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Captions, Captions, Captions....
Rob Ostermaier, Photographer
Newport News | VA | USA | Posted: 11:07 AM on 03.27.05
->> I've noticed a lot of photographers posting photos lately without captions. I can't count the times I've looked at a beautiful photo and wanted to know the story behind it. I'd like to encourge everyone posting to use captions. A good caption aids in the understanding of your work and moves you from "photographer" to "photojournalist".
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Keith McArthur, Photographer
Beale AFB | CA | USA | Posted: 11:38 AM on 03.27.05
->> "A photo is worth a thousand words". Why restrict it to fifty. Many times, I would rather simply enjoy the image regardless of the story.

...matter of taste i guess
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Rob Ostermaier, Photographer
Newport News | VA | USA | Posted: 11:53 AM on 03.27.05
->> Keith,

Correct,a photo is worth a thousand words but 10 or 12 extra words explaining the story behind the photo can make a pretty and well composed photo into great photojournalism. A person wiser that myself once said a photojournalist is a journalist with a camera and your job does not end with the click of the shutter.
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Jason Hunter, Student/Intern, Photographer
Ventura | CA | United States | Posted: 1:18 PM on 03.27.05
->> Rob, you make a good point and I would like to see more captions for journalistic images as well. I always try to post captions and I think it aids the readability of a photo.

However, there are times when a photographer is just out to shoot street photography or wild art and they either don't have sufficient caption information or it doesn't really help the photo.

I try to atleast make general captions if I don't have specific information, but if an image is less journalistic and more graphic I don't mind as much.
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Randy Janoski, Photographer
Chapel Hill | TN | USA | Posted: 1:40 PM on 03.27.05
->> Rob,
Captions, Captions, Captions!
I said those words thousands of photographers.

Proper captioning is simply a must if any young (or old) photojournalist wants to excel in his/her career.

The AP style book should be mandatory reading, luckily at several PJ schools it is.

More than content or technique I've more often called a photographer on the carpet for poor captioning.

Great point to bring up!
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Nick Short, Photographer
Ogden | ut | USA | Posted: 3:53 PM on 03.27.05
->> I agree that there should be captions IF they are needed. for most of the photos posted here, they are a non-issue. I can pretty much conclude on my own what is going on in a sports action photo or jubilation/dejection. (but for the contest, i want a caption. if you like a photo enough beyond putting it up on your update page, go the extra step and give me the caption.)

furthermore, most of the captions that are posted just give the five W's and nothing more. tell me the how or the conclusion!!

just my thoughts
nick short
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Dianna Russell, Photographer
Springfield | MO | USA | Posted: 4:04 PM on 03.27.05
->> If captions were easy . . . everyone would be writing them. I find them hard to write at times too but I have ALWAYS tried to provide full captions in photos that I have posted on SportsShooter or I have rewritten them later. I still make mistakes but, it is like anything else that is worthwhile doing; the more you do it the easier it eventually gets. I am constantly challenged when writing them for sports that I am still learning, but at least I try.

Not only is the AP Style book a very handy reference but a dictionary should be close by as well. My journalism classes suggested the Webster’s New World College Dictionary – which is about $25.00 at your local Barnes and Noble or favorite bookseller. And if you don’t own one then here’s a helpful link that I use when away from my desk:

I am still amazed when I read some of the spelling on message board posts. The posts couldn’t possibly have been written by college graduates, could they?

Sorry, but I have to rant for a moment.

This is one of my ongoing pet peeves:

Pronunciation: 'lüs
Function: adjective
Inflected Form(s): loos·er; loos·est
Etymology: Middle English lous, from Old Norse lauss; akin to Old High German lOs loose -- more at -LESS
1 a : not rigidly fastened or securely attached b (1) : having worked partly free from attachments (2) : having relative freedom of movement c : produced freely and accompanied by raising of mucus d : not tight-fitting
2 a : free from a state of confinement, restraint, or obligation b : not brought together in a bundle, container, or binding c archaic : DISCONNECTED, DETACHED
3 : not dense, close, or compact in structure or arrangement
4 a : lacking in restraint or power of restraint b : lacking moral restraint : UNCHASTE
5 a : not tightly drawn or stretched : SLACK b : being flexible or relaxed
6 a : lacking in precision, exactness, or care b : permitting freedom of interpretation
7 : not in the possession of either of two competing teams
- loose·ly adverb
- loose·ness nou


