Communicate with captions
“Doctored photographs are the least of our worries. If you want to trick someone with a photograph, there are lots of easy ways to do it. You don’t need Photoshop. You don’t need sophisticated digital photo-manipulation. You don’t need a computer. All you need to do is change the caption.”
— Errol Morris, Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker
Pictures may be worth 1,000 words. But without words, images may not say what you intend for them to say.
Consider how an observer might interpret these photos:
|Why does my wife always make me drive the boat?||Why won’t my wife let me buy a boat?|
|What’s wrong with this picture? Captions make the message. Use yours wisely.|
|This tree is so beautiful, it almost brings a tear to my eye.||If I hide behind this tree, will Aunt Ann stop taking my picture?|
|I love Aunt Ann so much. I’m going to treasure this photo forever.||Why does Aunt Ann always have to squeeze into the middle? And would it kill her to take her arm off my shoulder?|
Show and tell.
One solution to pictures that may be telling the wrong story: Manage the message by writing a caption.
“It turns out that pictures can say whatever we want them to say, provided we use the right words,” writes Austin Kleon, a writer and artist living in Austin, Texas. “The old writing adage ‘Show, don’t tell’ is useless. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but when it’s paired with a caption that deepens, expands, or redefines its meaning, it can be worth a million.”
Confusion isn’t the only reason to make sure every image has a caption: Captions get 16% more readership than text. Use this power tool to tell, as well as show.
Don’t drop the caption.
Sources: Peter S. Houts, Cecilia C. Doak, Leonard G. Doak, Matthew J. Loscalzo, “The Role of Pictures in Improving Health Communication: A Review of Research on Attention, Comprehension, Recall, and Adherence” (PDF), Patient Education and Counseling, vol. 61, 2006, p.173-190.
R. Pettersson, “Associations from pictures in imagery and visual literacy: selected readings from the annual conference of the international visual literacy association,” 1994