The last two to four weeks of Yearbook (depending on your deadline) are wrapping up, possibly with so much left to be done! Spreads are still being built and lots of editing remains: Are photos spaced equally apart? Do pages have an eyeline? Is there a well-chosen dominant photo? The design elements which are to be consistent throughout your book—are they consistent? Are there any typos? Does every photo have a caption?
“Wait—every photo?” you ask.
“But if it’s a spread about Halloween, or a dance, everyone can plainly see what’s in the photo: someone in a Halloween costume, or someone dancing.”
Yes, but whom?
“I don’t know! But they know who they are, and so do their friends, and at least they got their photo in the yearbook. People who aren’t their friends won’t care who they are.”
Maybe not. But maybe they will. Maybe there are names of people you’ve heard tossed about in school and you’re not sure who they are. Maybe someone in your school will be famous one day, and you’ll want to be able to identify them in the yearbook. Maybe years from now, you won’t remember the names of high school friends because you lost touch after high school. Or maybe it’s just a good journalistic practice to hone, to identify everyone in the photos.
But here’s the most important reason: People need to feel like they matter, like they are known. This is especially meaningful for the people in high school who feel invisible. When such a person flips through the yearbook and sees her name with her photo, when she didn’t know she was being photographed, when she assumed no one cared about her or knew her name, this suggests to her that her absence would be noticed and she would be missed if she was gone. For some people, this can be life-changing.
So, what do you do if you have photos un-captioned and you don’t know someone’s identity? Ask around. Ask yearbook staff, ask the secretaries, ask teachers.
If you’re short on time before your pages need submitting to get your ProofBook, ask the school principal or vice principal if they can post in the staff room some pages you’ve printed off photos of everyone whose name you don’t know. The staff can fill in people’s names.
Once everyone is named, the next most important part of captioning photos is describing what is happening.
“But we can see what is happening. They are playing soccer, or working in Chem class.”
Sure, but did anything noteworthy happen that game or that Chem class? Did the teacher make a funny Freudian slip during a lecture that he let become an on-going class joke? Did anyone accidentally make something explode? Was there an especially surprising goal made in a game? Did anyone spend over four hours making their Halloween costume? Did anyone sew their own dress for a dance or for Grad?
Cover as many of the Six Ws as possible: Who, What, Where, When, Why (and How).
Once you know who is in the photo, see if you can track them down and ask them to tell you the Six Ws of that photo, with as much detail as possible.
If you feel self-conscious approaching a group of students to ask them if anyone knows where you can find Adam Garbally or Jane Smee, perhaps your yearbook class or staff can devise a contest of sorts where the winner gets to decide what the teacher or advisor has to do that is embarrassing on the last day of school, and each yearbook member can pick their own idea. This way, you’ve got a fun icebreaker for when you need to approach a group of people.
“Hey, guys. Have you heard about the contest Yearbook is having to get Mr. Jones to embarrass himself on the last day of school? We are each picking a song for him to sing over the loudspeaker/a costume for him to wear and mine is [X]. To win, I need to identify as many people in photos as possible, and describe what’s happening. Do you know where I can find Ashley Fisher, Justin Wong, or Jack Mitchell?”
Just an idea. Perhaps there could be a prize instead, and no “ice breaker.”
Either way, once you have all of your information, you need to combine it succinctly into one or two sentences, three at the most.
Let’s imagine that these are your notes:
This could be reduced to:
“On October 3rd, 2013, at Oak Bay Secondary’s track & field meet, Sarah Fastrunner surprises with a first-place win by one second, beating out two other eleventh graders from Mount Doug: Madison Kindafastrunner (2nd) and Kara Superfastrunner (3rd).”
Other yearbook photo captioning How-to’s:
- Write in the present tense, even though the action in the photo happened in the past. This is because a photo captures a moment and the idea is that as you are looking at that photo, you are in that moment and it’s happening now. After you have captioned the action in the photo, any additional information can be in past tense or future tense, as seems fitting.
- Do not worry about trying to create jazzy, editorial, “interesting” captions. You really only need to be informative, as succinctly as possible. Trying to turn the captions into an opportunity to showcase creative writing skills will only annoy the readers. The best kind of journalistic writing—like technical writing and some copywriting—will appear almost as if it wrote itself, with no ego or personality shining through of the writer. When you’re done, someone else should have a hard time figuring out how to word it any other way because all the information there is necessary and there’s no editorializing.
- Remember that captions should fall below the photos they are referencing, or sometimes are alongside, so there’s no need to state, “In the photo above” or anything similar.
- Generally, in photos of five or more people, we don’t name every individual. They can be referenced as “Senior girls’ volleyball team” or “yearbook staff.” If it’s just a candid group of students, you need not caption them as “students just hanging out.” Remember, that captions should inform readers of info they can’t glean from looking at the photo; don’t state the obvious.
- Remember that the font size should only be about 8 pt.
Lastly, maybe it’s too late in the year to get a caption on every photo. Your spreads are done and in such a way that you can’t add enough white space to squeeze captions in for every photo. Hey, don’t sweat it! Just do what you can for this year’s yearbook and next year, plan to make each aspect of yearbooking the best it can be.