Pronunciation: 'lüz
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): lost /'lost/; los·ing /'lü-zi[ng]/
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English losian to perish, lose, from los destruction; akin to Old English lEosan to lose; akin to Old Norse losa to loosen, Latin luere to atone for, Greek lyein to loosen, dissolve, destroy
transitive senses
1 a : to bring to destruction -- used chiefly in passive construction b : DAMN
2 : to miss from one's possession or from a customary or supposed place
3 : to suffer deprivation of : part with especially in an unforeseen or accidental manner
4 a : to suffer loss through the death or removal of or final separation from (a person) b : to fail to keep control of or allegiance of
5 a : to fail to use : let slip by : WASTE b (1) : to fail to win, gain, or obtain (2) : to undergo defeat in c : to fail to catch with the senses or the mind
6 : to cause the loss of
7 : to fail to keep, sustain, or maintain
8 a : to cause to miss one's way or bearings b : to make (oneself) withdrawn from immediate reality
9 a : to wander or go astray from b : to draw away from : OUTSTRIP
10 : to fail to keep in sight or in mind
11 : to free oneself from : get rid of
intransitive senses
1 : to undergo deprivation of something of value
2 : to undergo defeat
3 of a timepiece : to run slow
- los·able /'lü-z&-b&l/ adjective
- los·able·ness noun
- lose ground : to suffer loss or disadvantage : fail to advance or improve
- lose one's heart : to fall in love

End of rant . . . back to the game. :o)
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Jamm Aquino, Student/Intern, Photographer
Honolulu | HI | usa | Posted: 4:33 PM on 03.27.05
->> I'd have to agree that captions are definitely a must in the world of photojournalism. I feel that the line is blurred when there is no caption--the line between actually being able to get the cutline info and ID's and just being plain lazy to chase the person(s) down for the info. I agree with Rob O., in that our jobs DO NOT end with the click of the shutter ( or the folks with 8.5 fps, the filled buffer). Part of the excitement of our job is the opportunity to interact with our subjects and not just photographing them. Sure, in some circumstances, cutline ID is difficult, albeit next to impossible to obtain, but it is "under the circumstances" like in war zones and times of tragedy, etc.

But this does not grant any photojournalist the excuse to not TRY to obtain the info. My photo editor at my newspaper told me when I first came aboard that often times, we are REPORTERS and PHOTOGRAPHERS. C'mon people, let's be diligent and keep the standards of PJ up there. Captions, Captions, CAPTIONS!!!
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Stanley Leary, Photographer
Roswell | GA | USA | Posted: 5:22 PM on 03.27.05
->> The details are what separate the greats from the average. I believe those whose work is always exposed properly, in focus, strong composition, peak moment and have captions which add information missing from the photograph is not what great photojournalism is all about, it is what is expected in average work.

Those who choose to miss any of these elements here on sports shooter are below average for expectations of published photojournalism, which I believe sports photography is one aspect.

We can beg and plead for people to meet the basic standards, but for those who choose to ignore the warnings their careers will have obvious road blocks which they created.

If you do all the basics, this doesn't guarantee success at the highest levels, but you have removed the barriers which one does have control about.

So you will seldom hear in a review of your work, "Why is this photo in your portfolio," if you meet the basic standards.

Thanks for reminding us about one of the basics needed in a photojournalistic presentation of our work.
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James Mohs, Photographer, Photo Editor
Gilroy | CA | USA | Posted: 10:05 PM on 03.27.05
->> PhotoJournalist.... sound it out.. Photo (picture)...Journalist (spell name right)...!
No name, no run, NO CREDIT!

Details, details, details. Give the editors what they want!
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Ron Hawkes, Photographer
Camden | Me | USA | Posted: 11:09 PM on 03.27.05
->> My own pet peeve,

People who humiliate other people because they have a difficult time with what many consider one of the hardest languages in the world to comprehend.

