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Stories To Tell is a full service book publishing company for independent authors. We provide editing, design, publishing, and marketing of fiction and non-fiction. We specialize in sophisticated, unique illustrated book design.

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Composing Photo Captions for Your Memoir or Family History

Biff Barnes

Not every photo needs a caption, and documents also frequently speak for themselves. Consider grouping pictures without captions in some sections of the book. It allows the reader to enjoy a purely visual, non-verbal experience, and breaks up the wordiness” of reading stories. Photos that are best without a caption are self-explanatory. For example, if you have a grouping of baby pictures of little Joey, you neednt identify him again and again. However, as a general rule, stimulating captions will complete your photographs and improve your book.

The most important job of a caption is to provide the information a journalist would seek to include in a story:

  • Who are the people in the photograph?
  • What is happening in the photograph?
  • When and where was the photograph taken? (Sometimes an estimate of time is the best you can do.)
  • Why did you choose to include this photograph? Why did the person or scene look that way?
  • How did the event occur?

Squeak and friend, Ft. Bragg, N.C., 1942

Obviously not all of the questions must be answered for every photograph. A good rule to follow in writing captions is that shorter captions are better than longer ones. Another is to avoid the known and explain the unknown. It is unnecessary to use adjectives such as beautiful or dramatic to describe the picture. Those qualities should be evident from the photograph itself. The caption should provide a full explanation of the picture to the reader by supplying information that the photo does not. For example, a photo might show a person competing in a beauty contest, but it may not show what contest or that she wins it. The caption supplies that information.

If you intend to discuss a photograph in the stories you tell a shorter caption can be used to provide brief information to identify the subject of the photo and the people included in it. The details of the photograph which are given in the text of your story need not be included in the caption.

Some variety in the type of captions used can help increase reader interest. Among techniques you might consider are:

  • If you have interviewed someone in preparing to record your story, an excerpt or quotation from the interview might provide a caption.
  • If you have kept a daily journal, an entry might be used as a caption for a photo.
  • If you are interested in providing a context for a photo, you might choose a line or two from a book, song or poem that dates from the time of the picture.

If you employ one of these techniques it is a good idea to make sure that you have also included the kind of identifying information described in the previous paragraph.

The most important thing to remember is that good captions are tools to help your reader understand the stories you are telling.