How And When To Title Photographs

How and when do you give titles to your photographs?

Personally, I’ve titled mine in three different ways –

1. A poetic title

A deliberate (attempt at a) fusion of words and image to create something stronger and more evocative than either could alone.

6146511606_3842d74eb2_b
Another Way Of Ending, Another Goodbye
5646107206_2540994761_b
Go, Just Go, It’s Waiting…

I haven’t really done this for years – it was more in my transitional phase from poet to photographer.

Today I prefer to let the photographs speak for themselves.

2. A number code

This was mostly during the period where I’d started shooting film, and with more than one camera.

To have an immediate idea of which camera made which photos, I gave the photos codes, like H0049, for the 49th image I made with my Holga.

7699168952_0738358210_z

This system was abandoned after a while as I couldn’t find simple enough codes to track the difference between a photograph made with, for example, an Asahi Spotmatic F with Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens and AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film, and an Asahi Pentax SP with Auto Takumar 55mm f/2 lens and Fuji C200 film.

I reverted to using albums in Flickr to track these details instead.

Now I have a somewhat ridiculous 250+ albums, but it’s still much easier than have 250+ different number codes to remember! Yet another reason why I’ve simplified towards becoming a cameranogamist.

And to let go of the obsessive labelling entirely.

3. Untitled

This is self explanatory – having no title so the photograph stands (or falls) purely on its own merits.

42127202682_7e37395510_b

I’ve gone with the untitled approach for probably 99% of photos I’ve shared online over the last nine years.

I’ve wanted to reach a point where my photographs are strong enough to stand alone, without being propped up by words to try to make them more interesting.

Plus, I like to leave the interpretation down to the viewer, rather than guide them down a certain avenue of thinking and responding.

Photography is hugely subjective, so I as the photographer might have feelings and thoughts about a certain image, and you as the viewer might feel completely differently about it, all depending on our unique outlooks, experiences, filters and so on.

Also, now I regularly use only four cameras, instead of 54, I don’t need to distinguish between which photograph was made with which camera.

I don’t care anymore, because I’m not a camera tester and collector anymore, just a photographer.

Other people’s photography

In reading more photography books lately, I’ve found that most photographs that have a title, it’s the place, and/or date. I’m not sure whether this was done by the photographer originally, or by those curating and publishing the work afterwards, just as a means of cataloguing and describing it.

I don’t see what it adds myself, for my kind of photography, but perhaps with something like street photography it would be interesting to see how places evolve over years.

For the foreseeable future I plan to continue to leave my photographs untitled.

I’ll just let them speak for themselves.

What about you? How and when do you title your photographs?

Join the conversation below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what my photography life looks like right now.

17 thoughts on “How And When To Title Photographs”

  1. I struggle with titles. Less with my blog as there is usually some narrative around the images anyway but certainly on Flickr and other sites.
    Usually I am what I regard as lazy and let the filename become the title but sometimes I feel that I am missing something by doing this. A title can put an image into context and make a statement about why you (as a photographer) are posting the image. It also adds purpose and meaning and becomes more than “here is a pretty image I took”
    Equally, I agree with you that many images should be allowed to stand on there own without any forces understanding and the viewer must make their own mind up about it. Having visited a few exhibitions in my time, the art world has a mixture of titles; sometimes its a definite expression of what the artist was attempting to present, other times it is just a description of the scene or situation, sometimes it is specifically “untitled or even Untitled #39 which seems ridiculous but I guess it has to have a reference from a catalogue point of view.
    I think it always depends on the image and whether the photographer wants to say something specific. For me I think it is an aspiration to do more and I want to do more where I already have a title before I press the shutter which would be a whole new thought process for me.

    1. Oh do you mean you want to have an idea in your head with a title, then you want to look for a photograph that will fit that title? Or you have a title at the instant the photographic opportunity presents itself?

      1. I was thinking the former mostly, but the other is also a concept that might have appeal. Where perhaps as you are framing and looking for the right angle, to help you get it right and also perhaps as an exercise in deciding the shot is worth it ask yourself “what is the title of this shot?” No title, no shot. It might not matter whether the title is actually used in the end but maybe it will focus the mind?

        1. Can you give an example? What if the there’s a really great photograph waiting to be taken, but it doesn’t fit the title you have in your head? Do you then take it anyway, or ignore it? I kind of like the discovery and excitement of finding what’s there, and wonder if we plan and expect too much we’ll miss other opportunities that might be even better, just because they don’t fit our brief/title?

          1. So let’s separate this in two. In the first scenario I am thinking that I have a brief kind of thing or the title from a challenge/competition and I need to find a subject and image that fits that ‘requirement’. This I think is straightforward and is a common process for some pros. If I saw something else I like whilst looking for this I would take the shot. In the second scenario (I’m making this up as I go along here) I could see it as a way of restricting my photography and forcing me to consider the shot even more specifically and yes in this way the idea would be not to take the shot and potentially miss images. I have to say that this is not how I work currently and I am an opportunist photographer by nature; but I think this might be an interesting exercise for a brief period.

