Crafting Compelling Captions for Photo Contests, Part II

Desperate Deals, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh, © Scott Trageser/NatureStills
Desperate Deals, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh, © Scott Trageser/NatureStills

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

If a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s certainly worth a good caption. Photos entered in NANPA’s Showcase competition were taken all over the world, of all kinds of subjects, from all sorts of perspectives and show many points of view. A thoughtful caption can help contest judges understand what you were doing and reassure them that you were acting ethically, safely and responsibly. It can be the difference between a winning image and an also ran.

A caption is descriptive text that provides additional information and context about your photo. In the Showcase entry form, you’ll find a “descriptive subject” field for your caption. In this article, caption and description both refer to the information you place in that field on the form.

Sometimes a photo is pretty clear. We know what it’s all about and it barely needs a title. Others are more complex. They might show something so unusual that they require explanations. They may look like the photographer put herself or her subject in danger. Photos may raise questions about whether one followed all the rules, got the permits, acted responsibly.

The caption you provide when you enter your photo can range from a short sentence to a full paragraph. Use as many words as you need, but no more. Give enough information so that judges can quickly understand the context of your photo. Anticipate questions the judges might raise and answer them. If your photo is unusual, looks dangerous or might raise ethical issues, this is your chance to dispel any worries the judges might have.

The opening photo, Desparate Deals, won the Best in Show prize in the Conservation category in the 2020 Showcase competition. Scott Trageser’s description not only explains what we are seeing but also puts it into context and helps the image tell a compelling story. In his descriptive text Scott said, “The area within the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh where our conservation programs are focused and where this shot was taken is a restricted area. I was required to apply for the permit, stay in a designated area for a very limited timeframe, and also to be accompanied by four policemen at all times. We were guided by our indigenous parabiologists to this small, remote Mro village and luckily were able to convince them to pose with these hornbills which were being reared by the family. This photo was taken to demonstrate the challenges for both wildlife and the local people.”

Icy Cosmos, Juneau, Alaska © Peter Nestler Photography
Icy Cosmos, Juneau, Alaska © Peter Nestler Photography

A very different image, Icy Cosmos, won Peter Nestler the Best in Show prize for Scapes. His caption indicates how he planned and composed the shot and the safety precautions he took, staying outside the cave while the camera did its thing. “I found this moulin while exploring under a glacier. Checking PhotoPills showed that the moving stars would match the sweep of the moulin perfectly so I came back on a clear night for the shot. After getting my exposure set for the stars I locked my shutter release open so it would shoot one image after another until the battery died. I sat outside the cave for safety (in case it collapsed during the 2.5 hour shoot) and to make sure I didn’t accidentally shine my headlamp and ruin the image.”

A Fish's Perspective from the Point of View of a Threatened, Native Greenback Cutthroat Trout, Northern Colorado © William Hughes II
A Fish’s Perspective from the Point of View of a Threatened, Native Greenback Cutthroat Trout, Northern Colorado © William Hughes II

A third example, by William Hughes II, shows a unique viewpoint and was recognized as one of the top 250 photos in last year’s Showcase. His full description said everything it needed to in two sentences: “A fish’s perspective from the point of view of a threatened, native greenback cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii stomias).  Once considered extinct, the greenback cutthroat has been the focus of a decades long conservation effort involving multiple non-profit organizations and government agencies.”

Your photos deserve descriptions that’s as good as they are. Don’t make the contest judges guess. Tell them what they’ll need to know. Spend a few minutes crafting a good caption. You won’t regret it.