The yearbook is the best way to tell the story of the school year – but what happens when you run out of space to tell all the stories you want to? Elementary and middle school yearbooks often have space constraints that make it difficult to utilize “traditional” yearbook storytelling. Photo captions are a great way to make sure every photo’s story is told without sacrificing space or emotional impact. Not sure how to start writing photo captions? We can help! Here are a few tips for making your photo captions the best they can be.

What’s In A Name?

A caption can essentially be described a piece of informative text accompanying a photo. Captions should tell a story, answer questions, and/or describe the action or reaction in a photo. Captions can be simple and used only for identifying people, or they can be used as mini stories to save space and create maximum impact. If you are using captions as mini stories, try to answer the five W’s and H in each one; Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.

Just My Type

There are four main types of captions: standard, group, identification, and quote only.

The standard (or expanded) caption are the mini stories we discussed earlier. These captions typically have three sentences, although you can get by with two sentences if space is limited. A standard caption goes like this:

  • Lead in: two or three words, this is the mini headline for the caption.
  • Sentence 1: Identifies people in the picture using first and last names and grades. Gives most essential information of the five W’s and H. This sentence is in present tense.
  • Sentence 2: Provides background information that cannot be seen in the photo (was this photo taken at a school event? Are the kids in a school group together?). This sentence is in past tense.
  • Sentence 3 (optional): a direct quote from a person in the photo, attributed with “said.” This can be more than one sentence, kids often give hilarious answers to questions!

The group caption may be used next to a small group of photos. A group caption saves space while summing up the action going on in all of the photos in the group. Group captions should be limited to groups of five photos or less for readability. Group captions can follow the same guidelines as standard captions, but sentence 1 and 2 can be combined. If you’d like to use a direct quote, you can use just one or a few depending on the group of photos.

Identification (or “ident”) captions are simply a name and grade level. These are ideally only used for portrait photos or cutouts. You can also create an extended identification by using a name and a small amount of detail in one sentence. For example: Jenny Long (4) runs on the playground.

Quote only captions are just what the sound like; a quote accompanying a photo. These captions are intended to tell a story from the perspective of the student or person pictured. Students should be attributed with their full name and grade.

Use emotion and storytelling

Captions are often what give students context into their yearbook photos for decades to come, long after the original memory has faded. Captions should tell the reader something they cannot see and capture the story behind the photo. If the caption is accompanying a photo from a big event or celebration (new school opening, 5th grade graduation, etc.) the emotion of the event should be there.

  • Example: Justin Malecha (5) waves to his parents in the audience as he walks across the stage to receive his diploma. The air was buzzing with excitement as the whole school celebrated their graduating students who would soon be moving up to Middle School. “I’m really excited! I think middle school will be fun, but I’ll also miss my teachers. I want to see what they have for lunch at Fairville,” Malecha said.

Captioning posed photos

When captioning posed photos, it can be hard to tell stories without becoming redundant. There are only so many times you can use “posing in front of” or “a group of students.” To make compelling posed photo captions, try telling the before or after story of the photo, opening with the when or where, or using a quote from someone pictured.

Sports ball

If you are captioning a sporting event, be sure to get the outcome of the game from a trusted source. Players, coaches, or the school website may have accurate information.

Active verbs

Use active verbs. “She raced towards the ball” sounds much better than “she ran to the ball.”

Avoid passive language

Avoid using passive voice in captions. Stories are experienced in the here and now, not in the past! Instead of “He was writing a paper,” try using “he wrote an essay on saving the bees.”

Obviously, don't be obvious

Don’t state the obvious, irrelevant, or unknown. Tell the reader the story they cannot see, avoid saying what doesn’t belong, and get the facts!

Locating photos

Instead of using “pictured above” or “shown here,” place captions directly next to or even in the corner of the photo they belong to. Using photo IDs like Photo 1 or Photo A are also okay to use if needed.

Spellcheck your heart out

Be sure to check name spelling, grammar, and style. You’re writing the history book for the school, be sure your work is accurate and done well!
Practice Makes Perfect

Need some practice? Find some images of people on Google or on your phone and practice writing captions. What are the subjects doing? What are they saying? What’s the story?

We’re here to help make a meaningful yearbook that will end up in the hands of every student, all while providing you a fun and hassle-free yearbook experience. We promise to make your experience with School Annual easy, fun and affordable.