How do I choose a title for a photograph?
I'm taking a lot of pictures and publishing them online even showing a few in a gallery but...
I have a hard time thinking up names for them! I'm not entirely comfortable numbering them, and I think the images speak for themselves.
So, I'm asking for any kind of input as to what I might have in mind when trying to title these things, or good-sounding justifications for not titling them.
First one must contrast titles with captions.
Titles are brief one liners that need not have any grammatical structure.
Captions can be a short sentence of one or more lines, often also called a sub-title..
The terms are often used interchangeably but a photo can have just a title, just a caption or both.
The purpose, in both cases is
Firstly to guide the viewer to see the photo in a particular way.
Secondly to supply some context.
Thirdly to provide additional, explanatory, helpful information. Though this is usually done in a caption/sub-title.
Additionally we use titles to evoke a suitable response to the photo.
Examples could be:
- contrast, contradiction, cognitive dissonance
- pique curiosity
So, in creating title/captions we need to answer the following questions:
- How do we want the viewer to see the photo?
- Does it need context for understanding?
- Will additional information be helpful?
- What reaction are we trying to create in the viewer?
Finally the title gives us a small insight into the mind of the photographer.
Cato the Elder said it best - "Rem tene, verba sequentur" (grasp the subject and the words will follow).
You mention that the images speak for themselves, well when you first look at them what exactly are they saying? That is the title.
All photographers are trying to invoke an emotion of some type with their image, the title is often either a direct description of that emotion or additional text to help enforce the message.
A good example is an image of a single yellow tulip amongst a sea of red tulips, the title is "The Right To Be An Individual" as that is what I felt the yellow tulip was saying to me in that position ... https://www.facebook.com/TheTrueShot/photos/a.143892695665532.37966.143856472335821/1068928649828594
Really when it comes down to it, you are the artist, so the title is what the image says to you ... listen to your heart and emotion!
If I'm having trouble thinking of a title I sometimes use a one-word title that expresses some relatively obvious attribute of the photo. Some examples might be Dark, Happy, Sunshine, Clouds, Green. It doesn't require much thought, and since it's only one word you don't end up with a potentially clumsy phrase. If I'm feeling witty I try to come up with a clever or punny title. A photo featuring tulips might get the title Two Lips (ok, not really that clever!).
If you are uploading so many photos that you cannot even think of a title for each them, then rather stop and think over if you need to upload so many photos. Why not limit yourself to a smaller collection of most valuable photos?
It is not so much the volume as it is that I don't really think verbally about images. I'll take a few hundred and upload a half dozen at most. To me the point just seems too obvious for words most of the time.
My titling scheme is simple: for portraits, the title is the subject's name. For cityscapes, it's either the subject itself or the part of town the photo is taken in.
In the end there's no right answer. I prefer brief descriptive titles myself, but "untitled" is valid too. Personally I dislike long and florid "pretentious" titles, but if it's part of the image, go for it!
I'd suggest you browse photos at a local gallery or on a site like Flickr to see what others do.
There are several approaches to nomenclature, and different approaches work for different people. I usually follow the approach that labnut summarizes with Cato the Elder's wisdom: "Rem tene, verba sequentur".
I think of titles, or even captions, like one thinks of poetry. My attempt is to state the data minimally and move aside- sometimes that could be direct and descriptive, or the opposite.
The same picture could have different titles, this way.
For example, as an isolated picture, what could be called "Man with a Looking Glass", in a series that captures activity as a part of a theme, it could be called "The Seeker".
Let me take you on a bit of a different direction... as one of the tags on your question is mentioning art!
Think of not using any titles (or captions) on your photographs!!!
If the photograph has a great deal of things to say, I want to explore the picture myself! There are times that a title might through me off the picture!! I mean that sometimes I see a photograph and I think of a story in my mind... I might get various emotions from that ... and then I see a title that is completely different to what I am thinking and feeling! then I usually turn away and move on to the next.
So for me... I would prefer no titles!! Let your viewers see and understand you from your photographs...
You note that you're taking a lot of pictures. Here's an approach you might take: don't click the shutter until you think of a title. This isn't necessarily what you'll want to do always, and of course occasionally you see something and just have to get the shot as it appears, but overall the idea is to make an exercise of slowing down and making photographs deliberately.
There are a number of ways to be more intentional when working, but putting titles first can be one way. This means that, although your inspiration may come from what you see, you first take a moment to decide what idea or story you are capturing, then click. If the idea seems to obvious for a title, try to find a slightly less obvious approach.
I'm not always that deliberate when photographing, but when reviewing, I take a similar approach: when deciding if a photo goes into the gallery or into the shoebox, I ask if it has an important story or idea. If it does, a title usually suggests itself. If it doesn't, well, maybe the image isn't as strong as I thought. This also helps weed out multiple views of the same scene, because if I find my self coming back to the same title repeatedly, I know there's not enough distinguishing interest to present them all.
I normally don't title my photos, but when I do, I generally think about what the image is conveying. Often I'll end up with a descriptive name when dealing with landscapes such as "Stars over Camp Gorham". I think it's a bit trickier when the subject isn't a location in a particular setting since there are a lot more options. It could be named after the mood, the subject, the technique, or simply something abstract that is a unique creation in it's own right.
I don't think there is a right or wrong way to name your photos and I'm not sure that it is wise to title them if they don't speak a title to you. A date and number or date and time can tell what photo it is for communication and doesn't have to be conveyed when displayed necessarily.
I would be hesitant to focus to much on naming rather than focusing on creating visually appealing imagery. As you start knowing what you are looking for in a photo, you may find you have more of an idea what to call it, but sometimes you see something and recognize it's beauty without having a name for it. Forcing a name on those kinds of moments isn't critical if the image of the moment speaks for itself.
Sometimes I like to put a short quote as a title for a photograph. There is plenty of websites who gather different quotes and separate them by topics. Just make sure you put the name of the author in caption.
Recently I used two quotes:
- "Black as night, sweet as sin..." (by Neil Gaiman) - for a photo of coffee.
- "We live as we dream - alone..." (by Joseph Conrad) - for a self portrait.
Also you can use words from lyrics of a song, just a short line.
I'm talking here about non commercial use as I do not know whether usage of quotes would be considered as copyright infringement, but I hope not :)