Not everyone gets the English language as easily or as quickly as some people do. That however does not mean that they are not trying as hard as they can and it does not make them a bad person.

I am one who struggles with grammar and spelling on a daily basis, but try every day to learn more and improve. I carry a dictionary and the AP stylebook with me at all times. I still make mistakes, but with the help of my editor who understands what I am saying, I am getting much better.

Looking at Dianna's post about loose and lose is a perfect example of why the English language can be so difficult for so many people. Words that are so similar have such different meanings.

Learning proper spelling, grammar and comprehension of the English language and applying it to writing is no different then learning to be a better photographer. It takes practice and more practice and you will make mistakes and then practice some more.
Perhaps if the people who post on this message board that have such a great understanding of the language would try to help those who do not the same as any of us would with photography we would be doing even more to help develop better photojournalist.

As for captions, my editor tells me that he loves my captions because it is easier for him to take out information then put it in. I was taught that a picture tells a story but a caption explains the story. Give as much information as you can about how and why the photo exists
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Dianna Russell, Photographer
Springfield | MO | USA | Posted: 3:06 AM on 03.28.05
->> Ron,
Sorry but it was not my intent to single out anyone by my post and sorry if I touched a nerve. But the message board has, well, been a mess lately. Maybe my rant was over the top for some, but seeing some of the sloppy posts just bugs me. I recently read an article on and the writer got loose/lose wrong in the article and that’s a *journalism * site. I see it misused here all the time too and that (among other misspelled and misused words) just makes me cringe.

I completely agree that writing; grammar and word usage is difficult and is why I included links in the post (even if it annoys some members who hate it when others post links.)

I think the AP style guide really helps as does another text that I also consider a MUST HAVE called Working with Words: A Handbook for Media Writers and Editors by James Pinson, Brian Brooks and Jean Gaddy Wilson.

And, thanks to our awesome site administrators, it is now in included in the Bookshelf:

You don’t have to be a writer to own and use journalism books. One of the best chapters in that book is an alphabetical list of confused words such as allowed/aloud, there/their, capital/Capitol, imply/infer, know/no, site/sight, media/medium etc. These are commonly confused words that a lot of people have trouble with. There are great chapters on grammar basics, punctuation and spelling. The book really is worth owning. I just checked and there is a new edition (the fifth) and you can get it with the comb binding. Buy it and make your editors happy.

If I were the kind of person that enjoys hurting others by embarrassing them, which I am not, then I would constantly correct the most obvious errors by posting a correction when I see it. But I am more mature than that and constantly correcting people would just be wrong. Instead, I sit back and quietly shake my head at some of the most obvious misused, misspelled, words that I see here on Sportsshooter. And maybe I’m wrong but, I don’t think any of you are using your cell phones to post text messages to the message board are you? So, why are members using u for you and ru for are you? That is more suitable for a chat room and just seems out of place here.

Stanley brings up good points about standards and below average expectations. Don’t forget that people we respect read our words and make judgments about us. We are not invisible here and this should be considered a professional site.

Ok, that’s enough. Sorry again if I’ve stepped unfairly on anyone’s toes but maybe if you type your post in Word or somewhere you can read it over and do a spell check it might help.

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Ron Hawkes, Photographer
Camden | Me | USA | Posted: 6:19 AM on 03.28.05
->> Dianna, thanks for the heads up on the book, I just ordered my copy this morning. That looks like a book that will help me a lot.

I did not think you were singling anyone out; I just want people to help people with the English language.

I agree that some people are just lazy and that is why they make bad posts.

However, for those of us that are working hard a friendly correction or even a private e-mail would be well served. Just another reason why an edit function would be good for this message board.

People sometimes forget that what they know and do well may come easy to them while the people who struggle with those things may do something well other people struggle with. We are not all good at everything.

