Photos Shouldn’t Need Explanation (But Titles Help)


I’m sure you all have heard the expression:  A picture is worth a thousand words. There is of course a basis for the expression, imagery is very efficient at communication.  Think about it.  Is it easier to describe a television commercial, or just show it to someone?  Exactly.  On the flip side, if you have a photograph – why should you need to describe it?

Now before I flame-bait the critics among you, I do acknowledge that there are certain circumstances where you may wish to offer descriptions or commentary for your photos.  Depending on your audience, you may wish to describe how you took a photo, or you may describe an interesting story of your journey to acquire the photo.  But in these cases, the purpose of these photos is clearly to illustrate a concept – to enhance the dialog in context.

But when it comes to artistic photos – where the purpose is all-encompassing – descriptions can weaken the image.  Photo descriptions can easily be seen as a defensive stance, and you may lose the respect of your audience.  The photo should stand on its own.  The viewer should be able to understand the purpose, context and story behind the photo.  They may generate a story that doesn’t match your own, but that isn’t your concern.  Your concern is that a story is being told.

As for titles, they have a clear purpose.  A title can be a nudge in the right direction.  Titles can be serious, but sometimes they’re playful.  Sometimes a title is a set-up for a joke and the photo is the punch line.  Other times, the title may help to explain some of the context.  Unlike a description, however, the title is not intended to shape the viewer’s opinion.  It’s purpose is to nudge the viewer in the right direction, a nod and a wink, if you will.

Now I will admit that I have a nasty habit of explaining my photos.  I think it’s a confidence thing.  I feel the need to defend my photos or explain every nuance about them.  But I’m not considering the viewer in all cases.  But that is the purpose behind my photo-a-day project, No Words.  My goal is to improve my ability to create photos that tell stories.  The photo shown here, is titled:  Timmy in His Native Habitat. I like to try to have fun with the story, sometimes.

It all starts from the moment you press the shutter.  So get out there and tell some stories with your photos – without the words.


About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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