8 Ways to Title a Photograph


Filed under Musings on Photography.


I love what the Internet has done for the sharing of photography. Social websites such as Flickr make it so easy to get our work in front of the faces of people on the other side of the Earth so easily that it boggles my mind sometimes. This incredible ability of technology has one horrible side effect however. I'm talking about title fields.

Back in 1972 if you wanted to share a stack of fifty photos with someone, did you have to provide a title for every single image? I don't believe so, but if any old timers want to chime in, please do.

These days the method I use to title a photo is fairly straight forward. If I can think of something clever within ten seconds up looking at a photo, I use that. If not, I just give a very literal and unbiased description of what is being depicted in the image. A Man With A Brace Watches A Tall Ship or A Swimmer Swims for example. Or the following photo which I've titled An Empty Bus Stop.

An Empty Bus Stop

As a fun experiment, I thought I'd see how many additional methods I could utilize to title the same photo. Lets have some fun shall we?

The Stephen Shore

This titling strategy is a simply the location and date of the photograph. Named in honor of Stephen Shore's Uncommon Places.

An Empty Bus Stop
E 4th Street, Duluth, Minnesota. December 12th, 2010

Gearhead's Delight

Why bother making the title have any relevance to what is actually depicted in the photograph when you can use it to squeeze out every last technical spec about the equipment used to create the photo?

An Empty Bus Stop
Fuji GW690III. 90mm EBC Fujinon. Fuji Pro 400H. Tiffen 67mm 81B Warming Filter

Fauxtojournalism

For when you want to come off looking like a photojournalist, but in reality you're not. Make up a story to go along with what is happening in the image, and eschew things that a professional journalist might take into consideration. Such things as fact checking or not including personal bias.

An Empty Bus Stop
The poor status of Duluth's Central Hillside neighborhood has gotten so scary that no one even waits at the bus stop any more out of fear of crime.

The Second Year Artist

Perfect for people who are newer to photography. They may have just scored their first show at a local coffee house, but are yet to build up a decent body of work around a single concept. The artist will then attempt to compensate for this by titling the photographs with excessively deep or poetic titles in an attempt to inject a higher level of grandeur.

An Empty Bus Stop
Majestic morning awoken by golden illumination.

Data Dumper

A method used by those who go straight from their camera to a photo sharing website. Why bother even try to name the photographs when the website will figure one out based on the EXIF data? Photographs titled with this method also tend to travel in packs.


DSC_0667.JPG


DSC_0668.JPG


DSC_0669.JPG

The Pop Culture Reference

This one is always a favorite with the teenagers. Take any object shown in the photograph and find some sort of pop culture reference that is vaguely illustrated by the photograph. Movie titles or famous quotes are good, but this method is truly dominated by song titles or lyrics. If a song title is used, bonus points are given for including all of the lyrics as the photograph's caption.

An Empty Bus Stop
In the cold light of morning

Title taken from the band Placebo. Here is a fan video for the song which coincidently enough is a slide show of vaguely related photographs.

Blank and Blank

When all else fails, just pick two objects depicted in the photograph and implode them together with the word 'and'.

An Empty Bus Stop
Bus stop and Shadows.

I leave you with two questions.

  1. What kind of naming strategy do you use with your own photography?
  2. If the photo I used in this post was your own, what would you have titled it?
  • http://imroy.deviantart.com/ Ian Tester

    Oh dear, I must confess I am guilty of a combination of "Second Year Artist", "Pop Culture Reference", and "Blank and Blank".

    However I am becoming more literal with my titles as time goes by. I look at some of my old photos on dA and think "that title's a little wanky".

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  • http://www.kpraslowicz.com K. Praslowicz

    Totally agree Ian. I do admit that at least six of these are ways I'm guilty of in the past. I've totally face-palmed after looked at the titles I've given work I've uploaded to various websites years ago.

