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|| News Item: Posted 2004-05-30

Read it or don't read it, but at least learn how to write one!
By Rhona Wise, European Pressphoto Agency

Photo by

Good captions are important.
Since I started working at EPA just over a year ago, people have asked me "what's the biggest difference now that you're more of an editor?" Believe it or not it's caption writing, and the number of people who do not know how to write one properly. And YES, if you are in this field this IS part of our job.

Whether you work for a wire, a daily, weekly, monthly or simply submit "stock" images to an agency on spec, your photos need to be captioned and they NEED be done properly.

You don't have to be a writer. As a matter of fact, you SHOULDN"T try to be a writer, "just the facts ma'am" is all you need to keep in mind to turn out a good caption. The four W's of caption writing are who, what, where and when.

Captions are easy. Every organization has their own slightly different style, but the basics are the same. As stated above, who, what, where, when and when appropriate, a how or why in a second sentence. Be simple, be concise and be factual. Forget you know adjectives and slang. No one "puts up a monster slam dunk", all you need to say is "... dunks over ... or dunks the ball over..." A pitcher "delivers a pitch" he doesn't "sizzles one past", a player "hits a homerun" not "crushes the ball for a home run". Keep it simple, that's enough. There should be no editorializing, in other words, don't interject perceptions or feelings, just say what's happening. Yes, you can say players 'celebrate' their win, 'congratulate' the winner after the game, etc.

Who: Exactly that; who is in the photograph? Usually identified (L-R), for example, Mary Jones (L) and her daughter, Cindy (R):

Sample Caption:
Mary Jones and her three children (L-R) Jenny, Bobby and Cindy OR Mary Jones and her three children Jenny (L), Bobby, (C) and Cindy (R) you get the idea. That is the difference in style I mentioned, some will want ID placement spelled (left to right). That again is all part of understanding who you are working for and being sure you adhere to their captioning style.

What: What are they doing: "plant flowers in a garden for the new opening."

Sample Caption:
Mary Jones and her three children (L-R) Jenny, Bobby and Cindy, plant flowers in a garden for the opening.

Where: Simply tell the reader where this is taking place, "at the new Regional Community Center in Boston, Massachusetts". As stated earlier, caption style varies. Some will abbreviate the state and some will not. For example EPA has no abbreviations, while the AP abbreviates the State.

Sample Caption:
Mary Jones and her three children (L-R) Jenny, Bobby and Cindy, plant flowers in a garden for the opening at the new Regional Community Center in Boston, Massachusetts.

When: Simply the date, "20 May 2004." Now, I'm sure you noticed the style is Day Month Year, with no comas, sorry, I've worked for a European wire for 12 years... force of habit... The AP style is Day (day of the week), Month day, year, for example, Thursday, May 20, 2004.

Now put it all together!

Sample Caption:
Mary Jones and her three children (L-R) Jenny, Bobby and Cindy, plant flowers in a garden for the opening at the new Regional Community Center in Boston, Massachusetts, Thursday, 20 May 2004.

That's it, done, simple.

If you have more information then it would be appropriate to add a second sentence. For example:

Sample Caption:
Mary Jones and her three children (L-R) Jenny, Bobby and Cindy, plant flowers in a garden for the opening at the new Regional Community Center in Boston, Massachusetts, Thursday, 20 May 2004. The Jones family donated over a thousand dollars to help build the center. Then add your byline according to style.

More sample captions:

Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal (L) blocks a shot by Miami Heat forward Lamar Odom (R) during their Eastern Conference playoff game 6 at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida Tuesday, 18 May 2004. The Pacers end the Heats' 18 game home winning streak and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals by defeating the Heat 73-70. EPA/RHONA WISE

Unidentified relatives mourn near by the body of Sajad Ahmad, 4, before his funeral in Pharawara, 25 km south of Srinagar, India, Thursday 20 May 2004. Sajad, who died Thursday morning, was one of the two children who were killed when a bomb hidden on a bridge went off Wednesday night and wounded 22 others, police said. EPA/ALTAF QADRI

4/24/04 --- VITALI KLITSCHKO VS. CORRIE SANDERS / WBC HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP --- LOS ANGELES, CA: Vitali Klitschko connects with a right jab to the face of Corrie Sanders in the 6th round of their WBC heavyweight title fight at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA. Klitschko won the fight on an 8th round TKO when the referee stopped the fight. The win avenged a loss by Klitschko's brother Wladimir to Sanders in a previous fight.
Photo by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY.

IPTC fields
Whether you caption in Photoshop, Photo Mechanic, FotoStation, IRFANVIEW or something else, most browsers have matching IPTC fields. Those IPTC fields contain the rest of the pertinent information for your caption; Object Name, Byline, Byline title, credit, source, object name, date created, city, state, country, original transmission reference, category and sub category and copyright info. They are pretty self-explanatory and are all filled in differently depending on your client. Always find out which ones are necessary.

Double check EVERYTHING.

If you are someone prone to typos or someone who finds putting letters in the correct order a challenge, leave a document window open, copy and paste your caption and hit spell check. If there are no mistakes, great, if so, copy then re-paste.

Did I say Double check? Check it again, IDs, the date, scores, plays, innings, quarters everything you can. The 45 seconds it takes to do this saves later. Not only on embarrassment for you but having to issue a caption correction. Ultimately you are responsible; never count on an editor to catch your mistakes.

To save time in the future you can save the caption. In Photoshop, under file info, when you open the window there are save/load buttons. Save the current caption and when you work on your next photo all you have to do is open that file info window again and hit load (just remember where you saved it!).

Remember to change all the pertinent information, but all those other fields you filled out (source, byline etc) usually remain the same thus saving you time and chances for another typo. If you work for multiple wire services or have clients with differing styles, save separate captions. It's less work for you and it reduces your mistake quotient. Remember, when you do that to tab through all the fields and make any changes to non-obvious IPTC fields, like category, SPO is sports, if you're out covering John Kerry that would need to change to POL.

Learn the style of who you are working for and never hesitate to ask for assistance. All the wires are different and though most newspapers use "AP" style some do not or use their own variation.

Another example of a small style detail is the day of the week. AP and EPA put the day of the week in their caption, Getty and Reuters do not. I would advise to keep a style outline for all your clients either on your computer or print something out and leave it in a laptop pouch so you can refer to it when captioning.

Again I cannot stress enough how important it is to proofread, verify and double check. Make sure it is correct. Minor details? Maybe, but getting things correct may make a world of difference in your employability!

(Rhona Wise is the Miami Bureau Chief and Sports Director for North America for the European Pressphoto Agency. She will be participating in the Workshop & Luau in the "Sports Shooter Spotlight" breakout session.)

Related Links:
Rhona Wise's member page

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