you may forget who you shot or who was doing what in
One exception to this practice is a sporting event
where it is impossible to interrupt the action. In this
instance, let the subject(s) know in advance that you will
be taking photographs and will need to get identification
as soon as possible after the event. Note uniform
numbers, clothing or physical characteristics. You also
may record the information during breaks in the action.
We will not go into detail here on how your
photographs should be posed and what to look for in the
way of composition. This will be covered in Chapter 12,
Basic Photojournalism. The primary concern now is the
text that accompanies the photograph and how it should
be written. Although newswriting and cutline writing
are closely related, they are different.
The lead in a news story is the most important part
of the story. The facts presented in the lead may be
expanded and elaborated on in the bridge and body of
The cutline differs in that it is more than a part of
the story it is the whole story. Everything you have
to say about the photograph is said in one paragraph.
That paragraph must contain the essential facts, and the
facts must be tied into the scene in the photograph. The
length of a cutine is always governed by what must be
told about the photograph. It may consist of one word,
one sentence, or it may consist of five sentences.
Cutlines have no set lengths. Strive for simplicity
and brevity. The shorter you can write a cutline and still
include all the essential information, the better it will be.
As in headline writing, a cutline is written in a
manner appropriate to the subject matter. In other words,
write a news cutline for a news photograph and a feature
cutline for a feature type of photograph.
There are probably as many ways to write cutlines
as there are newspapers, magazines and other
periodicals. Just about every publication has its own
individual requirements and style of cutline writing.
Some want long cutlines. Some want only one or two
words to tease a reader into reading the accompanying
story. Others use no cutline at all.
Only one method of cutline writing will be covered
in this chapter. It is considered the handiest formula for
a novice writer and consists of the following four major
The identification (persons or things in the
The background information
The credit line
The first sentence of a cutline is the most important.
It must link with the photograph by describing its action.
One of the peculiarities of the first sentence is its
verb form. The verb in the first sentence of a cutline is
in the present tense. The reason for this is that
photographs, like paintings and sculpture, capture one
moment of time and keep it in the present.
Another reason for using the present tense in the
first sentence is that it gives the readers a sense of
immediacy, as though they were actually witnessing the
event shown. Thus a cutline that reads, Navy Seaman
Jack Crevalle swims through swirling flood waters of
the Baylinguay River to rescue 6-year-old Tia Maria...
has more dramatic impact than one that reads, Navy
Seaman Jack Crevalle swam through. . ..
One problem that arises from the use of the present
tense in the first sentence is what to do with the when
element. To put the time element in the first sentence
would result in a sentence such as Ryan Thompson hits
a line drive to center field yesterday. . .. This is
somewhat jarring to the reader and should be avoided.
To alleviate this problem, you can usually reserve
the time element in cutlines for the second sentence.
This avoids awkward sentences such as the one just
The second part of a cutline is the identification.
This includes an identification of all persons and things
vital to the storytelling function of the photograph.
Everyone who is involved in the central action of the
photograph should be identified. Do not identify persons
who are blurred out, obscured or too far away for
recognition. Anyone in a photograph who attracts the
readers attention should be identified. The readers
curiosity should never be impeded. If the identity of a
pertinent figure in a photograph is unknown, make this
fact a part of the cutline.
The next question concerning identification, is
where should it be placed in the cutline? The best answer