Again thanks for the info about the book and please feel free to correct my posts (with a smile) anytime. That is constructive criticism is how we all learn.
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Robert McClory, Photographer
Orlando | FL | USA | Posted: 9:34 AM on 03.28.05
->> Ah, this thread again.
I will suggest for the record, as I always do when this thread invariably comes around every month or so, that NOT EVERYONE HERE IS A PHOTOJOURNALIST!
I do fill a "photojournalist" role as part of what I do in my photography business and even when I am in that mode, I still don't always have to caption my work. For 90% of what I shoot, I do not need a caption when I deliver my final product. It is not required by my customers and therefore I don't do them.
As someone who has a degree in photography from a school that emphasized the commercial aspect of our business, I was never trained as a photojournalist. I was never educated in how to write a caption, and despite having learned much about captioning here, I doubt I will be in a position in my career where I will have to, or will feel the need to, caption a significant portion of my work.
So, please take note when you are slamming people for poor, missing, or otherwise sub-standard captioning in their clip contest entries, or member page updates, that some, if not many folks here are not photojournalists nor do they aspire to be. At the very least, they are not trained photojournalists. If their work is otherwise outstanding it does not make them something less than a quality photographer just because they can't write a great caption. It merely means they're not a photojournalist.
I realize that many of you value a good caption, and for that reason, I try to craft something approaching a standard caption for my images posted here.
I for one, hardly ever read captions when judging the contests or looking at member pages unless it is pure non-sports journalism and the caption is needed to give me context, and even then if the image stands on it's own visual merits, I probably won't read the caption.
I suppose that's what you get when you grow up on the commercial side of photography, not the journalistic side.

That all said, much love for the PJs. When I read the amazing Ron Erdrich thread ( about his recent experience covering a story, I realized that I am very happy doing what I am doing because you all have something I don't that lets you do that kind of work.

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Rob Ostermaier, Photographer
Newport News | VA | USA | Posted: 10:11 AM on 03.28.05
->> Mr. McClory,

With all due respect even if you are a commercial photographer, photojournalist or a wacky art photographer a few words giving a photo some context is not asking too much for a photo posting on this site.

I think everyone out there realizes most photographers are far from being Ernest Hemingway when it comes to writing. I don't care about grammer or spelling because I'm horrible at both. It's just a good idea to give the people viewing your photos on this site as much info as possible.

In the end add the caption or don't. I'm just trying to help.
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Robert McClory, Photographer
Orlando | FL | USA | Posted: 10:41 AM on 03.28.05
->> Rob,

Again, if you read through my [first] rather long winded post, you would have read that I personally don't think it is too much to ask to provide a basic caption at all, and I try to do that whenever I am required to do so. This site has a place for them, so I write them, nuff said.
I am merely pointing out that there are entire segments of the photographic world that do not require a caption to accompany a photograph and to suggest, as has been suggested in this thread, that somehow those images that exist without some words of clarification, are somehow inferior, is a narrow viewpoint.
I could suggest that the fact some people title their work "Rebound" or "Loose Ball" makes their work less important because in the art world, a thoughtful title lends something to a photograph where a blatantly obvious one can detract from it. I could suggest that just because there is a place to title each image uploaded to SS, that to not title, or title in a thoughtless fashion detracts from the image. Of course I think that is a silly idea because titles are relatively unimportant here, but I suppose you COULD argue otherwise.
My point is that this site was founded by photojournalists and may be intended as a place where the photojournalistic ideals rule supreme, but the population of Sportsshooter is very diverse and more than a few may not espouse your preconceived notions of what importance a few words below a photograph have.
Let me be clear; I respect your opinion, and I think those who have to regularly write captions, here or otherwise, should strive to do so in a clear and concise fashion in keeping with the standards of the industry that uses them. Kudos to you for encouraging them to do so.
Sorry if you took offense to my post.
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Craig Peterson, Photographer
St. Petersburg | FL | US | Posted: 10:42 AM on 03.28.05
->> I'm not a photojournalist, nor do I aspire to be one. However, as an event photographer, when I update my page I like to include captions because I think it helps to tell the story better.

