A picture is worth a thousand words. This makes it incredibly difficult to narrow those words down to just a couple hundred characters, which is what photo caption and cutline writers have to do in photojournalism daily, and what the average Facebook user has had to become adept at when posting pictures. Captions should be both interesting and informative, an impressive balance when done well. Here’s how to make the words in your captions and cutlines stand out, perhaps even more than the photo itself.

State the Facts

Plainly stating the facts can be harder than it sounds. When you are given the task of captioning a breath-taking landscape photo for a newspaper or magazine, you will be tempted to describe how “beautiful” it is. No matter how indisputable this may be, it is still an opinion that is not necessary to the description. Give the time and location of where the photo was taken for more context. Make sure the audience understands the who, what, when, where, why and how of the photo.

Avoid the Obvious

Stating the facts is important as most people don’t bother to read the actual article and captions are the second most read published content after headlines. However, in your stating of the facts, do not state the obvious. If your photo is self-explanatory, such as a photo of someone waving or sitting at a desk, chances are that you would be better off just not writing a caption in the first place.

Assume Nothing

Even though photos can be worth a thousand words, they can also be misleading. A camera can catch a fleeting moment that can then be interpreted a hundred ways. Even if it is clear that someone is shocked, scared, or thrilled, do not make any assumptions in the captions. Readers can be trusted to interpret photos for themselves; your job is to only give the context around the photo.

Don’t Speak Captionese

This is the language everyone only seems to speak while writing captions. It may succinctly describe what it happening, but phrases like “gestures,” “chats,” “pictured above,” “looks on,” and “is shown” are overused. You don’t want your caption to be cliché and attachable to any photograph. Make your caption unique by using language that describes without stereotyping it as a caption.

The pictures that you caption should tell a story.

The pictures that you caption should tell a story.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nathaninsandiego/3233796261/”>San Diego Shooter</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

Jamie Bates