What’s in a Name

What’s in a Name: How and why you should title your artwork

There are few, if any, books or articles called Untitled. On the other hand, though, there are plenty of untitled visual art pieces. This reminds me of the words a seasoned photographer once said. To paraphrase: sometimes, leaving your images untitled is as if you create work for an audience of “to whom it may concern,” only to find out that nobody is concerned.

Some might say that leaving art pieces untitled allows the audience to better interact with that artwork. While I understand that, I also believe that there are times when creatives need to give their work not only a name, and a title, but a meaningful name, one that best describes that image. That is because the title of a work–be that a book, a photograph or a painting–is often the first thing the audience sees or notices about that particular work. A title introduces a piece of artwork to the audience, just like people introduce themselves to their audience or to others. A title of a photograph is like a title of a story. It gives the first hint as to what the story is about. Hence, the title or name of an image has to fit the story we tell, visually, through that image. It has to be intriguing enough to stop viewers in their tracks and make them look, really look at the image. Hence, take a few moments to really think of a good title.

A few examples:

Below is an older sunset image I called Sunset Conversations in Garden State. How I came up with this title? The cloud is shaped like a question mark and is very close to the setting sun. Hence, I thought that they (the cloud and sun) could look as if they were having a conversation. New Jersey is also called the Garden State. I thought that the cloud and the sun looked as if they were having a conversation. Hence the title, Sunset Conversations in Garden State.

Sunset Conversations in Garden State. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Another example is the image posted below, a more recent picture taken with an iPhone. I was in Brooklyn the other day, to interview someone for an upcoming article. I don’t usually go to Brooklyn, and definitely not to the part of Brooklyn so close to the waterfront. But the other day I found myself there, facing the majestic Lady Liberty. I called the image The Lonely Lady.


There are times when you don’t really have to find the perfect title for your work. For example, when photographing events, weddings, or editorials for a publication. Just make sure you title your images so that you (and everybody else who looks at them) become aware of what the images are about.

There are other times when you have to change the title, depending on where and when (and why) you want to display a particular image. Some other times, you might just decide to come up with better, stronger titles.

I personally believe that taking the time to find a meaningful title for your work shows, at least in part, our commitment (and connection) to that work. It shows that your work is important to you. That, in turn, is important. Your work has to be important to you, first, before, and in order to become important to your audience.

Beside a title, also important is to come up with a short, simple, and to the point caption for your image. Consider the title, the name you give your image, as the title of a book; and the caption, the subtitle. Together, they have to intrigue viewers enough so that they actually look at the particular image and try to figure out the story you’re trying to tell, visually, through that image.

After all, especially as creatives, we are all storytellers at heart. No matter what medium we choose to use to tell the story, the story does come first, as does the need to share it.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald

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