What's in a Title?
Well, quite a lot really. Your choice of title can make a big difference to how others react to your image. It gives you the opportunity to say something important about it. A good title will help the viewer to discover why you took the photograph, and how you feel about it.
The most straightforward title is descriptive. You share your factual knowledge of the subject so that the viewer understands it better. Wildlife photographers often include the scientific or common name of the species in the title.
Mario Fiorucci, The Partridge Mount.
A photographer may also choose an anthropomorphic title, i.e. one where human emotions are attributed to animals. A poor choice can trivialise the subject, but selected with care, the title grabs our attention and it helps us to identify with the subject.
Martin Cox, Lost Love.
Some photographers choose a directional title to draw our attention to a small but important element in the frame. Without this title the viewer may not appreciate why the photograph was taken.
Anna Kadykova, Old Lady in Violet.
Some titles are revealing in their nature, in that they uncover a visual relationship between two objects which is not noticed at first glance. This technique is often used by street photographers who look for amusing juxtapositions. The pleasure felt from viewing the image peaks at the point when its hidden subtlety is revealed.
Hao Wu, Focusing Horn Man.
Historic titles are used to give authenticity to a scene describing life in the past. Although shot contemporaneously, they recreate life as it once was, examples include images taken at the re-enactment of military battles. Other images may draw on a historical icon to create a comparison with life today.
Alexey Samoylenko, The Present and the Past.
Many of us are tempted to use a well-known quote to enhance the impact of our image. This will appeal to the well-informed; it provides a cultural connection between the viewer and the photographer. But it can also prevent some viewers from fully appreciating the image. A well-chosen quote is one which is likely to be familiar to the majority of the target audience.
Eleanor Bennett, A Nation of Shop Keepers.
Images of all types have been used for hundreds of years to convey political messages, because they can be understood quickly. We tend to accept the reality of images more quickly than the same point of view presented in text. Patriotic titles are used to persuade us to accept a particular political stance, and they can also add sparkle to a light-hearted image, as in this example.
Martin Cox, Digging for England.
An evocative title is one that generates a specific emotional reaction in the viewer. Not content to leave the image to speak for itself, the photographer takes the extra step to ensure his message is heard.
Amir Lavon, Jaffa.
Narrative titles tell a story. The image may contain an actual story, as in customers entering and leaving a supermarket. Alternatively the story can be created by the photographer, as in this example.
Ian Charters, Hmmm…..
Some titles are both narrative and evocative. They create a story to heighten an image' emotional impact. The image graphically illustrates what the photographer wants us to be aware of, and the powerful title drives the message home.
Humorous titles are favourites. They have the desired effect without being confrontational. Humour is appreciated by those who understand the joke, but the photographer takes the risk of other viewers feeling excluded.
Visual puns are often used as titles, the phrase has both a literal and a figurative meaning. The image itself is usually light-hearted.
Maurice Wilson, Rock-n-Roll.
Ironic humour, sometimes referred to as dark humour, describes something as opposite to its actual reality. Ironic titles can help the photographer relay an important emotional message without being too challenging. They can be more effective than a straight comment on the image.
Anna Kadykova, Christmas Mood.
In Summary ……
So select your title carefully. In many instances, a description of the image will be well received. You can use your title to direct your viewer to a particular area within the frame. You can also use it to expose an element previously hidden to the viewer. A humorous title can add something special to your photograph. The process of selecting a title will also help you to better understand your photograph.
The most important purpose of any title is to help you convey your emotional message. It is been said many times that of the sole purpose of art is to generate an emotional reaction. Therefore the only poor photograph is one which leaves everyone unmoved.
For those of you with a competitive streak, an imaginative title might add extra points to a score awarded to you at a photo competition. The same could be said of revisiting your scene on a better day, but which of the two is easier?