Simple Tips for Writing and Designing Photo Captions

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Photos and captions. These two are inseparable in almost every type of visual media that we have. Of course, yearbooks are no exception!

As Fusion’s Customer Happiness Specialist, I have received quite a number of emails about how to put captions on the page. If you don’t know much about journalism or publishing design, I understand how tricky it can be.

But no worries now! In this blog post, I’ll give you useful tips for writing and designing beautiful photo captions in your yearbook. Here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll learn:

How to write smart photo captions
– How to use photo captions to intrigue your readers
– What’s considered a credible photo caption
– A few tips for writing your photo captions

How to design them nicely on your pages
– The basics of photo caption design
– A few tweaks to customise your photo captions

Being part of your stories, your captions must be readable and informative.
Ready to learn more about this? Then let’s get started.

How to write smart photo captions

Open a book, a magazine or browse any website on your favorite device and tell me what you see: images with captions. Well, as images are part of the storytelling process, their captions need to be just as relevant to bring additional value to the table. Even if an image is worth a thousand words, a few words in a caption won’t hurt your story (unless you don’t follow our tips). In fact, they should always tell more than the photo alone does. Here are a few tips you should try to optimise your photo captions:

01. How to use photo captions to intrigue your readers

When flipping through the pages of a publication, we tend to stop on nice photos. Sometimes, a photo catches our attention and we read the caption to know a little more about it. What we generally want to know is: What happened? Who is involved? When did it take place? Where did it take place? Why did that happen? How did it happen? And if the caption is good enough, we might want to read the full article. In the end, photo captions are a way for you to hook your readers and have them read the full article. Here are a few tips to make your captions intriguing:

– Make sure your caption completes your photo. A simple description of the action wouldn’t be enough. Give them something more they can’t see in the photo. It’s a great way to catch their attention and activate their curiosity.

– Don’t forget to describe important details that are not visually obvious. For example, it’s always interesting to remind the context in which the action of your story occurs (location, time of the year, etc.).

In this example from the New-York Times, we view a specific action, but the journalist added some important context in the photo caption. Together, the photo and its caption say a lot more.

02. What’s considered a credible photo caption

If people are not convinced by what you wrote, they’ll just stop reading your article and will go to the next one (if you’re lucky). That’s why you need to check your facts, triple check the grammar and spelling of your text (especially the name of the person you’re talking about). If you don’t do that, your entire story might lose credibility. Here are the things you should consider:

Make sure your facts and information are accurate.
Identify and name important people in the photo (beware of spelling mistakes!)
Try to be as specific as you can: date, place, context, credits, copyright, etc.
Never make judgments or personal comments (we’re talking about information here, not feelings).
Don’t be arrogant or cynical, and don’t make assumptions. Instead, check your facts again.
Include credits, pull quotes and citations when relevant.

In this example from National Geographic, the journalist took advantage of the caption to add historical facts.

03. A few tips for writing your photo captions

Like for any publications, there are a few good practices you should be aware of:
Avoid repeating information that is already in titles or subtitles.
Use present tense. As a photo, you capture a moment.
Try to keep it short.
Don’t begin your caption with a, an or the. You don’t have much room, so make sure every single word is worth it!
Don’t use terms like: “is shown,” “is pictured,” “and looks on,” or “above.” Same than before, you don’t have enough room for that.
Use a conversational tone to increase readership. It makes readers feel like you’re addressing them personally.
When identifying members of a group, write “from left,” not “from left to right.”
When describing a scene, be as precise as you possible.
Name people only if it’s important to do it.

Here are a few other examples to help you:

Special Tip

If you’re not 100% confident, start with this cool formula we’ve spotted in this article:

[noun] [verb] [direct object] during [proper event name] at [proper noun location] in [city] on [day of the week], [month] [date], [year]. [Why or how.]

Then, remove any information that is not 100% relevant (it depends on your photo of course).

How to design them nicely on your yearbook pages

04. Apply these basics design rules

Captions need to be well designed to be noticed by your readers. To achieve this, here are some things to consider:

> Alignment

To make your captions look good, all of them should have consistent alignment. Choose what suits your layout best and stick to it. Below are the 3 main types of alignment: left, right and centered.