  • jason

    Looking through my flickr feed, it looks like my pattern defies all of yours! I use "Single Arbitrary Object Or Location In Photo". Sort of a pre-teen version of "Blank and Blank". Of course, I haven't titled anything in almost two years. Or uploaded virtually anything to flickr in a year.

  • K. Praslowicz

    You're a slippery one there J-Sauce.

  • http://njwv.wordpress.com njwv

    While I've done many of these, you're missing one: the ASCII art title. In this case, the title represents some graphic element of the image. So for your phot, the title could be: [|||]

  • http://samh.net samh

    Great post, Kip. But I must say, of all the 'methods' you listed the only one that's really terrible is the EXIF dump. The others are all good ways of describing a photo. This process for me is almost solely so I can search for it later and therefore (along with heavy use of tags) I typically title photos using the "Stephen Shore" or the "Blank and Blank" methods.

  • http://www.mattebbers.com/ Matt

    Like you I try, not too hard, to come up with a cleaver name. Then I go for the obvious, Bridge, Rock... Locations always seem to work. Or the always popular "Untitled" That might be on to add to your list. I have seen several people with Untitled 1, Untitled 4 ect. If its “untitled” wouldn’t adding a number give it a title?

    Matt

  • http://inauspicious.org/ Gary

    Up until the start of this year I would probably have called it "Bus Stop". I'm starting to dislike titling pictures though. I find when I look at pictures, I look at the title first, so if I see a picture titled "Bus stop" I'll read that and then when I look at it it's like I'm saying "picture of a bus stop" in my head. I don't actually *look* at the picture. So recently I'm trying to not title mine. It's hard to give up though!

    Nice picture BTW :)

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  • http://www.larsdaniel.com Lars Daniel

    Great (and funny) post!
    Gary has a good point. I would might have gone with "Bus Stop", but in hindsight I would prefer to look at it without thinking "Bus Stop" first.

    At the time I mostly do single words. Your photo would likely have been "Shelter". Sometimes it is just stating the obvious and some times the reference to the image may be a bit twisted. Other times it is the longer but concise description like you mention. If I really can not think of anything, but might want to give it a title later, I give it a "*".

    There is also a category that could be said is the artzy version of "pop culture reference": Quoting a whole poem full of weltschmertz, leaving it to the viewer to figure out who the author is. Goes well with artzy self-portraits.

  • http://www.kpraslowicz.com K. Praslowicz

    I've always loved how even untitled is still really a title. I guess "Untitled X" is just a more surefire ( and more classy) way of naming your photos DSC_0001.jpg, DSC_0002.jpg, DSC_0003.jpg etc.

  • http://jophilippe.wordpress.com/ jacques philippe

    Definitely a blank-and-blank(er) when it comes to make some sort of a presentation (website, book). What I find cool with B&B is that it is sort of stupidly redundant (so, WTF ?) but at the same time I believe a photograph something else than the object described, so that finally it is contradictory to the intent. In other words there is some tension involved with B&B and it challenges the viewer in a subtle way.

    Otherwise (i.e. most of the time) I'm a data dumper(er).

  • chris

    Interesting post!
    thx for the ideas..

    btw, i might name it "cold and lonely".. =]

  • jason

    If you found a way to name a photo "Guns & Roses" would it count as BOTH "Blank and Blank" AND "Pop Culture Reference"?

  • http://www.kpraslowicz.com K. Praslowicz

    Title crossover - Epic.

    I was happy that when I bought Sternfeld's Stranger Passing that he used the literal, unbiased titling method. A Woman Goes Shopping With Her Pet Rabbit. for example.

  • http://flickr.com/photos/mr_martini jason martini

    "missed the bus"

  • http://www.mutualaxis.com Bong B

    This is a must read post. Titling a photo is really a backbreaking task especially for a newbie like me. I'm afraid that I would also fall on "The Second Year Artist" and "Blank and Blank."

