Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Matching Words and Images – A simple guide to writing descriptions for your images

Why bother?

“A picture is worth a thousand words” they say, and I would whole-heartedly agree.  But the question remains – Which thousand words?
For those of us with photos and other art in Products or Print on Demand services, the description can make the difference between a lucrative website and a real dud.  Descriptions which evoke an emotion are ideal, because they can make a strong connection with the visitor to your site, and increase the chances that they will actually click on that little shopping cart, making the move from “browser” to “buyer”.
Many artists have difficulty writing these evocative, descriptive phrases and sentences.  So here is a three-part guide for those of us who are verbally or compositionally challenged.

Step 1:  Making a list, checking it twice.

You are (presumably) an artist.  Your purpose in creating art is to connect with your audience, and to draw an emotional response from them.  So go back and look at your artwork and ask yourself, “What emotion or emotions am I trying to communicate here?  How does this image make ME feel?  How might someone else perceive it?”    Make a short list.  Consider simple, “surface” kinds of impressions, and also deeper meanings.  Also consider opposites.  For example, a picture of a black bird on a white background may be “spooky” to one person, be about contrasts in nature to someone else, and to another will speak of the hope for mankind in goodness and light overcoming evil.

Step 2:  Variety is the spice of life.

Now get out your thesaurus.  A good on-line one is http://thesaurus.reference.com/ which gives opposites as well.  Add to your list.  Look through your list and select five or six of the words that are most elegant or poetic, and most evocative of the dominant emotion in your image.  Try to emphasize the positive, although some images are intended to examine darker subjects.  Save your list so you can use it to add to your keywords.

Step 3:  Boiling it down

Now take your list and use it to compose one or two sentences incorporating your words.  Don’t worry too much about proper sentence construction, but pay attention to spelling.  Make it personal and draw the reader in with words like “I”, “we”, “share”, “common”, “together”, “world”, “mankind”.  Where possible, make it immediate by using verb-forms in the present tense:  “I am”, instead of “I was”.  Use first or second person; avoid third person, as it is emotionally distant.  Read your description out loud while looking at the image, and see if there is a connection between the two.  If you feel it misses the point of the image (you are, after all, the artist), then try switching some of the words around, or add more adjectives, or trade some of the list words for others.  Don’t be afraid to scrap it and start again.

Extra Benefits

With a little practice, this process can be quite effective and rewarding.  One good thing about taking the time to write good descriptions is that once they are done and saved, you can quickly copy-and-paste them anytime you use those same images in a new site or album, so it is definitely worth the effort.  It will really save you time in the long run.  Just try not to make it too long – definitely not a thousand words!