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Should a picture have a title ???

by Editor  Peter Walmsley 

'Master Chef' by Tony Goran

If you look at the 1x collection, many pictures don’t have a title.

Does it matter?
What does a title add?

Let me start by proposing that titles are important and they often receive little thought.
All the creativity has gone into creating the picture and there’s nothing left for the title. Most competitions require a photograph to have a title and as a photographic judge, I’m normally presented with the title at the same time as the image is shown. In about 10 seconds, I have to assimilate title and image and in that situation, I’m looking for clues in the title which will help me to understand the image.

In the 1x gallery, I suspect that for most viewers, it is the opposite way around. An image catches the eye and only later may the viewer look at the title if they want to know more or can’t understand the image.
The number one job of the photographer is to convey a message. To understand why they wanted to take the picture in the first place and to work with camera controls, light, viewpoint, composition, timing and post processing to best convey that message. A photographer can make it easy or hard for the viewer but they shouldn’t abdicate responsibility for understanding the message to the viewer and should take care to avoid making assumptions about the knowledge of the viewer.

Sometimes an image is powerful enough not to need a title, though the photographer may choose to add one anyway.

Taking examples from recently popular 1x images.

'White age.  Memories' by nicoleta gabor 

In this image, the message is clearly conveyed.

No titles or titles which state the obvious are probably the view of many of the early artists and sculptors who opted for simplistic names like ‘nude’ or ‘Portrait of a lady’. 

This beautiful image in the 1x gallery doesn’t have any title but I’m also not sure what to make of it and personally I’d be grateful for some help.

N/T by Artur Politov

In my view, it is generally better to assume an intelligent viewer and avoid repeating the obvious. A large number of competition images follow this route as does this example:

'Elephants crossing the river' by Jun Zuo


'Red Berries' by Lydia Jacobs

A little more subtle is: ‘Eyes’ by Andrey Lobodin

'Eyes' by Andrey Lobodin

Before I receive angry responses from the authors and other 1x viewers, this is not a comment on the quality of the photography: just examples of an approach to titling.

Photographers may choose to help viewers with their thought process.
This example is a woman posing as a statue titled ‘Antique’ by Stanislav Ivanitskiy

'Antique' by Stanislav Ivanitskiy

This made me think for a while before I concluded that the photographer intended to draw parallels with the pose of his subject being similar to those of classic artists despite the contrasting setting. I may be wrong in my interpretation but I’ve taken away an understanding I’m satisfied with and pleased that the photographer made me work to get it.

Landscape photographers often append place names as titles such as ‘Le Minou’ by Sus Bogaerts.

'Le Minou' by Sus Bogaerts

Where I find the location (and its photographic treatment) of interest, I’m usually quite pleased to know where it is.

Alternatively the photographer can tell me a little more about the story they were trying to capture such as: ‘Before the tempest’ by Franklin Neto

'Before The Tempest' by Franklin Neto

As photographers, we know that what attracted our eye at the time may be subconscious and may not actually become apparent until we’ve studied the image later and worked it out. Titles can imply an interpretation which the photographer may or may not have seen at the time and to work, the title has to credibly connect with the point of the photograph.  See ‘Life in an imaginary World’ by Thierry Dufour

'Life in an imaginary World' by Thierry Dufour

Many nature photographers use the Latin names of their subjects as titles such as ‘Trimereserus Gumprechti’ by Thor Hakonsen

'Trimereserus Gumprechti' by Thor Hakonsen

Though such use assumes an interest in the viewer which may not exist. To me, the composition of the snake’s body curling into the picture from top right, and leading towards the bright yellow eye concentrating on its prey and the darting tongue are the story elements in this image.

Some titles leave me baffled: ‘ZM.01’ by Erik Rozman

'ZM. 01' by Erik Rozman

But maybe this refers to something which I don’t normally encounter.

Some titles usefully add information: ‘Angry fish’ by Andi Halil

'Angry fish' by Andi Halil

I really did want to know why the fish had such a dramatic red tail and now I do.

