Veronica With Four Eyes

How To Write Alt Text And Image Descriptions For Photojournalism Images

Over the last several days, there has been an increase in the number of amateur photojournalism images that have been posted online and on social media to document current events. For many people with visual impairments, these images are inaccessible or hard to see due to lighting conditions, lots of movement, or, most commonly, a lack of alt text or clear image descriptions. Today, I will be sharing my tips for how to write alt text and image descriptions for photojournalism images and images of current events.

WHAT IS ALT TEXT? WHAT IS AN IMAGE DESCRIPTION?

Alt text tells people what is in an image, such as text, colors, or basic essential details. If an image fails to load, alt text will display in its place. Search engines also index alt text information and consider it a factor when determining search engine ratings.

An image description gives more details than alt text and allows someone to learn more about what is in an image that goes beyond alt text. Alt text gives the user the most important information while image descriptions provide further detail. For example, alt text tells someone that a person is standing outside and holding a sign, while an image description tells them that a Hispanic woman with short black hair is standing outside of an apartment building holding a sign that has a large peace sign drawn on it.

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SHOULD I USE BOTH ALT TEXT AND IMAGE DESCRIPTIONS?

When posting images taken in the context of photojournalism or documenting current events, I recommend including both alt text and image descriptions as it can be difficult to include all of the details that are being conveyed in an image. Alt text is read out loud when hovering over the image, while image descriptions are typically written in a different area so that the user can choose whether they want to read the extended description or not.  It is strongly recommended that alt text be 125 characters or less to ensure compatibility for popular screen readers. Image descriptions can be longer, but I recommend only using a few sentences when creating a description.

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WHAT TO INCLUDE WHEN WRITING ALT TEXT FOR PHOTOJOURNALISM IMAGES

Helpful information to include when writing alt text for photojournalism images includes:

  • The number of people that are in the focus of the camera
  • Objects that people are holding, such as signs or shields
  • Any relevant objects, such as a car or building in focus
  • Basic descriptions of emotions or facial expressions, such as if someone is crying or angry
  • Information about where the photo was taken, such as the city name or the name of the area, such as a college campus or name of a nearby landmark
  • The time of day the photo was taken, or relevant weather conditions, i.e a protestor standing outside at night
  • Significant details about an image, such as the presence of bullet holes or if something is on fire

WHAT TO INCLUDE WHEN WRITING IMAGE DESCRIPTIONS FOR PHOTOJOURNALISM IMAGES

Helpful information to include when writing alt text for photojournalism images includes:

  • Information that is included in alt text- it’s okay to repeat the information here, as people who read image descriptions may not be able to access alt text
  • More detailed information about facial expressions or emotions, such as someone who is hiding their face
  • A basic description of the person, such as their race/ethnicity and gender, if available
  • If available, provide more specific location information such as the street name, along with the city/state/country- for example, a photo taken on H Street in Washington, DC
  • Relevant text, such as text on signs, written out verbatim when possible
  • If relevant, information about what people are wearing, such as uniforms or clothing with messages
  • Any other details that help with understanding the significance of the image, such as the presence of graffiti or a large crowd

WHAT TO EXCLUDE WHEN WRITING ALT TEXT AND IMAGE DESCRIPTIONS FOR PHOTOJOURNALISM IMAGES

Information to exclude when writing alt and image descriptions for photojournalism images includes:

  • Any identifying information about people that is not mentioned in the original source- if I was writing alt text for an image that included my friend, and I did not see their name mentioned elsewhere, I would not add the additional identifying information
  • Graffiti or other environmental text such as stop signs written out verbatim, unless they are the focus of the image
  • Censoring text that is written on a sign, unless the alt text is specifically targeted at a younger audience or an audience that requested censoring of certain words- I write more about accessibility-friendly censoring in the post linked below
  • Any personal opinions or phrases that favor a person or cause- keep it neutral and let the audience interpret the images on their own
  • Precise counts for large crowds or images where there are lots of people- I don’t care that there are exactly 15 people in an image, but I do care if several people are circling around another person or area
  • Non-relevant descriptions of clothing or appearance- it doesn’t matter if someone is wearing a plain black t-shirt, unless the t-shirt specifically symbolizes something
  • Use of offensive or vulgar language that is not otherwise present in the image

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WHERE TO PUT AN IMAGE DESCRIPTION

Trying to figure out where to put an image description for the visually impaired? Some websites have a dedicated image description section that is next to the alt text field, so screen reader users can easily find the description. However, since many people who benefit from image descriptions do not use screen readers, it’s better to include the image description in the caption of the image so that it is easier to locate. This is recommended by many journalists and media outlets, including NPR and National Geographic.

On social media, I recommend adding the description to the caption of the post if space allows, though adding it in the comment section is also a common practice. If the image description is in the comment section, make note of this within the caption. I also recommend writing the phrase “Image Description:” or “ID:” in front of the description so that users know what it is, and if space allows, mentioning that there is additional image description available for an image in the alt text field.

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Final thoughts

It’s important for everyone to be able to see the images that are currently on the news or that are going viral across social media, as these types of images inform people about what is going on in different parts of the world and allow them to see someone else’s point of view through the lens of a camera. By learning how to write alt text and image descriptions for photojournalism images and images of current events, amateur photojournalists and social media users can ensure that these powerful images are accessible for everyone, and that their stories can be shared with others.

How To Write Alt Text And Image Descriptions For Photojournalism Images. How to write image descriptions and alt text for photojournalism images and images taken of current events by amateur photographers for blind/low vision users



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