Sports photo captions draw readers into dramatic athletic moments. Good captions are accurate, compelling, brief and timely. They must be published right away, so the caption writer has only a few hours or less of turnaround time.
The caption might be the entire story. If the picture is good and there is not much space, the caption may be the only words the reader sees about the game.
Write the caption in this order, easiest to hardest: photo credit, body copy, and header or cutline.
The photo credit should reflect who took or owns the copyright of the picture. It is usually in parentheses.
Write the body copy, or what is happening in the photo. Explain why the photographer snapped that particular moment. Remember the Five W”s: who, what where, when and why. Most important are “who,” “where” and “when.” The reporter or photographer may be able to help with these details, but you are responsible to get them perfect. After accurately reporting the names, date and location, you will have very little space left. Use juicy present tense verbs describing “what is happening” and “why.”
Create the header or cutline. This is one to five words that will print in boldface to sum up the action. It might be complex, or as simple as “Safe!”
Come up with a sample caption: Safe! Pirates first base player Sucharita Patel tags Tiger Daniel Chen in Tuesday’s Springfield Little League semifinals at Memorial Park. The Pirates defeated the Tigers 8-7. (Photo: Sally Smith)
Name anyone pictured the way we read, top row first, from left to right.
Even if there are no space limits, keep your caption short. Otherwise it’s not a caption; it’s an article The editor may tell you how much space you have. If you have to choose between writing too long or too short, write a few words too long. The editor can cut the story back, but cutting is just as hard for the editor. It's better to get it right. Never write a caption without seeing the picture.