Finding an effective title for your photographs has become more and more important as our lives and work move ever further online.
In the old days, a titled photo was reserved for the upper echelons of the photographic world. Photojournalists documenting current events and photographic artists were the drivers of photo titles.
Today though, with the advent of social media and the expansion of internet media, having solid titles for your photographs has become almost pivotal to the success of your visual image. Titling an image increases the ability to share posts, giving your post a strong idea and good context.
A well-titled photograph clearly and easily communicates the meaning, subject, and story that we have captured in our image. How we do that though, is in every way as creative and specific as making the photo in the first place.
What is a good photography title?
The way that we go about naming photographs first depends on the purpose of the photo itself. The intended location and viewer of the image will impact how we title the photo and the words we use to describe it.
Below we have separated photographs into three purposes. Each purpose will guide the type of descriptive titles you will use.
Titling Photos that are Artistic or Journalistic:
When we title an artistic or journalistic photograph, an important element that we are working towards is identity. We want our title to give the clarity and focus of our images, which relates it to the viewer’s life and experiences.
We are also giving our photos titles to put them into a specific place and date in time. As photographers, we are freezing a moment in time, and this moment will often be lost if we do not give it the context it was made in.
The details of our different titles also help us narrate the nature of the image, especially if it contains lots of movement or obscured images. This narration also helps us to create clarity in the image and helps us point out any potential misunderstandings of the image.
Titling our photos also gives our viewers additional information that enriches the photo.
Titling Archival Photos:
When we are titling Archival photos, the description of the photo becomes less important than where the photo sits amongst the greater collection of work we have created. We want our pictures to be easy to find in the future, but we also want our entire collection of work to be well organized.
Ideally, our archival photos are titled in a way that is obvious for us to find later, as necessary.
Titling SEO Photos:
When we title photos for SEO, we are optimizing the website our picture appears on, to better inform a search. This is less related to beauty and art, and more closely related to the searches related to our content. We use tags to guide potential viewers to the images on our page or website.
We are also allowing the visually impaired to share in the ideas presented by our image. The alternative text we use to describe our photos will be read out as a visually impaired person searches our site.
It is important to note that SEO-ready photography titles are an important part of SEO, and taking time to properly understand how to correct titles for SEO will save a great deal of trouble in the future.
How do you caption a photo?
We are now going to be leaving archival and SEO titles behind for a moment. Instead, in the rest of the article, we will be placing focus on the methods used to create incredible descriptive titles. These are creative titles, useful mainly for artistic or journalistic purposes.
Tips for Creating a Great Title:
Regardless of the type of title we are trying to create, we will create good ones when we do the following:
Get Straight to the Context.
Using words that describe exactly what is being seen in the image is great for creating an interesting title.
Try to Relay the Mood of the Photo
Answer questions about the subtle context of the picture by using descriptive words. we do not need to be exact, instead, we can use metaphors or similes that run along the same lines as our intended purpose for the photo.
A title does not need to simply refer to the exact content of the picture. It can give the viewer a sense of the atmosphere, or serve as an example of what the viewer should feel. Heck, your photo could be called something utterly obscure, or funny even.
The other side of a photo title is the creative process of finding the images, making the photographs, and embedding them with purpose and meaning.
Techniques for the Perfect Photograph Title:
There are a few techniques that photographers can use to make interesting titles for our viewers.
We have a few examples below to help us make titles that answer questions, assist in a search, provide a description, give an idea of a date in time and, of course, highlight our art.
The Stephen Shore
The Stephen Shore technique gets straight to the point, with little riff-raff attached. In this technique, the viewer is given the date and location of the photo. Any subtext regarding the subject of the photo is left up to the viewers to figure out, post-viewing.
This technique gets its name in honor of the great Stephen Shore’s collection, “Uncommon Places.”
In our example below, the subject, place, and date are given, but all the questions that come with the image are the viewer’s to answer.
Michelle, Cape Town, 31 December 2021
The Technical Review
Why spend all that time coming up with creative titles post-photograph, when we can just dive headlong into our camera specs and answer the questions only our fellow photographers are asking?
This approach is probably not going to be the best way to title a photo for a layman’s article, but is a similar approach to how we might title an archival photograph.
Fuji GW690III. 35mm EBC Fujinon. Fuji PRo 400H.
Feeling profound? With this style of the title, we are using a short sentence to tell a story of what the image is supposed to be about. We use this to give our photographs, and the article they appear in, depth and character.
Michelle at sunset in lovely Cape Town, wishing the last of the pandemic year farewell, hopeful of what 2022 might bring.
The Poetic Titles
Give your photographs a beautifully descriptive name with deep, complex language! We are artists after all! When we are using poetic titles, we are giving our photography a deeper element, and presenting the theme or essence of the photo to our viewer.
The Maiden and the Ocean; a moment with the setting Sun.
The Pop-Culture Reference
Using references from popular culture is an easy way to provide depth to our photography. While not especially unique, using something like a song lyric or a line from a famous movie is a sure-fire way to generate context. And, given that the reference is already famous, there are no concerns over our title being misunderstood.
While not the most artistic technique, it is easy and simple and ensures a level of success. Be wary of course of any copywriting or trademarking issues that may be present, and be very careful of piggy-backing off of a trend or fad.
Creating timeless photography is far better than a flashy, popular picture that ages badly.
In the Summertime, When the weather is fine!
We all love an anti-hero! Contradiction between what is visible in the image and what is presented in the title creates a sense of movement and space for the viewer.
When we explain to the viewer what is not in the photograph, instead of what is, we allow for our viewer to peer into all the space that sits between the title of the photo and the photo itself.
We give our photo life, placing it not only in its current moment but in the moment it contradicts. The irony between what is and what does not give personality to the photo, be it positive or negative.
If our viewer does not relate to the photo they are seeing, they may well relate to the title of what the photo is not. And it is this relation that our photography is trying to give to our viewers.
This is not a European Winter.
The titles we give our photographs are our way of talking to our audience.
When we create a title, we are imbuing the place, date, and time of its creation. We are making examples of ideas that can be attached to the subject of our images. With a well-placed word, we can give a sense of beauty or desolation, without having to mention either word.
When we make a photograph, we freeze a moment of the past in perpetuity. Our titles give these memories a living voice and create an idea into our art.
It is true, a picture speaks a thousand words.
But, a picture with an effective title may speak a million words, and tell a compelling story.