The most disturbing factor that I notice on several photos published on the internet is that they are left untitled or without any caption. Many photographers believe that the photo should speak for itself, it need not be accompanied by a caption. I think its not so. I believe that every photo should come with a caption. I’m speaking here mostly in respect to Street or Documentary Photography or Photojournalism (because that is what I do myself). Why do I think so? Oh, there are a number of reasons for that. Some of which would be:
1. Caption defines the photographer – Every image may be perceived in a different way by different people. But the most important person is the man who created the photo. By the caption of a photo, it is easier to understand more about a photographer or what kind of a person he/she is. For example, the photo given below can be captioned by different photographers in a different way. Some would say “The Beggar”, some would say “Ignorant Citizen”, some would say whatever. I captioned it as “No Mercy”. Now that will tell many people as to what kind of a person I am and what are my are thoughts like.
2. Caption shows the photographer’s eye – As I said earlier, every photo can be perceived in a different way by different people, but with a caption, the viewer knows exactly what the photographer wants to say through his photo. With the example of the above pic, some photographers would like to concentrate on the beggar, some on the passers-by, while some on the scenario. No one is wrong. But if the photo is accompanied by a caption, then the people know exactly what the photographer’s point-of-view is/was.
3. Caption gives identity – Imagine someone really liked your one particular photo. And then a few days later he is among a few of his friends talking about awesome photos that they came across recently. Do you expect the person to say, “Hey, you know what, a few days ago I came across a pic that was so awesome and it’s called Untitled-2114!” And do you think anyone would be interested in knowing what the photo was about after that? Just like you need your name for your identity, so do your photos.
Alright, so saying all that if I have been able to convince you that you should caption your photos, then here are a few tips on how to go about it:
1. Observe your photo – Before captioning a pic, look at it and observe it carefully for a while. Don’t rush into it. You already had an idea as to what you wanted to show from a photo while shooting it; now just try and build on that idea.
2. Short and concise – Now try and frame your idea into a maximum of 5-6 words. Beyond that, your caption will lose it’s punch factor. A 2-4 words caption works best.
3. Don’t be direct – This is the tricky part of captioning. Do not say your message directly. Or do not define your photo in the most obvious manner. The obvious things can be seen by the viewer. Try speaking it out in a more “punchy” way. Give it a boost. Something that will force your audience to think. But don’t lose track of the photo. The meaning should always be clear.
With the above points in mind check out the photo below. Many of you may think of different captions to go with this photo. But to me, it had to convey the meaning in a clear yet indirect manner, and definitely be short. So I captioned it as “Ignition Terminated”. I hope you all get the idea of what I’m talking about.
Below I share one more example. I call this photo “Varied Generations”. I would love to hear what you would have captioned it. So feel free to post your captions in the comments below.
Captioning can always take your photos to a different level altogether. So do not ignore this important part of photography. Make use of it, and you will see the difference it makes.
Dipayan Bhattacharjee (50mm_Streettog), is a passionate Street & Portrait Photographer in India, who loves to show posed beauty as well as candid truth.