          2. SilverFox, yes I think these kind of exercises can be really useful in stretching our creativity.

            I tried the “one room fifty photographs” challenge a couple of months ago, and plan to do it again. Amazing how it encourages you to work within the limitations imposed and photographs you probably wouldn’t have considered in “normal” circumstances.

  2. Whenever I share a photo online anywhere I title it. I usually just dash off something. It’s usually descriptive. “Yellow Mustang” or “Door in Zionsville” or some such.

    1. Jim, I imagine that works very well for searching purposes on Flickr and Google. I tag my photos quite well on Flickr (I think!) but probably a descriptive title like yours would help people find an image of a certain object/place.

  3. Internally, all of my film pictures are cataloged by the date the roll of film was developed and the frame number on the roll. So the first frame on the roll of FP4 I developed on Monday is 180515-01. The PrintFile negative page is labeled 180515, as is the contact sheet which also has my notes on the roll in the footer.

    Externally, there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to how I name, label, tag or otherwise identify individual pictures, except that I alway identify pictures that include text in the image by the text itself.

    1. I think it’s very useful Doug to have some kind of system for filing photographs, though increasingly I like going purely by date taken and am organising my photos for this year just with a folder for each month (on my MacBook). On GooglePhotos and Flickr (the camera roll mode) they display in date order anyway.

      How do you mean about text, so if there’s a picture of the High Street with a sign, you’ll call the photo “High Street”? What if it’s a shot of multiple signs or books or something?

      1. When someone looks through one of my contact sheet ring binders and says they would like a print of a particular picture I need a quick way to access the negative. (My recent scans are so much better than the older ones that I rescan almost everything I print.)

        Concerning the titles, I should have said when the text caught my eye when I took the picture. I recently posted a picture of a derelict night club with a sign indicating that parking was available. I titled the picture Flamingo Parking. There is also a smaller Public Telephone sign in the foreground but it didn’t occur to me to use that as a title.

  4. “…I … might have feelings and thoughts about a certain image, and you … might feel completely differently about it…”

    True. But the question is thereby begged: if no one beside yourself ever saw your work, would you still make photographs? Yes; for those interested enough, sufficiently involved with photography to be reading this blog, for instance, the answer is probably yes.
    Because, beyond documentation or record-making, photography is an expression of the impulse for art, and art makes has its own demands on the artist, who rarely considers any anticipated or possible alternative interpretation of it other than his or her own.

    For many, there are some photos they’ve made that may “speak” their title; may appear in the mind as a somehow necessary component of the whole. And sometimes a picture seems incomplete without a title, even if a simple and straightforward ‘finishing touch’: “Moon Over Half Dome”. Or perhaps plain, with a hint of mystery: “”Madame X”. The impulse to title a picture comes from the same place as the impulse to make the picture, and can be an art form in itself. And there is no explaining the drive to make art. Not in words.

    An unadorned designator – “Symphony No. 3 in E♭ major, Op. 55” is an effective catalogue number; “The Eroica” is a title.

    1. Well the answer to your first question is yes, I would certainly still make photographs if no-one else saw them. Not that many people actually do see them!

      The act of hunting and capturing is as important, in fact for me it’s more important, than the final “product”, the photograph.

      Perhaps if I were to regularly exhibit, I might title photographs in the poetic way I mentioned above, or a plain descriptive way, rather than leave virtually all of them untitled. I still feel I want to let the photos speak for themselves, as it were.

      Music is similar, with pop songs say, they are nearly always named by the main line of the chorus. But with instrumental or classical music, there are no words in the music to use. So there are similar options as with photographs.

      I remember a group I like (Labradford) releasing an instrumental record called E Luxo So. On the rear of the cover (I had the CD at the time) it listed the basic production credits over six lines. But each had a number at the start of the line, eg –

      1. “Recorded and Mixed at Sound of Music, Richmond, Va.”

      Must have been very annoying to reference the tracks for reviewers!

      Their previous record had just single or double letter titles, so maybe the next step in minimalism was to just have numbers, then someone decided to list the production credits next to them as a joke almost…

      The follow up record had far a more conventional track listing.

      Listening to any of three records (which are broadly similar in style and sound) I don’t tend to give any thought to the titles.

      Interesting topic isn’t it?

  5. I have several layers of titles. First my scans or imported digital images are ‘titled’ according to date – camera – lens or film used . That’s to make the easier t locate digitally (180319 – Pentax Spotmatic – Agfa RPX100 is quite comprehensive)

    When I post a photo in my No Words… series I title them. In a longer post they are mostly untitled unless it adds something to the post.

    Subject to constant change of course….

    1. So Frank do you title them only when you post in the “No Words” series – they don’t have a title prior to this? Why do you feel you need to title them? (Seems kind of ironic saying “No Words” but using words for the title of the photograph? 🙂 )

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s