02.23.17: How long is too long?
A DESIGNER at a client newspaper recently wrote to ask about caption length. She wanted to know if a six-line caption (like 1, above) was too much.
“Do you think this cutline is too long? Should it be made into a short article to accompany the picture with a shorter cutline? Any rule of thumb on this subject?”
Ed the all-knowing wrote back, saying:
“No, I don’t think there’s a rule of thumb on this, but if I were asked to create such a rule, it would be that the caption shouldn’t be more than 1/4 to 1/3 the depth of the photo. This one comes close, though I think it’s acceptable. At six lines, it’s right near the limit.”
But the question kept rolling around in my head…and I eventually realized I had made a mistake. If a designer were to follow the thinking that “…the caption shouldn’t be more than 1/4 to 1/3 the depth of the photo,” then that would allow for a caption that’s about 20 lines deep under a photo that’s 12 inches deep (as with photo 3).
So, Ed’s dropping the reference to photo depth. No matter how deep the photo, a caption that’s too long is just too long.
Here’s my newly-minted advice: Keep the caption to no more than six lines…eight max (as with photo 2). If the caption needs to be longer, do as the designer mentioned in her note and rework the caption “into a short article to accompany the picture with a shorter cutline.”
You may have some other thoughts on caption length. If so, leave a comment and let us know.