The Photographer's Guide to Writing Great Social Media Captions
If the thought of writing your social media captions for the month makes you cringe, you're not alone. Many photographers feel a rising tide of anxiety when it comes to sharing their work on Instagram or Facebook. And it's not because they don't think their work is good enough, it's the captions that have them stuck. If you're not a confident writer, scheduling a month of social media posts can trigger several hours of stress-induced procrastination.
Today, most social media revolves around photos and videos, but your caption can make or break the post. The "story" you tell is as important as the images you choose to share. Your caption provides context, adds personality, and can inspire potential clients to take action. It's time to embrace the power of the caption — we've compiled our top tips to help you write killer social media captions that do your photos justice.
The rise of the long-form caption
One of the most prominent Instagram trends in 2019 was the rise of the long-form caption. Content creators, brands, and celebrities tapped into the power of the long caption to connect and engage with their followers. It's a trend we expect to continue in 2020.
According to the latest research, the average caption length has doubled since 2016. Now in 2020, the average caption length is 405 characters — approximately 65-70 words.
The caption is your space to educate your audience about yourself, your work, your style, and your mission. While celebrities like Kylie Jenner can get away with a single moon emoji as a caption, many businesses now use lengthy captions that champion story-telling and authenticity. It's a way to humanize your business — after all, people connect with people, not businesses.
While short and sweet captions will always have their place, long-form captions offer more than just a pretty picture. Writing a winning caption is a skill that's becoming more and more important.
How to write an engaging social media caption:
1. Write a Killer Opening Line
A great first line will stop a scroller in their tracks. They see your image, but it's the caption that will make them stop to find out more. The longer someone stops to read your caption, the better your post will rank with social media algorithms.
You only have 125 characters on Instagram before the rest of your post becomes truncated, and users have to click "more" to read the rest. That's an action you want people to take. Clicking "more" counts as engagement, which informs the algorithm that your content is engaging, which in turn means Instagram will show your post to more people. Facebook is a little bit more generous and allows you 477 characters.
With so little real estate available, you'd better make the most of it. The trick is to ensure that you deliver a punchy, attention-grabbing statement or question as your first line.
You could spark your followers' curiosity with an intriguing statement, catch their attention with a hard-hitting stat, or engage their emotional side. Whatever tactic you choose, the goal is to make them pause long enough to consider your words and to want to read on.
2. Use a “Call-to-Action” or a “CTA”
It's probably the oldest copywriting trick in the book, but it's always relevant. Ask your audience a question or their opinion, seek their advice or approval, encourage them to complete an action. Whatever tactic fits best with your brand, use it. The simple act of including a call-to-action — inviting your audience to comment, like, or save a post — will help drive engagement.
- Let your followers know what they stand to gain by completing your call-to-action: This can be as simple as adding "so that" to your call-to-action. E.g. "save this post so that you can refer to it later for helpful pre-wedding tips." Tell them what they'll learn, when it will be useful, or if you're giving something away.
- Make your CTA stand out: Using emojis, line breaks, or a custom font from an Instagram font tool like IGfonts.io. Whatever method you prefer, make the action you want people to take stand out.
3. Be Human
Spend some time studying your social media insights to figure out who you are talking to — what your clients look like. You can call this a customer profile, an avatar, or an ideal client; the name is irrelevant as long as you know who you are talking to. If you're a wedding photographer, your customers may be predominantly engaged couples in their late 20's and early 30's. But your Instagram audience is more likely made up of females. The way you choose to write on social media should address this.
Knowing who you are talking to allows you to communicate as if you're writing to one person, which is much easier than writing to fill the social media void. Ultimately, you want each person in your audience to feel as if you're talking specifically to them. That's all people want — to feel like they're important, and not just part of the crowd.
Speaking directly to your "ideal client" allows you to break down the third wall. We aren't actors or characters in a movie; we must communicate openly with our audience in a direct, frank manner, humanizing the conversation.
People connect with people, not with businesses, so break down that barrier and get real with your audience. You're asking your clients to trust you to shoot the most important moments of their lives, they need to feel like they know you in order to trust you.
Kirsten Lewis — @kirstenlphotog — is the master of breaking down the third wall and letting you into her world. After you've read several of her Instagram posts, you feel like you know her. You want to trust her to capture your most intimate moments — that's the power of humanizing your captions.
4. Tell a Story
Stories are among the oldest forms of communication, and a good story stands the test of time. Think of the myths and legends you studied at school that have been around for centuries. Stories connect us, they make an impact, and we become personally invested in them. They’re easy to recall, we want to share them, and they make it easy to remember facts.
As photographers, we’re exposed to stories every single day. We make a living visually telling other people's stories, all you need to do is take it one step further and put that story into words. These stories help give our images context — they can take a beautiful moment captured on camera and add a layer of meaning, helping our audience understand the significance of the moment, and to connect to it emotionally.
5. Make it Easy on the Eyes
Try to put yourself in your clients' shoes, they’ve just sat down on the bus on the way home, or maybe they’re taking a quick break from their work, either way they’ve just picked up their phone for a quick scroll and they see your post. They start to read your carefully crafted sentences, but they’re tired and just wanted a quick break from what was happening right in front of them, meanwhile, your sentences roll on and on and on, each thought running into the next. They start to zone out, feeling fatigued, they’ve lost what line they’re on, they’ve lost what planet they’re on, it’s as if they’re possessed by a zombie, but really their mind has just drifted elsewhere, and before long they’re scrolling on to the next post, looking for something fresh to feed on. Even if they’re immensely interested in what you have to say, before long the craving for brains will kick in and they’re off, continuing on their mission to consume everything in their path, because on a tiny phone screen, it’s hard to keep track what line they’re on and what sentence they were reading, so they keep scrolling. It doesn’t matter how carefully you’ve chosen your words, or how clever your call-to-action is because your writing has hit them like a relentless tidal wave, and they’ve run a mile.
Did you notice we started talking about zombies?
Format your copy to make it easier to read.
Use line breaks, emojis, one-word sentences — whatever you need to make your writing easier to digest in a landscape of captions all clamoring for attention — do it.
It’s ok to break every rule you were taught in high school. As long as you get your point across clearly.
6. Make Time
Once you’ve finished picking the perfect images for social media, it can feel like a whole new chore to then go and write captions for them. One of the biggest problems photographers have with creating engaging captions is that they try to do it on the fly, only writing the bare minimum required for that day or week.
Finding inspiration for your social media captions might seem tough, but you can look to your clients for inspiration. Think about the image you are sharing and ask yourself what that moment meant to them, then use that as a springboard to launch into a story. Find time to prioritize your captions to help avoid the panic procrastination — if you want to be successful on Instagram or Facebook, it’s important to not let your captions become an afterthought.
If you're on the hunt for more ways to boost your photography social media, try reading our blogs on creating connections using social media, how to use Instagram Stories for photographers, or online marketing for photographers (written by Mark Condon of ShotKit).