And some (and probably my personal favourite category of titling) tell me about the emotive content the photographer was trying to capture so they add to the story such as: ‘Silence’ by Andrey Lobodin

'Silence' by Andrey Lobodin

One last thought: you tend to know when a title is correct because it just feels right and you remember it for a long time. The intent of the image and the description connect.

This last image is one of my own titled ‘Mind the gap’ by Peter Walmsley.

'Mind the gap' by Peter Walmsley

It took a week to think of this title and it doesn’t work across all languages and cultures because it is a play on the phrase used by London Underground to warn of the gap between the train and the platform. But in this case it describes the poverty gap between the female subject and the Taj Mahal as observed by the viewer on the other side of the barbed wire fence.

I often find filling out the Title and Description to be one of the hardest steps before sending an image to curation. It does force you to put into words why you want someone to look at your image and what the image says to me personally and why I decided to take it in the first place. Thanks for reminding me of the importance of this part of the curation process.
Well done Peter, excellent article, beautiful photos.
I find sometimes the title causes the image to be diminished. For example, a title may have forced my interpretation in a way I didn't think necessary. I may find myself doubting what the photographer actually understood in the image. I am fine with "Untitled". I ignore the title if I think the photographer was just forced to put something down.
On the other hand, it's part of the work, and the artist has a right to declare the 'spin' to which his work should be put!
Great article! Thank you very much, Peter, for choosing my image!

Thank you for giving us your thoughts on this. You make a strong case for using titles. I hope the article will motivate some readers to consider the importance of that final step in the creative process.

I'm sure you know that there are two schools of thought on this. Many photographers insist that their photographs speak for themselves, and that leaving the discovery of meaning up to the viewer's imagination allows a wider variety of interpretations.

That may be true, but my belief is that most photos benefit from a carefully-crafted title. Photographers should have at least an approximate idea of the meaning or theme of their photograph. A good title will nudge the viewer gently towards the intended meaning, but not preach to them by spelling it out explicitly. Images are appreciated more when a viewer has to think a little, and then are rewarded with the 'Aha !!' moment when they grasp the harmony between the photograph, the title, and the photographer's vision.

A wow comment and true thoughts, Steven. Thank you so much for taking the time to share them under this - indeed - strong article. As Senior Critic, you are even more confronted with titling ! Cheers, Yvette
Thank you so much Peter for choosing my image!!!!
Very many thanks Peter, it has been really amazing going through this article, I completely agree with you, even assuming a title is not needed most of the times, I think it always helps and the most we offer the better. I have to confess that sometimes I've been a bit lazy (not always) and I've written "Young girl". For sure, from now onwards, I will keep in mind your words. Thanks also to you Yvette, you care us so much!
Thanks for your sweet reaction, Elena!
Thank you, Peter, for choosing one of my works for your article. It is one of my white age series. I definitely believe that a photograph doesn't need a title, but if it has a suggestive one, this can improve the image. If you like a creator in visual arts you start to follow his/her work, which, after a while will be recognizable without a title. How many times we see a painting or a movie scene which impressed us once deeply and we don't know its title. All we know, all we recognize is the impact it had on us, the emotion we had at first sight.
Thank you Peter for choosing my image, great article. Thanks Yvette for your great work as well.
Thank you, dear Lydia ;-)
Thank you Peter, for this very interesting explanation about Titles. Every time I post a picture i found it so difficult to choose the right title for it. I'm agree that a good title is importent to the overal view. Now, after reading this, i'm more aware of the importence . Thanks to Yvette for place this article.
My pleasure to place this excellent and helpful article, Greetje!
Thank you Peter for taking one of my pictures and his title as an example. For my part I think the title of the photo is important because it must put on the way the "viewer" on what the author of the photo wanted to pass as a message. A big thank you Peter for this excellent article and thank you to Yvette for making us discover it !!!
Thanks for your appreciation, Thierry! Love this article too... Joining you in your vision on titling images. Cheers, Yvette
good job
Thanks for sharing this very interesting article, Peter! Sometimes, an image speaks for itself and doesn't need a title. Sometimes it is hard to find THE appropriated title to add another dimension to the image. Cheers, Yvette
Beautifully written peter!!! Great work