: Do consider what is going on before, during and after. Do use visual and specific nouns. Do use active verbs. Do keep cutlines factual. Do identify all people, except with crowds. Do interview to gain facts. Do proofread, especially names.
Donts for writing captions: Dont begin with a name unless it is the most important element. Dont begin with a persons title. Dont state the obvious. Dont use pictured above or shown here or similar phrases. The reader knows.
Dont use seems to or tries to. Just the facts. Dont pad with worthless information. Dont use gag, joke or cutesy comments. But puns are sometimes good. Dont comment, question or talk to the picture. Watch out for that truck!
Identifying the People in your Photos: If its a male and a female – no need to tell us whos on the left or right. Their names will tell us. If its two men or two women – ID the one on the left. Jane Doe, left, and Barb Jones took their physics exam yesterday, just before spring break. If its a group of people – ID up to five people in a photo, left to right. Sometimes its best to ID clockwise. Participants included, clockwise from bottom right, Jane Doe, Barb Jones, Melanie Righteous, etc.
Who: Dana Dietl, 13, and brother Beau, 9. What: They ordered Roaccutan, an acne drug, over the Internet. Their drug came from Pakistan. Their father is an ex-NYC cop who runs his own investigation company. He found no controls on Internet drugs.
Who: Iraqi Shia father and son What: Shia mark the anniversary of the death of Imam Moussa Al-Kadhim. Father and son flog themselves with chains. When: yesterday Where: Outside the holy shrine of Imam in Baghdad Why: First time since Sadaams fall that such a display was allowed.
Who: Andy Willner What: the baykeeper for Hudson-Raritan estuary When: yesterday. Where: Passaic River How-Why: Passaic is coming back after suffering many years of industrial pollution.
Who: Adriana, 4, Daniel, 7, and Alexandre Martinho, 9 What: The lot behind them is under consideration for construction of an elementary school. However, a builder wants to erect condos. When: yesterday. Where: Newark. Why-How: Dispute will delay construction of schools. Same problem exists in many urban districts.
Who: Right-Giants cornerback Will Allen. Left-Redskins Laveranues Coles. What: Coles loses interception to Allen in third quarter. When-Where: Landover, Md. Giants 24, Redskins 21 (OT)
Who: Rookie center fielder Jeff Duncan and NY Mets What: Duncan erred, allowing a triple; he struck out three times.The Mets lost, 4-2 to the Montreal Expos. When: yesterday Where: at Shea Stadium