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Words are powerful, as are the titles for your images

Words are powerful and when used in conjunction with a photographic image they become part of the work of art. I have learned titles play an important role in drawing a connection between the narrative of your image and the viewer. Regardless of whether your image is a fine art image or an image that you share in different forums, titles need to create a connection. Always be aware, bad titles, or titles that don’t land well, can subvert what you are trying to communicate. It’s good practice to try to ‘show’ the viewer your intent. Resist the temptation to ‘tell’ them about it. Also try to think about your intended audience and how you wish them to interpret your image.


Ideally titles give your viewer a clue of your idea or to the narrative or story portrayed in the image. Your title needs to compliment your work, giving the viewer sufficient information to enrich their experience make it memorable, and connect with them. This becomes particularly important if your intent is to win competitions or sell your images.


I have learned over time that there are several different approaches to naming your images, titles can be simple, symbolic, convey an emotion or mood. Or you can try and take a story approach, by titling your images like you would a story book or novel. For example, in the genre of landscape photography in which I mostly play, I describe the weather conditions, such as bright, sunny, overcast, stormy, or use the time of day, sunrise, sunset etc.


To help in your endeavours I share various approaches that I have research and use myself. Depending on the forum and the story I want to convey within an image I use employ each of the approaches on a regularly basis.


Simple versus Creative

The classic convention to titling an image is to identify the subject, such as the name of the person, place, or thing. However, I have found trying to employ some creativity can draw a stronger connection between the narrative of image and the perspective of the viewer. This can be achieved by trying to think about how to strike a chord with the subject of the image and the intended viewers interpretation.


Creativity in titling your images is about listening to your inner self by digging into your own creative journey in capturing the image. Sometimes I reflect on what inspired me generally, and what inspired me when I created the image. When I’m out shooting, I practice using all my five senses in that moment by practicing mindfulness. However, a word of warning, choose words wisely and carefully, the aim to raise eyebrows or generate a smile on the face of the viewer, not to distract or insult the viewer.


Symbolic, Metaphoric or Poetic

Creative or metaphorical titles can add depth and a unique perspective to your images. They can evoke symbolism or convey a mood that enhances the viewer’s experience. Titles that suggest symbolism are those that introduce and frame your ideas. I find these are suited to images that are in fact communicating ideas versus bluntly depicting reality. The image below uses a metaphor as a title – A Blanket of Snow at Dawn

Alternately the image below uses a symbolic title, “Hope”, as well all hope to find that elusive pot of gold at the end of every rainbow.

Emotion or Mood

Beyond the visual of the image does how does your image have a deeper psychological attraction, how would a title help to convey this. I find that titles that evoke stir emotions can create a stronger connection between the viewer and the image. They can inspire curiosity, intrigue, or empathy, prompting viewers to delve deeper into the visual narrative. They can dramatise the moment, make one feel the joy or pain, the belief or disgust through your words of title. The image below uses emotive words in the title – Angry Skies Loom or Storm Front which I have used for my limited edition print of this image.

Lightening burst over the sea off the coast of Kiama
Storm Front

Story or narrative

Does your image tell a story of what the moment is that you have captured, use the title to compliment or help convey the story or narrative.


I hear a lot in judgung circles that finding the verb versus the noun within an image is ideal. This is achieved by identifying the action or movement that seems to be depicted in the photograph. While images are primarily visual, they can still convey verbs through various visual cues. In portrait photography, this can be done by paying attention to the body language of the subjects in the image. Postures, gestures, or expressions can often imply certain actions. In landscape photography, look for any indications of movement or actions related to those objects within the images or the leading lines, diagonals, or visual cues that guide the viewer’s eye toward a specific action or movement. The image below uses the verb ‘Flow” as the title to tell the story of the movement of water over rocks.

Sometimes, verbs within images might not be immediately apparent. In such cases, use your imagination and interpret the image in different ways. Consider the mood, atmosphere, or narrative conveyed by the image to determine the underlying action. Remember, finding verbs within images requires careful observation, context analysis, and interpretation.

Getting started in creating a title

Start with using words or phrases that conjure up the same initial emotions that you were feeling in that moment when you were creating that image in the field. Try to recall that instant in time that first grabbed your attention. What were you thinging in that moment that grabbed your attention. What was that moment that caught your eye that inspired you to capture the image? What it the light, movement, colour?

You may start with a working title, I have used this many times, then I’ve refined it during post processing. As you edit, then refine as you draw the story out as you also draw the feelings out. Try to make your title expansive enough that it allows the diversity of your viewers to create their own meaning as they view your work. Consider allowing for the personal interpretation of your viewer, to enable them to make their own connection with your work.

Putting it all together

The following image “Iceberg in Paradise Harbour, Antarctica, 2019” uses the simple approach to applying a title to an image.


Watch how your focus shifts when these alternate titles are used.

Deep Blue, Frozen, Adrift, Suspended

In summary, tips for a good title are to try to:

  • not to state the obvious, unless you feel you must
  • provide insight into your inspiration for the artwork
  • help the image tell its story
  • leave room for the viewer to bring their own meaning and interpretation to the image
  • make it memorable or catchy, but not a cliché unless totally necceasry and you are trying for irony
  • make it original but not pretentious

If you get stuck, ask people you trust to brainstorm with to land on your title.

Remember, there are no hard and fast rules for titling photographs. The goal is to find a title that complements your image and enhances its impact on the viewer. Ultimately, trust your instincts and choose a title that resonates with you and the message you want to convey through your photography.