View Full Version : Importance of Image Titles

August 14th, 2007, 09:45 AM
Forgive me if this has been covered or if it is the wrong section (please move accordingly) but I could not find a reference to it elsewhere.

My inquiry is concerning image titles. This is one area of my art that I struggle with constantly (there are others too, but right now I'll just stick to this one :)). How do you title an image? What is your process? Where does your inspiration come from? How important is the title to the image? Do you pay attention to the title when you view other peoples work? I know the answers will be different for everyone but I am curious as to what they would be.

English was always my weakest subject in school and I've never taken a single art class. Photography is the only aspect of my life in which my right brain is in use and I find that my left brain takes over once the camera is removed from my eye. Therefore it makes it very difficult to come up with any creative titles for my images other than "leaf on a rock", "Door #1" or everyone's favorite "Untitled".

I worry that by titling an image in the above manner will turn off potential admirers as they would not take my work serious. I've even gone so far as to find ways that I can shoot specifically with simple titles (i.e. working on a 24hr project where the title of the images will simply be named by their time captured...like "1:45pm, 12:47am....etc").

Any thoughts are greatly appreciated.


Angela Weil
August 15th, 2007, 03:13 PM
Hi David,
titles are important. However, it depends on what type of images you work with.

In journalism, a photograph without proper caption is worthless.

As soon as anything recognizable is in the image, or if any rights have to be considered, one has to include that in the title. For example: When I take pictures of animals in zoos, an image of a lion from the zoo in Heidelberg has to give credit to the zoo in the caption because zoos have the rights to the images of their animals. But I don't have to state the obvious, I can leave out 'lion' in the title.

In documentary or decorative landscape work, viewers usually want to know where the image has been taken or what it is they are looking at.

On the other hand, one can cause damage with the wrong titles: Diminish the impact of an image by using overly cute titles, taking away the imagination of the viewer by describing too much or leading in a direction that the image is not quite supporting. Well, sometimes this might be an enhancement as well, when the author of the image wants to influence the audience in a given direction. Sometimes that works - but mostly it does not.

Sometimes, however, it works in the other direction: I went to a show in a museum in Frankfurt where the artist had substantial space to display large plain images of nothing but very drab and uniform gray skies. The titles were long, stating the name of the city, the street, the date, and the exact time the images were taken. Nice concept there - gray skies are the same everywhere, anytime.

The last example leads to purly artistic work, such as the work you have in your portfolio. My personal opinion: You either don't need a title at all or you sort the images in any way you like them and give group names - Like 'Early Light 1....and so on or whatever strikes your fancy.

Any documentary title (geographic location) or cute title would take away the universal appeal of the images. It is just fine that the images could be from anywhere and the the viewer can imaging anything, relate to the images in a personal way whithout you adding an additional piece of information or giving directions as to what the viewer is supposed to feel. Unless, of course, that is what you explicitily want to do. Also, it is a good idea to not name in the title what is clearly visible: like the title 'Boat' when the image depicts just that - except in the instance when you need to differentiate between a fishing boat and a military vessel or when you tell a story with your images in which the boat plays an important role.

How do I arrive at titles? It depends on the purpose of the pictures. Is it part of a project with a name, is it just a single shot of something that cought my attention? Usually, I have two or three sets of titles. The first is a 'working title' in combination with a file number. Numbers and dates alone don't work for me. The second and often last is a title derived from fragments of what I was thinking while proccessing the images. The third might be given, if the image or series of images appear on the web site or in an exhibit and need to be organized for external viewing and only for this particular purpose.


Kathy Rappaport
August 15th, 2007, 05:05 PM
I just today got back an order of my photography from the lab. I have names for these images in my head because of where I took them. But for fine art, well, I really don't think the names are appropriate. So I am just at the point of trying to be creative with the names (Accountants are not generally creative) and as you said David, the camera is put away the other side of the brain goes into play and creativity sort of goes into hiding. So now I have more food for thought. So David, I am in the same boat. (which happens to be the subject of the photos needing a name).

August 15th, 2007, 05:52 PM
Thank you Angela for the extensive reply! You brought up some very good points and I will definitely be referring to them as I go through my images.

