The second element of caption writing,
identification, frequently poses the question of who or
what should be identified in the photograph. There is no
magic formula to cover every situation, but the general
guideline is to identify everyone or everything that is
identifiable. and pertinent to the action. A pertinent
individual or object is one that is involved in the central
action of the photograph. In other words, anyone or
anything in the photograph that attracts attention should
be identified. Identification should come as early as
possible in the caption. Many times you can identify
people or things at the same time you describe the action.
"BM3 Jack R. Frost sounds taps to climax
Memorial Day ceremonies . . . ."
Here the action and the man are identified together. The
only exception to placing names high in the caption is
in the case of group identification. The recommended
way to handle group photographs and still maintain
reader interest is to use an impersonal identification in
the first sentence; that is, A group of sailors . . ., then
list the names at the end of the caption. This method
achieves complete identification without cluttering the
all-important first sentence.
Identification in caption writing can be handled in
any one of several ways. The idea is to handle it in the
most natural and concise manner consistent with clarity.
To ensure consistency, the caption writer generally uses
four methods of identification:
From the left
Action is, of course, the best method. When a little
league baseball player is sliding into second base, it
should be obvious from the action which boy is the base
runner; therefore, it is not necessary to say left or right
as a means of identifying the players.
Obvious contrast is another simple way of
identifying people in a photograph. If the commanding
officer and an airman recruit are photographed, it is not
necessary to identify the commanding officer as being
left or right.
Identification by elimination is slightly more
complex but nevertheless very effective. Suppose there
are four people shown in a photograph. The
commanding officer of the photo school is presenting a
citation to a third class petty officer. These two are
identified by the action. A third person, the petty
officers wife, standing alongside, is identified by
obvious contrast. The fourth person, the award
recipients division officer, is then identified by
The fourth and least desirable method of
identification is from the left. This method of
identification should be used only as a last resort or when
there is a chance of confusion from using any of the other
methods, such as in identifying groups of people. When
you use this method of identification, it is not necessary
to say, From left to right. To do so only wastes space.
Logic tells us that if we start from the left there is no
place to go except to the right. The task is therefore
simplified by saying, From the left.
Background information is our third element of
caption writing. It consists of additional facts or
explanations needed to clarify the photograph. It is often
impossible for the photograph and the five Ws alone to
provide all the details necessary for a complete
understanding of the photograph. Therefore, it becomes
necessary to provide the viewer with additional
information for the purpose of clarifying the
How much background information is needed to
clarify a photograph depends on two factors: where the
photograph is to be used and how it is to be used.
The last part of caption writing is the credit line.
The usual method is to credit both the photographer and
the service. While there is not a set standard for giving
credits, the following format can be used:
Official U. S. Navy Photo by:
PH2 Jack R. Frost, USN
Or the credit line can follow directly after the last word
of the caption, as shown in the following example:
Line handlers cast off the stem line as the
amphibious force flagship, USS Eldorado
(AGC-11) gets under way for a Western Pacific
deployment. (Official U. S. Navy Photo by:
PH2 Jack R. Frost, USN.)