The Best Way to Add a Description (Caption) to Your Scanned Photos

Boys in Blanket Tent - Scanning Photos Adding Captions Descriptions
My brother and I loved making blanket forts!
Hand-written Caption or description for Scanned Photo
The description (caption) my Mother wrote on the back to be the storyteller for this photo

 

Ah, there’s nothing quite like reading a great caption to go along with a special photograph. Sometimes they’re so effective, they just seal the emotional experience of being there — as if you were right there when that photograph was taken — even if you weren’t!

I think it’s so important that you record these “priceless” descriptions as soon as you can. Some of us might think we can remember all of the details. But face it, you probably won’t be able to. They’re fleeting. And even if you could, you and your memory aren’t going to be on this earth forever.

With prints, it was easy to record this information by writing the stories by hand on the back. But, now that we are wishing to move our prints, slides and negatives to a digital form in our computer, how do we easily add this information so that it can live with each master image file?

In part 2 of my series on how to name your scanned photos, I suggested that the image’s filename isn’t the best place to save a lengthy description of your photograph. Strong and precise keywords for sorting and identification work best there.

Caption or Description for a Scanned Photo that is too long
See, the filename just isn’t the best place for a lengthy description

So then where is the right place to go hog wild and write all about your photographs?

Caption on top of Scanned PhotoCaptioning Your Photos

The best place to add this information is actually a simple text field (box) that you type into and is then stored inside of your master image files. It used to be that only professional photographers and journalists had easy access to this “IPTC metadata.” But now, with even the simplest photo software becoming powerful, all of us can now benefit from this technique.

There are lots of lightweight graphics programs out there that can help you with this. But, since I am always advocating that all of us archiving our photo collections store and edit our scanned photos in “non-destructive” image managers, I’m going to keep things simple and show you how to do it in each of the four managers I think are the best.

If you currently aren’t using one of these programs, you might want to take a look at my article called “Use 1 of These 4 Photo Managers If You Care About Your Photo Collection” and see if you would be interested in trying one of them out for your own photo collection.

But Will All of My Captions Be Trapped in My Image Manager?

Absolutely not. Your captions will move with your photos where ever you want to take them. However, each image manager handles how and when the caption information is saved to the master image file differently. In the “worst” case scenario, your caption is stored in your image manager’s project database for safe keeping. And then when you “export” one or more images to use outside of the program, the exported image will then have this caption information saved inside of it.

If you were to then open up this new file in another program that is able to access IPTC metadata, your captions will be displayed! Cool!

Whichever program you use, I hope you caption your digital photos. Sure, it’s a lot more work. But if you don’t do it, really — who’s going to be the voice of all of these memories generations from now?

Windows users: The following instructions and screen captures for Picasa and Lightroom were made using their Mac versions. Sorry, I still don’t have access to my windows partition. However, I believe all steps work exactly the same way in Windows as they do on a Mac. So all should be good!

Picasa – How to Add Captions to Your Photos:

Google Picasa software icon
Version 3.8.9.390

Scanned photos in Picasa Library View Mode
Library view
1 Double click on one of your photos from the “thumbnail” Library view which will take you to the Edit view screen.

Picasa Make a Caption Field in Edit View
Place for caption
2 Look underneath your photo on this new screen. Single click on that gray bar with “Make a caption!” written in the middle.

Picasa in Edit View entering in a caption
Caption typed in
3 Type in your entire caption.You can use your cursor keys as well as clicking through your text to jump around. When you’re finished, single click anywhere on the screen outside of this field or simply hit enter.

Now what’s cool is you can set up Picasa to display your captions underneath each thumbnail. Go back to the Library view screen by clicking on the Back to Library button on the top left. If you don’t see the caption you just entered below its photo, go up to View in the menu bar and then at the bottom highlight Thumbnail Caption and then click on Caption from the list. You should now see your caption!

Picasa View Menu Thumbnail Captions
Thumbnail Captions Menu
Picasa Library View Caption Under Photo
Caption displayed under photo in the Library view. Sadly, I believe the current version is limited to displaying just the first line of it.

iPhoto - How to Add Captions to Your Photos:

Apple iPhoto software icon
Version 9.1.5 (iPhoto ’11)

iPhoto Thumbnail Photos View
“Thumbnail” Photos view
1 Select a photo in the “thumbnail” Photos view to highlight it or double click on a thumbnail to take it into the Edit view.

iPhoto Info Button
Info Button
2 If the Info panel on the right isn’t already open, click on the Info button (or command-i) near the right hand side of the bottom toolbar. A vertical panel with information about your photo will open up.

iPhoto Info Panel Add a Description
Where to add a caption
3 Near the top you will see a line of text that reads, “Add a description…” Click on this text and it will open a box for you to type.

iPhoto Info Panel Description Caption Added
Caption added
4 Type in your entire caption. You can use your cursor keys as well as clicking through your text to jump around. Hitting enter will not finish your entry, but will move you to the next line. When you’re finished, just move your cursor away from the box.

