Syd: Write words to make better pictures

One of the first surprises a sports photographer discovers is that a sports photograph is more than just capturing the shot. It’s the fact that all editorial sports photographers (ones that take photos for newspapers, wire services and image web sits) need to write captions for every photograph they submit. So, this blog post is about how to write captions:
– what a caption should say
– how do I get the caption onto the photography
– what other annotations should I add to the image

The caption
Let’s analyse a typical caption. This is one from Getty Images:

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 16: Swansea player Stephen Dobbie (r) shoots to score the second goal during the npower Championship Play Off Semi Final Second Leg between Swansea City and Nottingham Forest at Liberty Stadium on May 16, 2011 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

SWANSEA, WALES – MAY 16 – key information about where and when the photo was taken
Swansea player Stephen Dobbie (r) – the main subject of the photo and identifies which person it is when there are multiple persons in the image
shoots to score – what the person is doing in the image
the second goal – some more information about what the person is doing
during the npower Championship Play Off Semi Final Second Leg between Swansea City and Nottingham Forest – this is the event where the photo was taken
at Liberty Stadium – this is the actual location where the photo was taken
on May 16, 2011 in Swansea, Wales – the date and city where the photo was taken
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images) – the photo credit which the photographer and agency wants the publication to reproduce when the photo is used

So when you look at your photos practise writing a caption that describes the photo with these elements. If you want to have a look at examples of captions here are a couple of sites: Getty Images and Daylife.

Captioning tools
Now that we know what we want to write, how do we attach the caption to the photo? A caption for a photo is known as metadata. This is technical jargon that simply means information about the photo. Other types of metadata are the camera settings that was used, the lens, the exposure, the GPS info and the photographer. The class of metadata that a caption belongs to is known as a photo’s IPTC. This is an acronym for the International Press Telecommunications Council and they have set up some standards for a photo’s metadata. Metadata is added to the image file using software like Adobe Lightroom, Aperture, iPhoto, Photo Mechanic and most photo editing applications. While each application is different you should look for a function to add a caption or description, and a headline or title to the photo. You’ll then find that when you export or save the photo, the metadata information you’ve entered will be saved into the photo file and the recipient can read and extract it.

Lightroom metadata entry screen
Photo Mechanic metadata entry screen
iPhoto metadata entry screen

Other annotations
As you probably now realise the caption and headline is only the start of metadata. A big class of metadata is keywording. Here’s a good reference for interested readers to learn more about keywords. Keywording is now highly technical with one of the leading experts having a standard list of 5,500 keywords in a hierarchical order that is available for purchase and is compatible with Adobe’s Lightroom software. You might ask why? The answer is that’s how people can find images in stock image libraries.

So, remember, practise and have fun.


*Please Read Below*
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3 thoughts on “Syd: Write words to make better pictures

  1. Nicely put Ryu

    It is shame that most pro photographer can’t get there head around that some is willing to give a new guy a go

    we all have to start somewhere as most sport photographer at junior games and work our way up I’m all for a little jump a head that’s the name of the game to get a step ahead of the rest

    Ron Wilson
    Cassowary coast image

  2. Ron,

    If you ask me, competition is always a good thing. Once you become complacent, then your work becomes stagnant. Happens and had happened to a lot of famous artists.


  3. Syd:

    Nice run-down. Another resource is the “Caption and Keywording checklist” (which contains full pages on tips for writing captions and refining keywords as well) at

    That’s also the site where you’ll find the Controlled Vocabulary Keyword Catalog which works with Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Bridge, Expression Media, Photo Mechanic and a half dozen other applications.

    There are also tutorials that cover how to add metadata (and keywords) with Adobe Bridge, Expression Media, and Photo Mechanic at

    Hope that helps.


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