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How To Keep Writing Activity 3: Photography Captioning

Updated on April 30, 2018
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Jennifer is a writer, editor, feminist, and Potterhead. She also loves her cat and studying cat behavior.

The Importance of Description

I've found myself at a loss of words at the most frustrating times. I needed to come up with a word, and couldn't! And then I had to come up with a description of the word to help me remember it, and I couldn't get my brain to work!

This activity will keep your brain full of vocabulary. Sneak the time to do it at work, and you're writing, even with a full- or part-time job.

Originality vs Cliche

When you're able to describe the situation you're in, you become clearer about the situation. Being able to describe means you're better at avoiding cliched phrases, which trust me, everyone is tired of hearing.

Audience as Focus

When you think about how to describe something, you have to take more than just the situation itself into consideration. You have to think about who your audience is.

Is it a small group of elementary students looking in a picture book of New York history? Is it a book group of college kids looking at an instruction manual for organizing a fairytale bookshelf?

You need to know who you're writing for. Practicing caption writing hones your ability to know your audience. And it's something you can do even at work!

My Task For You

Write captions! Print off a couple pictures in the morning or at the beginning of your shift. Throughout your day, write as many different captions for as many different scenarios you can think of. Mix it up.

A hand writes in a journal the details of daily living as an American in college.
A hand writes in a journal the details of daily living as an American in college. | Source

A Caption

As you can see above, I have a caption in present tense, a name of the source, and a link to the page I got the picture.

A Safe Place To Grab Images

One of the biggest gripes about images is that they're copyrighted in many places. Even the images you can get off of MS Word are copyrighted, did you know that?

Well, there is a huge directory for images that is safe to use, outside of copyright infringement. And the best part? They include the ways they would like for you to source back to their images!

So while you practice your captions, also practice your sourcing.

Tips For Writing Captions

Browse for a while on Wikimedia Commons' site, and pick three images. Have them? Great! Now let's go over what you're going to write for each.

You're going to write 3 types of captions for each photo:

  1. Action Caption
  2. Scenic Caption
  3. Event Caption

1. Action Caption

For an action caption, there is clearly something happening right then in that moment the picture was taken. The picture might be of a sports player in the middle of scoring points for their team, a couple of kids playing in the spray of a broken fire hydrant, or a person laughing while eating salad.

Whatever the action is, it has been captured as it is happening.

The caption of an action picture is always in the present tense. For instance, look below. "The cat pounces." The cat is doing it presently, as that is when the picture was taken. Stating that it was in the snow is just a qualifier. Yes, we know that's snow. But just in case. And what's important about the snow? The cat thinks there's something under there! Someone might not know that without the qualifier.

The cat pounces in the snow as it looks for hidden prey.
The cat pounces in the snow as it looks for hidden prey. | Source

2. Scenic Caption

A Scenic caption focuses on what is in the background, and most of the time there is ONLY background. Background doesn't often do anything. The caption in this case states what you're looking at, the name of it, the place you can find it, maybe measurements and parameters of it.

A scenic caption may be about a photo containing a mountain range, a forest, a family portrait, or an iconic building. Even though people are mobile, to say "The Miller family sits for a portrait" is redundancy. Instead, you'd describe who is in the photo, probably in order, and maybe where they've taken it, if they were on, say, a vacation.

If you look below, you see a picture of an ice wall and the ocean floor. But we can see that it is an ice wall, or at least a wall of some kind, and we can see that it is an ocean floor. What we want to know are names. I took the caption from the source page, thus the quotes. See how they focus on the names? Yeah, we know it's the ocean floor. Duh. The whole point of a caption is description we do not know on our own.

"Ice wall and the ocean floor at Explorer's Cover, New Harbor, McMurdo Sound"
"Ice wall and the ocean floor at Explorer's Cover, New Harbor, McMurdo Sound" | Source

3. Event Caption

The caption of an event picture might not even state a verb at all. These captions are more prone to fractions, but I don't like fractions, so I try to still keep all captions a full sentence. The difference here with an event caption is that it will state what the event is and where it happened. That's the focus, so whether there are people who are named or not are still options, if they're actually doing something in the picture other than smiling, that's always a plus and can be mentioned.

With a parade picture, a caption might comment on a float passing, but It'll state the name of the parade, the name of the event, where the event is taking place, some history of it maybe, or a celebrity associated with it. With a party picture, the caption will say the place, the party name if there is one, the names of the people in it, and maybe even a theme.

To the right, the caption on the website doesn't actually state the name of the characters walking in the parade, but any Disney fan will be able to identify it as representing Toy Story. Rather than speaking a redundancy, the caption states where and when the parade takes place: "Halloween Parade 2015 in Vancouver". Those are the details we want to know.

Halloween Parade 2015 in Vancouver
Halloween Parade 2015 in Vancouver | Source

Please vote! =) I'd love to hear from you. Add comments below for added detail. Thanks!

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So now you know different ways to describe photos. Yay! I bet you had never thought of the particulars behind a photo caption before, had you? (If you are or were an English or Writing major, that doesn't count!)

Remember: Even with a full-time job, captions are easy and simple enough to complete during your workday.

I hope this will help you to always be able to think of that word that gets stuck on the tip of your tongue, and I hope it keeps you writing! =)

Good luck!

© 2014 Jennifer Kessner


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