A note from the PhotoGroup website Editor
Often the photos on our website don't need extensive captions and the facts about locations are quite adequate. We include houses of all types in the Chilterns – terraces and town housing as well as grand residences. But even a picture of a street full of 1920s houses becomes more interesting when the caption not only gives the location but also explains they were built by the local railway for their workers.
When you have the opportunity to write more extended captions you will find Barry Hunt's guide a great help.
How to write captions that tell a story by Barry Hunt
• Take notes of what you photograph and ensure the facts are correctly spelt.
• Apply a creative approach to researching details to make the caption more interesting.
• Remember, good captions communicate your curiosity about the subject to the reader.
• Look for any small details or objects in the photo that may add interest to your caption.
• Placing the subject within an historical context can often add real interest.
• Consider (and research) the subject's social, economic and demographic factors.
The PhotoGroup’s albums recording locations and a variety of aspects of life in the Chilterns are rightly noted for their high standards of photographic excellence. But the words count too. An informative caption complements the image to make both aspects more interesting to the viewer.
This guide gives examples of the type of captions that enhance your photography. As with the start of a photoshoot, good captions benefit from some research, but they begin with a basic recording of the facts to hand. Make a note of what you are photographing. Ensure the names of streets, featured buildings and other relevant details are correctly spelt. When photographing landscapes, note the names of locations, farms, hills and woods as given on the OS map. Places like nature reserves and viewpoints may have information boards that can be photographed for later reference.
Be creative and be curious
Creativity is the quality of dealing with ideas rather events. When applied to captions the ideas begin with diligent research, sometime from various sources, combined with a natural curiosity of the subject. It’s rather like emulating a good reporter: one who knows where to look and how best to use this information. This way you transform a mundane label into something that attracts the reader’s interest.
Small details count
An eye for detail is essential for good photography and could add another feature point for the caption. For example, late Georgian or early Regency houses usually have handsome doorways with intricate, semi-circular fanlights. Their noticeably thinner iron glazing bars, compared to earlier designs, characterise the architectural elegance of that period. Benefitting from improved iron-making techniques, they allowed more daylight into quite dark interiors where the rear windows could be some distance from the front.
On a personal note, the serendipitous nature of research led me to discover the differences between the main bricklaying methods. Basically, English bond has alternating courses of headers and stretchers (the long narrow side of a brick), while Flemish bond has alternate headers and stretchers in each course for a more pleasing appearance. Also, the two-brick thick walls gave good load-bearing before the adoption of cavity walls. It’s a detail that can enhance a caption, as in this example:
“Saunder's Almhouses in Flamstead, Grade II* listed, erected in 1669 for poor pious widows and widowers: built of narrow brick in Flemish bond with chamfered brick recessed doorways and window jambs.”
Talking of history, many Chiltern towns and villages have fine historical buildings for us to photograph. Many combine extensions or alterations from later periods, using vernacular materials. Social and economic changes have commonly led to two or more cottages being knocked together as a single dwelling, as this Denham village caption typifies:
“Blacksmith’s Cottage is timber-framed with brick infilling. Formerly three cottages, it has an inglenook fireplace and the remains of a priest hole.”
What a story that place could tell, but under 24 words is enough to go on for now. Again, post-photoshoot research using online search facilities, including Wikipedia and national and regional sources, quite often yield interesting details.
Here’s an example of a sense-of-place caption that has benefited from some research to give a little-known fact about Old Amersham.
“Apsley House is a characteristic early 18th century town residence. Unlike the north side of High Street where the Church had interests in the properties, the Drake family owned much of the property on the south side and the buildings are grander.”
Going to the pub
All types of pubs, especially former coaching inns, hold a universal appeal. The caption below records how one in Great Missenden became a long-running local news item. An online search of a newspaper’s archive added some extra facts to produce an interesting caption.
“The George Inn, a former 500-year-old Grade II listed coaching inn with courtyard. as it appeared in May 2018 and awaiting more refurbishment. It had previously been left boarded up in a dilapidated state for several years. In June 2016, following much local opposition, the Chiltern District Council rejected a developer’s plans to turn the inn into four homes.”
Nearly all pubs have interesting histories. The Crown in Hazlemere has one with a fine social-religious twist to it.
“In the mid-19th century, farming with some brick making, were the main occupations in Hazlemere, The number of inns and alehouses increased, including The Crown on Amersham Road. The resulting ‘ungodliness’ among the locals led the Misses Carter to initiate the building of a church - Holy Trinity - in 1845. It sits directly opposite The Crown.”
And visiting a church
Speaking of churches, their exteriors and interiors, plus churchyards, figure largely in our photo albums. Besides being places of worship, churches play a key role in a location’s history, often over many centuries. Many offer information leaflets with layouts and notes on the church’s history and its renovations and extensions down the ages. Websites are another good source, there’s even one for gravestone symbols and icons.
The caption below for St Mary’s church in Hitchin combines two elements: the war memorial and the church bell tower. In explaining why such towers were different in Hertfordshire it adds the type of contextual interest that often has wide appeal.
“The war memorial in Churchyard at the entrance to St Mary’s church was built in 1922. From here the spike on the bell tower is clearly visible. David Everest, local historian, says their popularity in Hertfordshire reflects the county’s lack of suitable building stones, apart from flints. Builders used them set in concrete to construct church towers, but they were not strong enough to support the weight of a spire as well as the bells.”
Hopefully, the above examples will inspire all those who want their captions to rise above the mundane and perhaps tell a little story.