Photographs and captions

Everyone knows that photographs add dimension to an article, be it blog posts or newspaper articles. Today I’m going to share a very important lesson that I learned about photographs and captioning them properly, especially if you are submitting it to a print publisher.

One of my feature articles was published on the 29th, in a local newspaper. It was the same article I was referring to in my earlier post about the importance of face-to-face interviewing.

So it turns out that the article I wrote was chosen to represent the start of a series, and as such it was printed as the cover story. Naturally I was happy and excited so I started browsing through the article as soon as I got hold of it. It was just a basic instinct to check if everything was ok..

AaaaaaaaND THEN!!! And then I had the shock of a lifetime – literally, because this was the first time such a thing happened to me. The photo of one of the persons I interviewed was printed wrongly! They printed a photo of someone irrelevant to the article and in the caption they printed the name of the person I had interviewed. What a Mix Up!

It just so happened that this person – a man – and his wife were good friends of mine and I had interviewed them as a couple. So both their names were written in the article, but separate photos of them were printed.

The mix up was an honest mistake from the assistant editor’s part. As soon as I informed her about it, she apologized to me and informed me that they would run a correction in their next issue. But I was very nervous about this mistake because I didn’t know what I could do for my friends to compensate for this mix up. I felt especially embarrassed because they were really helpful throughout the whole process of writing the article.

I apologized to them personally, but I was a whole bunch of nerves for the rest of the day. I felt like apologizing was simply not enough!

Eventually my fiancé told me to contact the editor, who was away on vacation. I sent him an email and since I was so desperately worried, I asked him for advice – something that I don’t usually do.

To my pleasant surprise, he called me shortly after, calmed me down and gave me a couple of good advices, which I thought I could share here.

For one, I realized that although I have been a freelance writer for more than a year and have received a lot of appreciation for my works in such a short span, I am still a child in this field and I am bound to make mistakes. It was a fact and I must accept it, and learn from it. I should take this in stride and not beat myself up for a small mistake.

Yes, I realised after talking to my editor that this was indeed a very small mistake that can happen to anyone. Even experienced journalists make this mistake. We are humans after all, and it is only human to err. Apparently, there have been instances of people publishing the wrong photos in the obituary section of newspapers. That is way worse than what happened to me.

Secondly, why do I consider it my mistake? The sub-editor got it wrong. That isn’t my fault, right? Well, it is partly my mistake, because I didn’t caption the photo properly when she asked me for more details. There were two men in the photo, one holding a medal and the other just standing beside him. I just captioned it as, “Mr. ABC at an award function.” Naturally, the Asst Editor – who was busy since the Editor was out of town – didn’t have the time to call me up to clarify this, and assumed that the guy holding the medal was Mr. ABC. Mr. ABC was actually the one who was not holding the medal.

The proper way to caption it was, “Mr. ABC (left) with Mr. XYZ (right) at an award function.” I still can’t believe I forgot to add those few words when I submitted the photo. I completely let slip the fact that my editors do not know how my interviewees look like. It is the duty of the writer to specify things like this in as much detail as we can, even if it means mentioning left, right, up, down, centre or even foreground, background etc etc. Use whatever words needed to avoid all misunderstanding.

This may have been a small mistake but it is an important lesson that I leaned. Because of this lesson, I will never forget to be specific when captioning photographs in future. 😀

P.S. I absconded for a few days because I was busy with a literature essay work. Will be writing all about it in another post.