  • Lebagel

    I like literal titles - but I agree with you it can get tough - sometimes I get antsy with the task and make things up - how about - "found the bus stop, now where's that God damn bus?"

  • Rabi

    "A Swimmers Swims" is just as atrocious a title as any of your made up ones.

  • K. Praslowicz

    @Rabi: I never claimed to actually be good at titling photos. I'd rather just hand you a stack of paper prints and pretend they don't exist. I've given up putting any effort into naming mine years ago.

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  • mallika khunger

    "old hidden memories" i would give this title....the overall scene creates so much of lonliness, and reminds u of something which is missing in ur life...so in blunt words....old hidden memories......

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  • http://www.flickr.com/at_anne Anne

    Cool post, I have used the pop culture, second year artist, literal and blank and blank. I think I've cleaned up most of the data dumper issues. :)

    My thought is Sunrise stop.

    Cheers.

  • http://www.modelmayhem.com/GMSpade Gabriel

    Hmm, actually I use 2 different naming; first one is trying to describe a photo using a single word or a short sentence.. like "Lace" or "android's update". second one is by naming photo type like "a portrait", or "a landscape" and describing specs afterward like "2 umbrella front = 1 backdrop light, ISO100 1/250 using 50mm, retouched". This gives an insight of how the photo was created.

  • http://phototeam.co.uk Jonathan

    Before the common make wakes... Simply because more 'lower' class people use public transport. Interesting article, makes a lot of sense.

  • http://troyholden.com troy holden

    A good photograph stands on its own. It doesn't require a written narrative, inspirational quote, or string of hashtags to prop it up.

  • http://www.jondavis.net/ Jon Davis

    That's nice, troy, now how do you SEO-ize that?

  • http://www.jondavis.net/ Jon Davis

    .. let me guess .. Flickr's "interestingness"!!

  • Jason

    If you need to "SEO-ize" your photography, you're doing it wrong.

  • http://www.flickr.com/aquariusdragonfly chaya

    I would name that photo ;
    "Church is in session"
    The bus stop reminds me of light coming through stained glass
    As far as naming my own, I use whatever inspires me. I usually don't have trouble with naming. I may get lazy sometimes, but it's fun, it adds a whole new dimension to your work. I also read titles when I see art, that is helpful.

  • http://troyholden.com troy holden

    @Jon Davis I don't worry much about SEO. Why do I need to SEO anything?

  • DON Chikara

    WOW!!!!

    beautiful ideas for titling captured memories.

    i've had a bit of a headache with titles i had to turn to something as ridiculous as 'blackberry 8900'.

    great piece.
    @onepunchgh

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  • http://www.courlis.com Ze Courlis

    I try to use one word only, two when I fail (which category is it ? ^^) and if I had to name this one, it would be "Rayures" (Stripes)

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  • http://www.wowfactorpix.com Rob Smith

    "Warm lens"

    I like to title my photographs. To me it's the finishing touch to a piece of art...a hint to the viewer of what the piece means to me (but, of course, the viewer is entitled to have their own interpretation). I don't like stating the bleeding obvious in my titles and I try to avoid sounding pretentious! (Not always successfully!)

  • http://sites.google.com/site/phototrincone/home Antonio Trincone

    I have to read all comments to this old post but before continuing with this interesting subject I have to say that probably this could be the subject of my next ebook based on my photographs, the first is here: https://sites.google.com/site/phototrincone/e-book-pun-other
    if you want to take a look.
    I have also to answer to your question about the possible title for your photo if it was mine:
    Title: |\\\\\| ||||| ||
    :-) difficult? the code could be more clear here: https://picasaweb.google.com/108470239770597604472/120312#5719080685161099250
    //VVV/

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  • http://flickr.com/photos/baldoph/ Baldoph

    I use one random character from my keyboard as a title :P

  • http://danothy.co.uk Danothy

    I come back to this post time and time again ... I guess it reassures me that there's no good way to title an image and I'm not horrifically inadequate.