Impactful, Informative and Inspiring Caption Writing

 Anna migrated to South Africa from the Democratic Republic of Congo to flee the Second Congo War. She now runs a small dress-making business in Yeoville. Johannesburg, South Africa. November 8, 2016. (Miora Rajaonary/Native)

Anna migrated to South Africa from the Democratic Republic of Congo to flee the Second Congo War. She now runs a small dress-making business in Yeoville. Johannesburg, South Africa. November 8, 2016. (Miora Rajaonary/Native)

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:
The first part of the caption must:

  • Describe who is in the photograph and what is going on within the photo.
  • Name the city, region or state, and country where the picture was made.
  • Provide the date the photo was made.

Tips:

  • 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.).

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 contextualise 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.