A caption can be the icing on the cake for a great photograph.
But captions also can damage a photographer’s or a news mediums’s integrity when improperly written. Author Van Jones wrote an article for the Huffington Post about this issue in 2011. In the article he pointed out that in 2005, two different media outlets published similar photos of Hurricane Katrina survivors wading in chest-deep water—with quite dissimilar captions.
The Agence France-Presse agency published a photo of two Caucasians wading in the water “after finding bread and soda from a local grocery story.” The Associated Press, however, published a photo of an African-American wading in the water “after looting a grocery store.”
If you look at both photos, side by side, without reading the captions, you sympathize for whom you see in the photos. But when you glance over the captions, does your compassion still exist for both parties?
I think Kenneth Irby outlines the key tips for writing photo captions in his piece for Poynter.org. He reminds photojournalists to “check the facts, be accurate and identify the main people.” The two key points that stuck out for me were “avoid making judgments” and “don’t assume.”
Captions are without a doubt essential for any news photograph. Readers like to know ‘the who, what, where, when, why and how,’ but, in my opinion, the words you choose for a caption never should be used carelessly. A two-sentence caption can make or break your photo by altering the truth of the event.