Why is Captioning Your Images Important?
Many people have the misconception that the most important job that a Photographer can do is to simply take pictures- they couldn’t have been more wrong. There are other important elements that make up the job of a Photographer, and one of them is captioning images. Now, I know that captioning may seem like a tedious time-consuming task to many, but this is actually one of the most important things to do before filing images. So why do so many people get it wrong or just not do it at all? Let’s go back to basics, captions contain vital factual information about what is going on in a photo, where and when the photo was taken, and sometimes, why certain things are taking place within that frame. It is a literal description of a visual element which helps to validate and authenticate your image. Without captions, your images can be taken out of context and transformed into something that you did not intend for it to be. But also, captioning incorrectly can also lead to a whole load of ethical issues, which I will delve further into shortly.
How to Caption Your Images
Captioning your images is not rocket science and should not be treated as such, in fact, it really is simple. Here is an example of the most common formula that captioning takes place in; Who is it? (in most cases identify the people in the picture from left to right unless the action in the photo demands otherwise). What is it? What is happening in the frame and where and when did it take place. Your caption should end up looking something like this;
Jasmine Pierre-Louis stares out of the window at Premier inn hotel, London, 2019
When filing your images for your client, you can either embed your captions into the metadata (which is very important) or alongside filling out the metadata, you can also write down the captions on a separate word document, aligning it to the file name. If the images are going up on your website or social media handles, you can just write the captions in the text box or you can embed it with your images (most websites have a ‘caption’ option).
How to ensure you caption effectively
When it comes to captioning, accuracy is essential, that is why it is important to have something with you so that you can quickly take notes and then refer back to it when it comes to writing out your captions. Some people choose to carry a small notebook with them so that they can write down the names of those they encounter, some choose to either record the details of what is happening on a small recorder or on their phones. Accuracy is imperative! Unfortunately, I have seen cases of people who caption incorrectly which ends up sparking up ethical issues such as misrepresentation and false information. One of the ways that people commit this mistake is by generalising a group of people without finding out details such as what the person's name is and where the person is from. Let me show you an example.
An African child is sitting in a village waiting for her mother, Nigeria, 2020
This form of generalisation by calling this young girl an ‘African child’ is completely wrong. It is important to specify where she is from. If you were unable to get the girls name then stating 'a young Nigerian girl’ would have been a better description (ensuring that she is in fact Nigerian). The second thing that is wrong, is the assumption that where she is sitting in a village and she is waiting for her mum. Did you find out the specific location of where the girl is sitting? Did you ask why she is sitting there? If time is short and you are unable to get certain details, then the most appropriate description would be to state who the girl is and where it is that she is sitting. Do not make any assumptions, captions must be strictly factual.
Captioning your images helps to enhance your visual narrative. Many publications and Organisations require images to be captioned and is counted as an essential part of the image-making process. If you have not formed the habit of captioning your images then I suggest you do so now, as the success of your photography career may depend on it.