Your Captions are a Weapon – Use Them

Illustration courtesy of Motto via Flickr

The New York Times says it should do a better job of using captions under its photos:

“Every day Times editors conduct dozens of weddings, uniting words and images, in print and online. / As in any marriage, the two parties should not just speak to each other, but seem as though they belong together. / “Let us start with the advice of The Times’s stylebook: A caption should normally explain what readers cannot see for themselves in the picture and should omit the obvious.

This is yet another reminder that your pictures frequently need written context for maximum effect. They are usually not worth a thousand words.

I talk about the way I use captions to book more weddings in Wedding Mind Tricks. The basic gist is:

  • You need to communicate your style to prospective couples online as quickly as possible. We are long past the days when a photographer could sit on her office couch with an engaged couple and explain each portfolio image while they’re looking at it (a la the great Joe Buissink).
  • Captions allow you to narrate a richer, more original story about your work. Couples can’t figure out the depth of your shooting approach just by scanning your images. They need your help.
  • Explaining yourself in a block of text is a sad waste of time. Web viewers just aren’t willing to suspend the downward pace of their eyes to read entire paragraphs. Especially when they’re still deciding whether they even like your pictures. People are far more likely to read captions.

Captions are one of the reasons every couple who hires me has a complete understanding of my shooting style before I ever speak. (See hundreds of captions at work on my site.)

You have to turn on your brain to write a meaningful caption. Just try your best. Even New York Times editors struggle to get them right all the time. It’s not easy but it’s absolutely worth it.

posted 2013.05.21

1 Comment Your Captions are a Weapon – Use Them

  1. Simon

    “…and should omit the obvious.”

    This is the takeaway point for me. Too many times I’ve been writing things like “The groom waits nervously at the altar…” Great article, thanks for posting.


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