Note: This content is out of date. Our latest caption rules can always be found here.
Captions are journalism, too. They should be fact-checked and typo-checked. They should be complete sentences that present the who, what, where, when and (sometimes) why without necessarily stating the obvious (i.e., he sits, she waves, they clap). Captions give photos context, telling viewers what’s going on in a photo so they don’t have to guess or jump to conclusions.
As with any content NPR produces, we follow a style guide. Below are some rules to keep in mind when writing and editing captions.
The who: Use parentheses, not commas, to identify who’s who in the photo (a departure from AP’s style for “caption directionals”). For example: “Laurel Dalrymple (left) and Susan Vavrick watch the Newscast anchors bicker.” But give our readers some credit. If Janey Adams is in the photo with President Obama, assume our readers can figure out who is who. Use directionals only if they’re really necessary to identify the people.
An example under this photo by Kainaz Amaria:
The when: Use the day of the week: “Amy Morgan eats her signature Nutella sandwich Monday.” If the event took place more than a week ago, use the month and the day: “Pam Webster attends the Tiny Desk Concert on Dec. 15.” If it took place a year or more ago, throw in the year: “Amy Morgan dressed up as a Zhu Zhu hamster on Dec. 11, 2009.” BUT — if the specific date is irrelevant, consider dropping it altogether or just giving the year or writing something like “last month.”
Also, please remember to put a comma after the year if the date doesn’t come at the end of the sentence (NO: On June 6, 1972 a star was born; YES: On June 6, 1972, a star was born).
The where: Some cities don’t require a state or country after them; please see the dateline entry of the AP Stylebook to see which ones. For all others, include the abbreviated state name (and/or country name, not abbreviated). State abbreviations are NOT the same as the two-letter postal codes. (We use Calif., not CA. Find all the others in the AP’s state names entry, including the eight states that are always spelled out.)
Also, please remember to put a comma after the state or country if the location doesn’t come at the end of the sentence (NO: She was born in Vienna, Va. the crossroads of civilization; YES: She was born in Vienna, Va., the crossroads of civilization).
Keep it brief: You do not need to summarize the entire story in the caption; it should supplement or complement the story. If the caption is as deep as the photo, it’s too long! Please keep captions to a couple lines.
An example under this photo by Ariel Zambelich:
Don’t repeat: Assume the reader looks at a page from top to bottom. You do not need to include everything in every caption. If the top photo says Amy Morgan delivers the commencement address to Barnard College in New York City on Monday, and there is a second photo from the event, you do not need to repeat that it was at Barnard College in New York City on Monday.
“File photo”: DON’T USE this common descriptor from wire services. It’s jargon, and no one cares.
Bylines and credits: Sometimes they are imported in all caps. Please keep an eye out and fix. There should be no spaces alongside the slashes. Also, we shorten The Associated Press to AP in caption credits.
Style: Here’s the style we use when crediting a photo.
- AP photos: Jane Smith/AP (not “Associated Press)
- Getty photos: Jane Smith/Getty Images (not “Getty”)
- If a wire image is credited as “Stringer” or “Uncredited,” only credit the organization.
- Freelance photos assigned by NPR: Jane Smith for NPR
NPR staffers: Jane Smith/NPR
- Station Reporter photos should be credited with the station’s call letters: Jane Smith/WAMU
- Photos paid for by NPR but that are not commissioned by NPR should be credited to the photographer: Jane Smith
- Flickr photos: Jane Smith/Flickr (and the source should link back to the URL of the CC license they’ve released the image under)
- Handout, free photos, PR images, museum photos or anything we didn’t pay for should be credited “Courtesy of Jane Smith” (not just “courtesy” or “Courtesy”).
- Approved screenshots should be credited to the name of the company: “Amazon” or “Apple.” Also, indicate in the caption that the image is a screenshot.
- Approved use of an image from an individual or group’s social media feed should only be credited to the individual or group; Facebook or Twitter do not have to be included.