What is a photo caption?

Not knowing is going to cost you several of our SNO Distinguished Sites badges, or at least delay your attempt to earn them. In asking there to be captions and credits on all images and graphics — original and outsourced — we’re not just asking you to fill space. We want you completing real photo captions.

The photo displayed at the top of this email is an example of doing everything right.

What’s right about it?

  1. The subjects of the photo are identified by name and grade.
  2. The caption is written in active voice. Phoebe, Evie and Emma are rehearsing the song. The song is not being rehearsed by Phoebe, Evie and Emma.
  3. Along the same lines as the last point, there’s an action happening in the photo that’s being described in the caption.
  4. It’s clear in what setting the action is happening (“during tech week”) and even why (“for the fall musical”).
  5. The photographer is credited. Nice pic, Emily Ziessman, of St. Louis Park High School!
  6. Taking the caption a step further, there’s added context for a reader who may just be looking toward the caption for information. That reader now knows, “Opening night for ‘9 to 5 the Musical’ is Nov. 9 at 7 p.m., with more performances to follow next week.”

That’s a full photo caption and credit.

Writing full captions and credits is part of how you prove you care about the way a story looks online. Paying attention to those details influences how your reader thinks of your publication.

Now, what is NOT a caption?

  1. No caption is not a caption. Read that a second time, if you have to.
  2. A caption is not just a list of names. “Phoebe, Evie and Emma.” is not a caption.
  3. A caption is more than a statement about a photo. “Rehearsal for the musical” or, worse, “Rehearsal photo,” is not a caption.
  4. A caption is not just a photo credit, but it DOES include one. “Photo by Emily Ziessman” is not a caption.

The same rules apply to original art, graphics and outsourced photos.

In those instances when art, graphics, album covers and other borrowed materials don’t portray an action happening, how do you write a caption?

  1. A summary sentence or one that provides context works best. Examples include:
  2. Maybe you have a photo of a painting. A summation of the corresponding story, such as “Students submitted work for Saturday’s community art show, where Phoebe McKinney won first prize,” works really well.
  3. Maybe your photo is the movie poster for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Context such as “‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ opens at Random Local Theater on Friday” is great to have.
  4. Each of these examples, and any that are similar, need a photo credit, too. What studio produced “Bohemian Rhapsody”? Whose painting is it?

Here’s an added primer on crediting borrowed photos.

Now that you know, stress that your staff always writes full captions and credits on all images. Then, at least one requirement that shows up on several Distinguished Sites badges shouldn’t be such a problem any more.