Monday, July 16 , 2018, 1:23 pm | Fair 72º


Paul Burri: If a Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words, Do They Need Titles?

In most cases, photographs speak for themselves

This is an ongoing argument between one of my friends and me. It also comes up at the local camera club I belong to.

Some say yes; some say no. I say, “Yes and no.”

Those who say yes, say that a title enhances the picture and adds another dimension to it. That is certainly the case, but only sometimes. There are many times when a title is unnecessary and superfluous. Those are sometimes called “dictionary titles” or “horse titles.” Open the dictionary and look up camel and you will see a picture of a camel. Look up horse and you will see a picture of a horse, and the title below the picture will be “horse.” Necessary? No. Superfluous? Yes.

If there is a picture of a sunset, does it improve the picture if the picture is titled “Sunset”? Yes, yes we can see that; that’s a horse title. How about “Sunset over Saint Jean Cap Ferrat”? Perhaps that improves it, but not much. How about a portrait of Uncle Charlie? What should this portrait be titled? “Uncle Charlie” springs to mind, but it doesn’t do too much for the portrait, does it?

There are any number of pictures where a title is simply unnecessary and superfluous, including portraits, sunsets, pattern shots, still lifes, abstracts, many action shots and most nature shots.

And by the way, do you think that Leonardo da Vinci put that title on the Mona Lisa? Or Michelangelo on the David? My guess is that those titles were added many years later for the convenience of referring to those works of art. Would they be any more or less exquisite or valuable if they were called “Portrait of a Woman” or “Naked Warrior”?

Yet there are many pictures that are enhanced by a clever title. A memorable picture taken by a member of the Channel City Camera Club was a nude — shot from behind — holding a straw hat that hid almost nothing. By itself this was a spectacular picture, but in this case the title put it into a category of its own. The title? “What to Wear.” In this case, the creative title added a further dimension to a spectacular shot.

But a picture that is well composed, dramatic, unique, creative or eye-catching does not need a title. It stands on its own. Its beauty and creativity are such that a title adds nothing to it. An example of a picture that needs no title is the one of two Emperor penguins facing each other that is used frequently to advertise Canon cameras. Would it be a better picture if I titled it, “Come Here Often”? Perhaps.

What all visual artists should strive for: pictures that do not need titles. Pictures that “speak for themselves.”

Or so it seems to me. What do you think?

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer, guerrilla marketer and iconoclast. He is available to local organizations for speaking engagements and to local businesses for business consulting and/or mentoring. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous Paul Burri columns. Follow Paul Burri on Twitter: @BronxPaul.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >