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I don’t know about you, but when I flick through a magazine I read the captions first. That is, I look at the photo and ask ‘what’s their story?’. If there is no caption telling me that I'm looking at ‘John Citizen, an undergraduate science student who is currently researching the sustainability of the Murray Darling system’, well then I’ll just move to the next page.

At the University, we often use images to illustrate, represent or reference text information (whether in print or online). Adding short succinct captions can create a link between copy and image, and make your images work harder.

Most captions draw attention to something in the image that is not obvious, such as its relevance to the text. They can also flag a related area without having to include additional body text. A caption can consist of a few words or several concise sentences. A good caption will draw in your reader’s attention and reinforce the story. For example:

Short caption
(Identifies student and study area, and sets wider context):
Pharmacy student Jane Smith, one of the 4500 students to receive a University scholarship or prize in 2009.

Long caption
(Identifies student and study area, provides more detail/relevance):
Pharmacy student and scholarship holder Jane Smith. The University awards scholarships and prizes to more than 4500 students each year, not only to reward academic, sporting or other prowess, but also to help students overcome difficulties such as living a long way from home or facing financial hardship.

Make the words come easier

Choosing appropriate images and writing good captions can be difficult, but through sound preparation the job is a lot easier. You should take information for captions during photo shoots, and whenever images are sourced or provided for publication or web work.

Collecting this information early on will make it a lot easier to write design briefs, select students for profiles and plan future photo shoots to fill gaps in your image libraries.

As an example, when collecting information for images of students a basic set of questions might include some or all of the following:

Gender (M/F):
Email address:
Undergraduate or postgraduate:
Year of study (first, second, third etc):
Current degree:
Previous degrees:
Domestic or international:
Collection date (dd/mm/yy):

For situational photo shoots, information should also be taken regarding the equipment, procedures and location, which will provide context to the image’s use.

We recommended that, for your records, a head-shot is taken or supplied when collecting information for captioning, this will help avoid confusion later on.


In the next couple of months appropriate questions will be incorporated into the University’s photographic model release form and will be available through the Web and Print Production website .