Caption Guidelines

Captions can influence the meaning of an image and should capture the viewer’s attention.

A caption first serves to describe what’s happening in an image, so the first sentence should explain the action (unless the situation in the photograph is obvious) and who is in the photo. The second sentence of a caption should supply background information and context about why the image is significant. Any information that is included must be sourced. 


Caption structure:

  • - Avoid stating the obvious – don’t tell viewers what they can find out for themselves by looking at the image

  • - Try to keep captions to no more than two concise sentences, while including relevant information

  • - Use declarative sentences

  • - Try to use as few words as possible and avoid complex sentences

  • - Keep facts separated with periods

  • - Do not mix verb tenses in the same sentence or pair a present-tense verb with a past tense element (e.g. A new mayor is sworn in at City Hall last week.)

  • - Name the city, region or state, and country where the image was made

  • - Provide the date the image was taken


Other important information captions can contain (when relevant):

  • - Whether or not an image was posed, if a special lens was used, or how an image was manipulated (e.g double exposure). If anything significantly differs from     the actual event, or the photographer influenced the scene in any way, this must be noted so facts aren’t distorted.

  • - Small details that viewers might miss at a glance, like how something tastes or feels (to explain a subject’s reaction).

  • - Attribution must be given for action not seen (e.g. ...the scene of an accident where more than 10 people died, according to the police.)

  • - A catchy quote from the subject in the image

  • - Before and after (cause and effect of the moment captured) to contextualize an image.

  • - Explanation of an emotion viewers are seeing in an image


Be sure to obtain adequate information when photographing. Gather names - first and last, when possible, with correct spellings.

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