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photo-captions-2-right-aligned

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> Positioning

Positioning your captions contributes to its impact. Only position your captions below, to the left or to the right of your photo. Putting your captions on top of the photo will run the risk of it being missed your readers.

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Putting captions inside the photos is fine too. You can place your captions in any of the four corners of the photo. However, make sure that your captions would not be over faces or important subjects of the photo.

photo-captions-5-inside-photo

> Spacing

The space between the photos and their captions is also important. Place your caption as near as possible to the photo it describes. Placing them too far away will confuse readers, as they might think that it’s describing something else.

photo-captions-6-spacing

05. A few tweaks to customise your photo captions

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to show you how to put and design captions in Fusion. This can be achieved in 4 ways.

> Using Frames

Frames are photo holder elements with built-in border or shape features. Some frames have built-in provisions for captions.

To access Frames with captions, simply type “captions” in the search bar. The options that have “Text here” are the Frames with captions. We have around 15 Frame options with different styles of caption spaces available. Feel free to choose and play around with the different Frames until you find what suits your taste.

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To use Frames, simply click and drag the one you want onto the page. Resize the Frames however you want.

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Once you’re satisfied with the size and the position of the Frames, you can then drag and drop the image you want to use inside them.

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You may notice that the default colour of the caption portion is in black, but you can change this to whatever colour you want here.

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To edit the text you want to use as a caption, click on the “Text Here”. Replace the placeholder text by typing in the caption. You can also change the font style and the colour if you wish.

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And there you have it!

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> Using Plain Text boxes

If the Frame elements are not exactly what you are looking for, no worries! We have other ways for you to put captions with your photos.

You do not want a coloured background for your captions? It’s totally fine! You can use plain text boxes for your captions.

First is to prep your page. Don’t forget to put the photos!

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Then place text boxes on your page. Resize and format them appropriately and then place them near the photos they describe.

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Edit the content of your text boxes by typing your captions in.

photo-captions-15-text-box

And there you go!

> Using Borders

Feeling bold and daring in your designs? Try using borders to put emphasis on your captions.

A word of warning though! We would only advise using borders if it looks good on the overall page layout.  Try this out on a test page first before copying on other parts of your yearbook.

To use the borders, as usual, prep your page first. For this example, we are also using borders around photos.

photo-captions-22-borders-1

Once your page is ready. You can now prepare for the caption border. For this example’s purpose, you can select the border around the photo and duplicate it by clicking on “Copy”.

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Resize the border so it goes only around the portion you would like to use as caption space.

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You can then add a text box, format it, edit the content for your caption and you’re done!

photo-captions-22-borders-4

> Using Shape Elements

If you wish to achieve the same effects as with the Frames with captions but you find their resizability not flexible, you can do so by copying it using Shape Elements.

To do this, prep your page first.

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After this, go the Elements tab and click on Shapes. Select the square element, the first one you’ll see when the Shapes section loads.

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Resize the shape according to your preference.

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You can also play with the colour and transparency.

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Once you’re satisfied with the element,  you can then place a text box on top of it. The process is similar to using plain text boxes.

photo-captions-20-elements

Edit and format the text and there you go!

photo-captions-21-elements

Now to wrap things up…

Keep in mind that photo captions are part of the storytelling. They need to be relevant, credible and intriguing. Because, when well written and designed, they have the power to hook readers and to invite them to read the full story.

Writing good photo captions is not that hard. You just need to apply the few tips we mentioned in this post, especially the following ones: 

  • Keep it short.
  • Use present tense.
  • Use a conversational tone.
  • Be as precise as possible.
  • Don’t just describe the photo. Bring something new.

Once written, your captions need a good design. Here are the basics to keep in mind:

  • Proper and consistent alignment matters.
  • Never position your captions above your photos.
  • If the captions are inside the photos, make sure that they don’t sit on top of faces.
  • Place your captions as close as possible to the photos they describe.

Finally, Fusion has a huge range of features for you to make it happen:

  • Frames
  • Textboxes
  • Shape Elements
  • Borders

I hope this helps! Feel free to try these out in your page designs. If you have other ideas for photo captions, feel free to leave a comment below!

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Patricia is Fusion’s Customer Happiness Specialist. She is the go-to person when it comes to customer queries and loves to make sure that everyone is happy using Fusion. She's currently studying her Master’s in History and is a huge fan of royal families and figure skating.

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