What about the title?

Pictures are like jokes. If you need to explain them, they don't work.

Pictures are like jokes. If you need to explain them, they don’t work. However a title provides context – not explanation. It is a part of the communication.

Explain your picture? Really?

All too often I come across pictures that are untitled. I think a title is very important. I would like to take a little time to explain why I think a title helps the viewer.

My image above is quite a strongly defined image. However, if you have no idea what it is, then no matter how strong it is, or how well it is exposed… you don’t connect with it. Pictures are like jokes. If you need to explain them, they don’t work. Every picture is a communication. The author, in seeing something and then photographing it, has made a picture they want to show others. To leave a picture untitled, or un-captioned, may be a type of statement. However, to leave the viewer hanging, is also a statement – one of disconnection.

It is true that some pictures explain themselves, or at least explain something of themselves. An untitled sunset for example is still a sunset. More to the point, it is just another sunset. There are millions (billions?) of sunset images out there. So one more untitled one is, well, just another. Unremarkable.

The title however, conveys the feeling the author has about that picture. It may not explain the picture. It will explain the point of the authors commitment to the picture or the context of its meaning. That is worth a lot to the viewer. A couple on a sunset lit beach entitled “The Power of Love” explains the authors meaning and connection to the image. Suddenly the image comes alive in the viewers mind. An insight is gained into the vision of the author in their dedication of the title.

In everything there is meaning

If you want your picture to be depersonalised from you, then by all means leave it untitled. Everything has meaning. Human nature reaches for explanation. An untitled picture allows the viewer to own the picture by projection. They put their own meaning into the image unguided by the author. If that is what you, the author, intended then the title should be a dedication to the viewer.

The title is a part of the communication of the image. Good communicators take every opportunity to pass the message. Think carefully next time you leave an image untitled. You are saying a lot about your ability to communicate and nothing about the image.

Oh! By the way. My image above is called, “New Rugby Boots”.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

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