How to Use the Right Captions on Your Photos to Better Connect With Viewers
30 years ago, we used slides, prints and albums to share photos with family and friends. Now, between Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Google+ and 500px, you have more options than ever to share your photos. The problem is, how do you connect to this much larger audience?
Sharing a story alongside your photo will help you connect with your followers, and often turn a great photo into something spectacular.
When you share a photo, people may wonder where it was taken, why you were there, what made you photograph the scene, or what was going through your head the moment you snapped the shutter. These are all questions that can be spun into a narrative and shared along with your photo.
The right caption draws viewers into the image
Here’s an example. Which of the following captions draws you in and makes the photo more interesting for you?
Caption 1: Kayakers on the Hudson River
Caption 2: Springtime in upstate New York is full of variable weather. The changing temperatures coupled with different types of precipitation can make for beautiful and unpredictable landscapes. On this particular morning, the Hudson River was covered in a thick fog and knowing how fleeting that can be, I hurried down to the waterfront hoping to capture some shots. Out of nowhere, two colorful kayakers appeared, adding life to my scene as they cut their way down the river and disappeared into the abyss.
I may be biased, but for me it’s Caption 2. Seeing a beautiful photo with a story attached to it pulls me in. It puts me in the same space that the photographer was in when they took the photo, enriches my experience, and ultimately makes the photo, which was good in the first place, a great one.
If you went to a yard sale and and saw a beautiful glass bowl for $20 you may think, “Well, that’s a bit steep for a simple bowl at a yard sale.” But, I bet your mindset would change if the owner told you a story about the bowl — how she acquired it at a glass blowing factory in Halifax back in the 1950s, how it was one of just a handful made and how the bowl moved around the United States with her and family for the past 60 years. Now $20 seems like a bargain!
Nothing changed, you just got some more information. A story enriched your understanding, and in turn, completely changed how you experienced something.
Here’s another example:
Caption 1: The Mohonk Mountain House after an ice storm
Caption 2: It was early December and an ice storm had just ripped through the Hudson Valley leaving debris, destruction, and a clear blue sky in its wake. My wife and I began our hike that day at a lower elevation, and realized as we got higher that the entire forest was encased in ice. It was a winter wonderland that was both beautiful and dangerous. Limbs of trees were scattered everywhere, boulders were slick with ice and in some spots, five foot long icicles hung like stalactites above our heads. As we made our way to the top of the mountain, I stepped into a small gazebo overlook and focused on the Mohonk Mountain House and surrounding landscape, letting the icicles in the foreground frame my shot.
There’s nothing wrong with the first caption, but the second caption really paints a picture in the viewer’s mind and places them there with you.
Here’s another shot I took this winter. In the past I would have shared it with Caption 1 below, but instead I shared it with Caption 2, and found that it really resonated with my audience.
Caption 1: Winter Sunset
Caption 2: It was a Friday night and I rushed out of work wanting to photograph something. I made a quick stop at home, put on boots, and grabbed my snowshoes just in case. With so much snow on the ground I racked my brain for a spot that I could easily get to with the potential for a decent sunset shot. Luckily, this incredible vista is just down the street from me. I got there when the sky was beginning to turn all sorts of colors, hurriedly set up my tripod, and captured this winter sunset. I stayed for a little while, watching blues give way to pinks, yellows and oranges until all the color in the sky was gone and my frozen hands signalled to me that it was time to go home.
Viewer experience is enhanced
Not every photo needs a page of text written alongside it, but it’s been my experience that adding a couple of sentences, rather than just a few words (or none at all), greatly enhances the experience of the viewer. It helps them to connect to your photo and ultimately with you as a photographer.
Caption 1: The Space Needle in Seattle
Caption 2: After an afternoon touring Seattle and Pike Place Market, my wife and I headed over to the Olympic Sculpture Park but found it was closing just when we arrived. Disappointed that I wasn’t able to capture any images of the park, I turned my camera around towards the city as we left and captured this unique view of the iconic Space Needle.
When I share a photo, I want people to respond to it. I want them to share in the moment and feel what I was feeling when I took the photo. Your story might seem mundane to you, but to your audience it gives them a closer look at who you are and how you think — as a person and a photographer.
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