A caption describes the action taking place in a photograph. It is built around the five Ws, and describes who is doing what and where. It also tells you when the action took place.
The fifth W, which comes from how, does not come into play in all pictures. It is used in only those photographs where the caption writer wants to explain how the event occurred.
A caption, which is known as the cutline in the US, is considered complete and informative only if it provides the following information:
# Identifies the people in the photograph
No caption is complete unless it identifies the individuals who people the photograph. Not only this, the identification must be complete. It is not enough to say that Manmohan Singh is meeting Barrack Obama. You must identify the personalities by their designation or profession. Thus,
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets US President Barrack Obama.
Bollywoood actor Shahrukh Khan at the premiere of his new film Chennai Express.
Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik meets his Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.
# Describes the action
The caption must describe what is happening in the photograph. This means you must use appropriate verbs to write the caption.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi addresses a rally in the Barmer district of Rajasthan.
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi sips tea with farmers in Greater Noida.
# Anchors the photograph
The caption must anchor a photograph that is it must state the place and date of an event.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi talks to flood affected people in Barmer district of Rajasthan on Monday.
The caption would be incomplete without this description.
# Places the individuals
It is not enough to identify the individual by name and designation but also to let the reader identify them. This is especially important if there are two or more than two people who make a photograph.
You can do this in the following three ways:
Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde (extreme left) visits the victims of a family in Mumbai.
(From Left to right): Indian cricketers Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Yuvaraj Singh and Mohd Kaif at the award ceremony.
Film star Katrina Kaif (with scarf round her neck) surrounded by fans.
# Provides background
Sometimes, a caption requires giving the background. For instance, a photograph of cracked earth would be incomplete if the caption writer does not explain that the photograph shows a field in Andhra Pradesh where there has been no rain for three seasons.