Captions in WordPress

The [caption] shortcode in WordPress is a neat bit of functionality. It allows you to add captions to images. However, you are not limited to just adding captions to images. You can add them to pretty much anything, and you’ll learn how to do it by following this tutorial.

In this tutorial, I will walk you through using, designing, and customizing the output of the [caption] shortcode.

How to add images with captions

Many of you might already be aware of how to do this, but let’s cover the basics for those WordPress users who don’t.

To add an image caption, you must first upload an image using the WordPress media uploader. Once you’ve uploaded an image, you should see an input box labeled “Caption,” which is where you’d add your image caption, as shown in the following screenshot.

Image captions in WordPress

To insert the image with a caption into your post, you’d simply click the “Insert into Post” button just like you would with any other image.

What this looks like on the front end of your site will depend entirely on your theme’s design, but it will look something like the following screenshot.

How image captions look on the front end

That’s pretty much everything you need to know about the most common use of captions in WordPress. Keep reading though. You might learn a few more neat tricks.

How to add captions to other elements

Many WordPress users are unaware that captions can be used for more than just images. Yes, you can wrap any element with a caption. You can even wrap other shortcodes with a caption. In fact, let’s give that a try.

In this example, let’s wrap a Vimeo video using the [embed] shortcode with a custom caption.

When you normally embed a video using the [embed] shortcode, it would look like the following line of code in your post editor.


Let’s take one more step and add a custom caption. There are two requirements for using the [caption] shortcode: you must input both the width and caption attributes. Here’s what your new video/caption combo should look like in the the post editor:

[caption width="600" caption="A football video"][embed][/embed][/caption]

When viewing the post on the front end of your site, you should see a caption for your video as shown in the following screenshot.

WordPress video embed with caption

One thing I do need to note is that not all themes were designed to handle anything other than images within captions. This is simply because the most common use of captions is to wrap images. So, don’t be too hard on your theme developer if the design is a little off when trying this out.

[caption] attributes

The [caption] shortcode has several attributes that you may customize:

  • id: A unique HTML ID that you can change to use within your CSS.
  • align: The alignment of the caption within the post. Valid values are: alignnone (default), aligncenter, alignright, and alignleft.
  • width: How wide the caption should be in pixels. This attribute is required and must have a value greater than or equal to 1.
  • caption: The actual text of your caption. This attribute is required, of course.

Let’s go back to the first example from this tutorial (adding an image caption) and look at the shortcode that WordPress added.

[caption id="attachment_6" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The Great Wave"]<img src="http://localhost/user/media/2010/07/800px-Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa2-300x205.jpg" alt="Kanagawa" title="The Great Wave" width="300" height="205" class="size-medium wp-image-6" />[/caption]

As you can see, each of the attributes are used in this example. You can customize those attributes to your liking within the post editor.

Designing image captions

I’m not going to teach you how to design your captions (we might get Tung to do that in a later post). But, I am going to give you some basic CSS to start with. Let your imagination run wild.

Use the following classes in your theme’s style.css file to customize the appearance of captions.

/* The wrapper <div> for the caption and captioned element. */
.wp-caption { }

/* The caption text. */
.wp-caption-text { }

/* An image within the caption (you might want to style other elements too). */
.wp-caption img { }

One thing to keep in mind is that WordPress automatically adds an extra 10px of width to the caption using an inline style. You can either wrestle with styles for that or see the next section of this tutorial.

Customizing the caption output

WordPress allows you to modify the HTML output of the [caption] shortcode by using a custom filter on the img_caption_shortcode hook. You can use it to change up things however you want. In this particular example, you’ll learn how to fix a minor issue with captions.

If you’re a WordPress theme developer, you’ve likely had a headache or two from styling the [caption] shortcode in WordPress. Well, if you’ve ever tried to do anything other than the generic box around an image thing, you’ve probably hit some snags. WordPress adds 10px of extra width to its caption wrapper. I assume this was to make it easier to use the box-style captions. However, not all captions are designed to have a basic border and look all boxy.

The following code removes the additional 10px of width that WordPress would normally add.

add_filter( 'img_caption_shortcode', 'cleaner_caption', 10, 3 );

function cleaner_caption( $output, $attr, $content ) {

	/* We're not worried abut captions in feeds, so just return the output here. */
	if ( is_feed() )
		return $output;

	/* Set up the default arguments. */
	$defaults = array(
		'id' => '',
		'align' => 'alignnone',
		'width' => '',
		'caption' => ''

	/* Merge the defaults with user input. */
	$attr = shortcode_atts( $defaults, $attr );

	/* If the width is less than 1 or there is no caption, return the content wrapped between the [caption]< tags. */
	if ( 1 > $attr['width'] || empty( $attr['caption'] ) )
		return $content;

	/* Set up the attributes for the caption <div>. */
	$attributes = ( !empty( $attr['id'] ) ? ' id="' . esc_attr( $attr['id'] ) . '"' : '' );
	$attributes .= ' class="wp-caption ' . esc_attr( $attr['align'] ) . '"';
	$attributes .= ' style="width: ' . esc_attr( $attr['width'] ) . 'px"';

	/* Open the caption <div>. */
	$output = '<div' . $attributes .'>';

	/* Allow shortcodes for the content the caption was created for. */
	$output .= do_shortcode( $content );

	/* Append the caption text. */
	$output .= '<p class="wp-caption-text">' . $attr['caption'] . '</p>';

	/* Close the caption </div>. */
	$output .= '</div>';

	/* Return the formatted, clean caption. */
	return $output;

If you really want to try out something cool, try modifying the above code to use the <figure> and <figcaption> elements from HTML5.

Play around with some captions

Now that you’ve learned just about everything you need to know about captions, it’s time to go play around with them a bit.

I highly encourage WordPress theme developers to test out captions with elements other than images. I’m sure you could come up with some neat designs ideas.