The Coffey Blog

7 do's and don'ts for writing good photo captions

Posted on: Monday, July 10, 2017

Melissa Welling, Editor

An image is often the first thing a reader looks at in your healthcare content. And a well-composed caption can mean the difference between a passing glance and a good, long look.

If you use captions well, they may be all you need to convince someone that your story is worth reading. So how do you make the most of that golden opportunity?

Tips for stronger, more effective photo captions

Follow these tips to write captions that truly capture attention:

1. DO say something new. Especially in print, space is at a premium, so don't use captions to repeat what's already in the story. Set something aside that can be used in a caption or share new information.

2. DON'T use labels. For compelling captions, go beyond simply naming a person, a building or a piece of equipment. At the very least, explain the basics: who, what, when and where.

Even better: With some photos, you can use the caption to set the mood and convince readers to stick around for more. Consider it the "elevator pitch" for your article. What's the most interesting thing about your article—and how does this photo help tell that story? That's your caption.

3. DO add a hook. Some people call it a lead-in or catchline. Whatever you call it, adding a mini headline—often in caps or boldface—to your caption is a good idea. It's an opportunity to grab the eye, use wordplay, reinforce a message or create a warm tone.

4. DON'T state the obvious. If the photo shows Mary holding an award, the caption shouldn't be, "Mary holds her award." Instead, tell readers something they can't see: Describe the significance of the honor and what it says about your organization. Explain what Mary did to earn it. Or share a quote from the person who nominated her.

Pro tip: Get it right. Be sure to double-check names, faces, titles, etc., in captions. Attention to detail could save your organization from an embarrassing mistake.

5. DO caption a stock photo. Photos of local people are often more compelling. But you can still make good use of a caption with a stock photo. Think of it as an extended teaser to the story. Or use it to highlight a call to action.

6. DON'T be afraid to go long. At Coffey, we're fans of brevity. But that doesn't mean short and sweet is always the answer. One study found that when captions were longer and well-developed, readers spent 30 percent of their image-viewing time on the caption—unlike short or incomplete captions, which received little attention. In fact, well-written captions actually boosted the total amount of time people spent with the photo. That's a don't-miss opportunity to pique someone's interest in your story.

7. DO try, try again. It's not easy to nail a headline on the first try—or get the perfect photo in one shot. It's the same with captions. Take time to craft several options and try out different approaches before you pick what works best.

In a caption conundrum?

When you're stuck for caption ideas, here are six questions to ask yourself about a photo. Any one of them could lead you in a fruitful direction:

  • What can't the viewer see?
  • What's the backstory?
  • What's going to happen next?
  • How does this image support the culture of my organization?
  • Why should someone care about this image?
  • What interesting details in the image do I want them to notice?

Let us help

When you work with Coffey, you have access to a team of healthcare content specialists—and we want you to look good. Let us help you tighten, trim and perfect your healthcare content and deliver real results. To learn more about our content services, call 888.805.9101 or email us.

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