I know that not everyone is a NASCAR fan, but I hope that adding captions to my images makes it a little more interesting to people that usually don't follow the sport.
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Robert McClory, Photographer
Orlando | FL | USA | Posted: 10:50 AM on 03.28.05
->> P.S. Is it standard to include the date in a caption?
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Gabriel Hernandez, Student/Intern, Photographer
El Paso | TX | USA | Posted: 11:02 AM on 03.28.05
->> I agree with captions, they do help a lot, (and I dont have any on mine hehehe, Sorry), but what if we just want to be photographers?
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Rob Ostermaier, Photographer
Newport News | VA | USA | Posted: 11:22 AM on 03.28.05
->> Gabriel,

It's cool to just be a photographer. I looked at your boxing photos and I want to know more about these men. Are they poor? Do they do this for money? How do they train? Do they hope to be professionals? Is this strictly a gambling venture? Why do they do this? Show and tell me more. You've peaked my interest. What's going on outside the ring? There is a story there somewhere and you should go find it.

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Gabriel Hernandez, Student/Intern, Photographer
El Paso | TX | USA | Posted: 11:30 AM on 03.28.05
->> Nice, I understand Rob. I like being a photographer because I get to show people things I see and being able to show them through my eyes. I like when people wonder what is going on in the photos because then you get to know who I am as a person, but I totally understand captions are important. Ill try my best. :o )
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Ron Hawkes, Photographer
Camden | Me | USA | Posted: 1:41 PM on 03.28.05
->> Robert, hope this helps

From the AP stylebook:

Nearly all AP captions follow a simple formula:

The first sentence of the caption describes what the photo shows, in the present tense, and states where and when the photo was made.

The second sentence of the caption gives background on the news event or describes why the photo is significant.

Whenever possible, try to keep captions to no more then two concise sentences, while including the relevant information. Try to anticipate what information a newspaper editor or reader will need.

An example of the standard AP caption:

The Mississippi Rive flows through a hole in the Sny Island, Ill., levee, flooding farmland and homes 10 miles south of Quincy, Ill., Sunday, July 25, 1993. About 2,000 people were evacuated from the 44,000 acres that flooded. (Your Company Name/Your Name)

The newspaper I write for just uses my name in all caps for photo credit.
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Stanley Leary, Photographer
Roswell | GA | USA | Posted: 8:37 PM on 03.28.05
->> Sports are usually about winners and losers. Very seldom does the photo tell the story of who won and lost. Truly outstanding photos have done this in the past, but even there a little caption let's us know more.

Today with so many of us on deadlines, the photos which run are often the first acceptable images the designer/editor accepts for the layout. So, captions will help tell the ending or if this peak moment really just told a split second effort which wasn’t enough or symbolized the dominance of one team over another.

If it is of sports action, most photos in my opinion cry for a caption. Even most art galleries use some information about the photo.

Sports Shooter was, for the most part, started by photojournalists who happen to shoot sports. It hasn’t been limited to this group, but I see very little abstract work on this site to make it lean towards titles of work rather than captions.

The main reason I think this is being pointed out is for those who are starting in this career and they need to know expectations.

A photographer who has the same quality of photography in their portfolio as another photographer, and the only difference is one has captions. Guess who will get the job most every time.

Yesterday on the radio, it was reported in a study released this month about college degrees. The average person without a college degree will earn approximately $28,000 a year as compared to the college degree graduate of $56,000. If they were a male college graduate they averaged $62,000.

Remove the glass ceilings where you can and let your work speak for itself, without barriers which could have been removed.
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Dick Van Nostrand, Photographer
Bay City | MI | USA | Posted: 9:26 PM on 03.28.05
->> I'm in agreement with those who advocate good caption writing skills. Many times a photo may tell a story but a little extra information in the caption can provide important facts not visible in the photo. Michigan State University, playing in the Final Four tournament, has a player who is a leukemia survivor. An emotional photo of him playing just might take on more meaning if the fact about his illness was added to the caption. Many times while asking questions of the subject of the photo for my captions they volunteered information that led to a feature that ended up being a better story than the original assignment. You may not be a great writer but you can never have too many skills.
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Dianna Russell, Photographer
Springfield | MO | USA | Posted: 5:32 PM on 03.29.05
->> Ron,
“ . . . constructive criticism is how we all learn.” That should only play a small role in our education.

Past message board post discussions suggest studying good photographers will give you a new way to look at your work. Reading will give you help in writing captions. Read, read, and read some more. It helps to see how words you hear often (in conversation, on the radio-NPR or on the television news) are spelled and used in the correct form. You should be, at the very least, reading your local newspaper.

