AP style tips on photo captions

Photo: Daily Tech

Photo: Daily Tech

Today in Photojournalism class, we’re going to talk about photo captions and other topics. The Associated Press recommends that captions be no more than two sentences.
The first sentence, according to the AP Stylebook, should contain:

  • Who is in the photo.
  • What is going on in the photo – in the present tense.
  • The city and state where the photo was taken.
  • Attribution for “action not seen.” For instance: A gunman shot six people, police say.
  • The date, including the day of the week if the photo was shot in the last two weeks.

The AP says that names of subjects in the photo should read from left to right.

Captions do not always require second sentences. But generally, the AP says, the second sentence should put news events in context or say why a photo is important.

The stylebook says this is a standard AP caption:

Democratic presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., delivers his policy on Iraq speech, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2007, in Clinton, Iowa. Obama called for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. combat brigades from Iraq, with the pullout being completed by the end of next year. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall).

Not all AP captions follow the standard style. Here’s an extended caption that appears on the AP website:

In this Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 photo, neighborhood resident Mohamed Alassane sifts through documents left behind at the Ministry of Finance’s Regional Audit Department, in Timbuktu, Mali, where a confidential letter was found from terror leader Abdelmalek Droukdel spelling out the terror network’s blueprint for conquering this desert nation. In the days before being rousted by a French assault force, the leader of al-Qaida¹s branch in Africa had warned fellow Islamic fighters to go softly on the people in order to make their takeover of northern Mali last. The more than 10-page letter, which the AP found in a building the Islamists occupied for nearly a year, is signed by Droukdel, the senior commander appointed by Osama bin Laden to run al-Qaida’s branch in Africa. (AP Photo/Rukmini Callimachi)

2 thoughts on “AP style tips on photo captions

  1. maninhavana Post author

    Good question, Liz. If the photo illustrates a news story, I think I’d add a date just so readers know when the photo was taken. You’re being transparent with readers and if it’s not a photo taken within the last day or two, readers will know. That way, you avoid having readers accuse you of using old photos and not identifying them as such.


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