The power of pictures

Photography is a powerful medium. As a reader of a newspaper, a viewer of websites or someone looking at images on a gallery wall there can be no mistaking the ability of good pictures to make you think, make you want to know more and create empathy with the scene before you. If you were there and actually took the picture it can be even more true. I have been going back through some very old images of mine and I have been transported all over the world by transparencies and negatives. I remember details of stories that I had otherwise forgotten and its the small stories rather than the big news events that have caught my imagination.

©Neil Turner/TSL

This particular story brings back very strong memories. We have made fun of “tree huggers” over the years – despite the fact that getting close to nature does all of us some good. The children in this story were on a day out from their inner-city school visiting Epping Forest. For those who have never been, it’s a public open space in the London area, covering almost 6,000 acres with lots of small woods and copses.

The interesting thing about this visit is that very few of the thirty children had ever been amongst trees before. Many of them had never been off of the estate where they lived and regarded the woods as where the baddies in children’s literature always lived. They were somewhere between apprehensive and scared as they entered the first small coppice but after two hours they were in a bigger wood and letting their imaginations run wild, playing a range of games and getting around to hugging a few trees for good measure.

I can still remember the delight that they all felt. I can still remember the noises that they made – the laughter, the squeals and the childish innocence of it all. Of course your reaction to this picture will be different. Not knowing the story behind it probably marks it out as a rather odd image – possibly even a disturbing one and that’s my real point…

I’ve written before about the many uses of a picture. They can tell the whole story, they can make you want to know what the story is and read the accompanying words or they can simply be something to break up the page. A picture without accompanying words needs to be self explanatory. A picture like this one is worth so much more with a good caption than without.

These days I do quite a bit of teaching. Some of it is with working photographers but most of it is with photography students hoping to make a living in the business. My heart sinks when I start talking about IPTC captions and IPTC data and the students look blank faced. Professionals shouldn’t send out their images without proper captions or without proper copyright information but neither should keen amateurs or students. All images have value and giving them captions will always add to that value – even if it is just to confirm when and where they were taken.

Good captions and back stories are a good idea!

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