When entering photographs into competitions, especially ‘open’ (i.e. unthemed) ones, it is critical to choose a great title for your entry. A good title can make the difference between a judge (or any viewer) looking at the image and thinking ‘I don’t know what the photographer is trying to say!’, or thinking ‘Ah, I get it’. To me, a good title adds context to something that may be abstract or in my case, something that is ugly to look at, but makes you think beyond mere aesthetic attractiveness.
This was brought home to me recently in a number of competitions, both positively and negatively. Example 1 – Luneside Landscape. I did struggle to think of a decent name for this, but thought that it was pretty blatant and didn’t really need any further explanation.
So I just named it after the area – the Luneside area of Lancaster. The judge thought the picture was great (it got 19/20) but didn’t think the name did anything for it. In retrospect I think I agree. The Luneside bit is irrelevant, it adds nothing to your understanding of the image (unless you live in Lancaster). I’m still not sure what a better name is, but it’s worth thinking about if I enter it in any other competitions.
Example 2 – Natural Decay. This one did really well (it won) in a club competition, and the judge thought the name was particularly appropriate.
I’m glad because it took me a while to think of it, but not nearly as long as it took to cut out that damn fern, but that’s another story! Although natural decay doesn’t describe what is in the picture (a derelict steam engine and a fern), it does describe what is going on, i.e. mans creations being taken over by nature.
Here’s one from the same competition that didn’t do as well. I titled it ‘Walking The Dog’, as what I had in mind was that the walker was doing something ordinary, but with something extraordinary in the background. Alas, my intention failed miserably, the judge thought that the title gave the wrong impression, and should have directed attention to the wreck.
I can see his point, and my title maybe didn’t communicate this well enough.
Finally, another competition winner – ‘Winters Morning Express’. While the judge didn’t comment on the title, I feel that it captures the essence of the image. It’s an atmospheric image, and the title evokes something about the romance of the steam train., while at the same time describing what is in the scene.
My method for creating titles, is to brainstorm words to describe what is in the picture, and words that what is imply the message that I want to get over. I then basically write them all down randomly across a page, and stick them together to see what works. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not.
In summary, it’s not about being clever with your titles, but choosing something meaningful and intelligent. It sets the mood for the picture and can completely change the meaning of what you are looking at, as it can point the viewers direction in the way you want, rather than them drawing a different conclusion from what you intended.