Kathy, if you you ever find a creative way to name the boats let me know. Being on the coast, I've got a few that could use a new title ;).


Edward Bussa
August 15th, 2007, 06:40 PM
I just ran into this today with regards to my website.

Currently, my images retain thier organizational filename made up of the date and time the photo was created.

I had two co-workers mention how they thought it would be good if
a) the address to my images was simpler and
b) my images were titled. Now these are two seperate, unrelated comments from two seperate people. I decided it might be helpful for people to navigate my site and communicate to me about the images if they were organized in a simple way.
So, here are two uses titles; 1) navigation on the web and 2) communication about the images.

I toyed with organizing them by prominent color scheme or season, and then a one-word description and number, such as "Warm Lakeshore Spring #1" or "Cool Waterfall Winter #1".

I'm not entirely happy with this scheme and will likely use something a little different, but these are my current thoughts!

Jim Rhoades
August 16th, 2007, 12:10 AM
I struggled with giving titles to images a little bit when building a web site for myself last month.

I found that with some images, it was easy - if there were people in the image then perhaps something related to their actions/feelings. Or, sometimes the title would reflect the mood or feeling that the image gave me.

For other images, like an image of a Florida alligator, I couldn't really come up with anything creative - and in that case simply titled it "Florida Alligator". It at least lets the viewer know that it's an alligator (not a crocodile) and the image was taken in Florida.

I believe that coming up with titles has made me think about some images in a deeper way than I would have otherwise... and, perhaps in some way, knowing what to call an image gives me another way to connect to it.

Interesting discussion...

Maris Rusis
August 18th, 2007, 10:43 PM
Every photograph I make has a catalogue number but only the ones put forward for public viewing have titles.

If you have ever hung your photographs in a gallery exhibition format you will notice that most casual viewers take between five and ten minutes to work their way around a set of thirty images. The questions they ask themselves tend to be "Who is this ?" in the case of portraits or figures, "Where is this and when was it taken?" in the case of landscapes. My titles are designed to partially answer those questions so that the entire viewing can be done in two minutes. The snack foods and wine that accompany art show openings are limited so too much looking means less eating and drinking.

For folks actually intent on the photographs the partial explanation offered in the title hints to them what mental machinery to invoke to make sense of what they see. In the words of Minor White they can ask not what the picture is of but rather what else it is of.

Titles are also very convenient handles for critiquing, reviewing, and discussing photographs. It is very difficult to generate an overview of a photographers work along the lines "Many of their Untitled are not as good as some of their Untitled". It is a critics nightmare to be cogent and succinct when trying to distill something out of an accretion of untitled work.

Dawid Loubser
August 28th, 2007, 08:41 AM
Hi Dave,

This is an interesting and important concept. When I take an image, I don't even think of a title - the image is everything. Later on, when I process the RAW, a title just pops into my head. I literally have no idea what my internal, subconscious process is to derive them. Sometimes, they are deliberately "cute" or "clever" - but other times, they have almost no obvious bearing to the image.

Sometimes, they are obvious, yet (I hope) insightful, causing one to look a bit deeper:

"Crossing Bridges"
http://tn3-2.deviantart.com/fs16/300W/f/2007/219/6/2/Crossing_bridges_by_philosomatographer.jpg (http://philosomatographer.deviantart.com/art/Crossing-bridges-61652705)

Sometimes, they have a deliberate play of words:

"Green, which mean time"
http://tn3-2.deviantart.com/fs12/300W/f/2006/320/a/f/Green__which_mean_Time_by_philosomatographer.jpg (http://philosomatographer.deviantart.com/art/Green-which-mean-Time-43185374)

Sometimes, they convey what I though the image reminded me of:

"Fibre Optik"
http://tn3-2.deviantart.com/fs15/300W/f/2007/026/4/7/Fibre_Optik_by_philosomatographer.jpg (http://philosomatographer.deviantart.com/art/Fibre-Optik-47414026)

In conclusion, I think the titles form part of the overall style of the photographer - for some, the come naturally, and are important. For others, they are not important, and shouldn't be "forced". It's, in my opinion, a completely personal aspect of your style, and should be accepted as such by the viewer.