Read newspapers, magazines -- sports, photography, news, and well, printed material of any kind. There are plenty of great Internet sites that are helpful as well.

One of my favorite websites, has tons of helpful information. There are thousands of newspapers online that have excellent examples of great writing. One of my personal favorites is the Sacramento Bee. Here’s a great link (from Poynter) that lists newspaper’s websites:

Another one of my favorite websites to see and read current and past work from the absolute best is:

And, just in case you missed this gem currently on the front page of SportsShooter:

What talent. Need some inspiration for photojournalism? See Thomas Whisenand's member page.

Want an excellent example of good photographs AND great captions? Don't just stop at his member page, but check out his blog as well.

His blog:

Hope some of my suggestions were helpful to you and others that may be interested.

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D. Ross Cameron, Photographer
Oakland | CA | USA | Posted: 7:26 PM on 03.29.05
->> Once upon a time, there were three captions. And the first caption said, "Who, what, where, why, and how." And the second two captions said, in unison, "Wha...?"

Complete captions are a must. Unless you are some kind of expressionist (or impressionist) artist.

Almost seriously,
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Chris Jennings, Photographer
Sherman | TX | USA | Posted: 10:38 AM on 03.30.05
->> I credit my feeble success to decent captions with so so photos.
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Robert McClory, Photographer
Orlando | FL | USA | Posted: 2:07 PM on 03.30.05
->> Food photography, fashion, architecture exteriors/interiors, portraits, weddings, youth sports, artistic, event coverage for promotional use, CD/Album Covers, and just about every other commercial photographic endeavor (which includes non-editorial sports photography) are all things that I have, and continue to do where the image often stands on its own merit or if it has a caption, the caption is written by someone else.
Please, I hope you all aren't saying that a photograph cannot exist or be complete without some kind of explanation of it's contents, context or reason for existence.
I FULLY understand that in the news world, a caption is absolutely necessary but outside daily, weekly, and stock agency newspaper and magazine photos (which as I gave examples of, leaves a large part of the photo market), they are not used in my experience.
And, as much as many of you have taken offense to my opinion on this, I take slight (but all in good humor) offense at the suggestion that "Unless you are some kind of expressionist (or impressionist) artist." you must caption your work. That is just plain wrong and a narrow view of the profession of photographer, of which photojournalist is one of many specialties.
Once again, despite all the negative email and words of discouragement I have received over this point of view, I still submit that there is room for those non-editorial, non-caption writing sports photographers on this site so long as they at least try to write a proper caption when entering the clip contest.
I swear (much to the happiness of the rest of you) this is the absolute last time I will post on this topic. The horse is long been beaten into submission.
Sorry for all the ruffled feathers.

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Dianna Russell, Photographer
Springfield | MO | USA | Posted: 2:57 PM on 03.30.05
->> Robert,

Sorry this thread turned weird and you got email about it.

Unfortunately, a couple Einsteins slammed me with negative email as well. Yes, I'm well aware that my photos SUCK and I have a long way to go . . . yada yada yada . . . whatever. I hope they feel better after unloading their venom.

It was never my intent to hurt anyone's feelings or come across as elitist. My posts to Ron were only meant to be helpful to him and anyone else that may have been looking for ideas and information. Yes, I did finally get off a rant about the unprofessional mb posts. Maybe I should have held back on that, but I didn't.

And no, I don't discredit any photo that doesn't have captions. I, along with many others, still find them extremely difficult to write at times and I would love to not get bogged down writing them on occasion. I try to include and improve my caption writing "just in case" there may be an editor or someone out there with a critical eye checking out my work.

No hard feelings, ok?

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Eric Neitzel, Student/Intern, Photographer
Ventura | CA | USA | Posted: 4:11 PM on 03.30.05
->> Most of the time I try to put captions with all of my images, but I update quite a bit and sometimes its an easy read and I am in a rush, but even then I try and put captions with the images at a later date.
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Thread Title: Captions, Captions, Captions....
Thread Started By: Rob Ostermaier
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