Some of the themes while showing your photos in a Slideshow (really fun if you haven’t already tried it!) can display this caption information on top of the photo. Make sure you go into the settings (gear icon) while in a slideshow and put a check next to Show Captions. Then choose either Descriptions or Titles and Descriptions from the pulldown.

iPhoto Slideshow Show Captions and Descriptions
(Settings panel to enable showing captions during an iPhoto slideshow) The current version doesn’t seem to allow you to adjust font size or the amount of lines to accommodate a lengthy caption.

Lightroom - How to Add Captions to Your Photos:

Adobe's Lightroom software icon
Version 3.3

Lightroom Thumbnail Grid View in Library Module
Grid view
1 Select a photo in the “thumbnail” Library Module grid view to highlight it or double click on a photo to take it into the Loupe view (“e” key).

Lightroom Metadata Option Panel
Metadata option
2 In the panel on the right, you will see a Metadata option with a triangle icon that opens and closes its options.

Lightroom Metadata Large Caption Pulldown
Large Caption pulldown
3 Open it up (if it isn’t already) and select Large Caption from the upper-left most pulldown menu item. Several of these default options will display the box to enter in captions, but this by far gives you the largest field to type a long caption.

Lightroom Metadata Caption Added
Caption added
4 Click inside the box and type in your entire caption. You can use your cursor keys as well as clicking through your text to jump around. Hitting enter will not finish your entry, but will move you to the next line. When you’re finished, single click anywhere on the screen outside of this field.

 

Lightroom provides an almost endless way of displaying metadata underneath thumbnails in the Grid view and at the top of photos in the Loupe view. From the View option in the top menu bar, select View Options from the list. Use this Library View Options settings window to select any and all metadata you would like to display. It’s ridiculous how much control you have.

Lightroom Loupe View Caption Library View Options Menu
Caption displayed on top of photo in Loupe View

Aperture - How to Add Captions to Your Photos:

Apple Aperture software icon
Version 3.1.3

Aperture Thumbnails Browser View
Browser view
1 Select a photo in the “thumbnail” Browser view to highlight it or double click on a photo to take it into the Viewer mode.

Aperture Metadata Tab
Metadata tab
2 Click on the Metadata tab inside the Inspector panel on the left. If you don’t see this panel, click on the blue Inspector button at the top of the program or hit the “i” key.

Aperture Large Caption Pulldown Option
Large Caption
3 From the pulldown near the top, select Large Caption. A few of these default options will display the box to enter captions, but this by far gives you the most room to type a lengthy description.

Aperture Large Caption Added
Caption added
4 Click inside the box and type in your entire caption. You can use your cursor keys as well as clicking through your text to jump around. Hitting enter will not finish your entry, but will move you to the next line. When you’re finished, single click anywhere on the screen outside of this field.

 

Aperture also provides an almost endless way of displaying metadata underneath thumbnails in the Browser view and under photos in the Viewer mode. From the View option in the top menu bar, select Metadata Display from the list. Use the Customize settings window to select any and all metadata you would like to display. Just like Lightroom, it’s utterly ridiculous how much control you have.

 

Aperture Metadata Display Viewer Menu
Metadata Display Viewer menu
Aperture Caption Photo Viewer Mode
Caption displayed under photo in Viewer mode

 

So did I forget anything? Does this seem easy enough to make you want to record the stories about your photos? I would love to know your thoughts after reading about this. Don’t be shy — it will only take a minute to write me a comment below. I would appreciate it.

I hope this will help you and your collection! Cheers everyone!

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23 Responses to The Best Way to Add a Description (Caption) to Your Scanned Photos

  1. Hi,

    Firstly, thank you for your tips.

    I tried what you suggested with iPhoto (’11), but the description was not exported to Preview and it wasn’t included in emailed photos.

    Cheers
    Carol

    • Hey Carol! Thanks for the comment/question.

      iPhoto can be a little tricky getting this title and description text out with your photos. You can do it, but you have to do it in a couple specific ways that Apple allows you to. It involves emailing out of iPhoto and exporting out images using specific settings.

      For you, I just wrote up an entire post explaining how to do this with all of the detail and screenshots you would ever need. Check out this post below for the step-by-step:

      How to Get Your Photos Out of iPhoto With Your Titles and Descriptions Intact

      iPhoto Export Email Photo with Titles and Descriptions Intact

      And if you have any further questions — if I left anything out — please let me know and I will answer them for you.

      Best,
      Curtis

  2. Hello,

    I’ve been searching hi and lo for this info and came across your post. I still have a question though. So I figured out that Picasa stores the captions in the image file. I can even find my photos by searching my mac for a caption! Now, my mother would like to be able to do the same, but she has a PC. On my mac, if I right-click on the image file to “Get Info” I can see the caption under “More Info” -> “Description”. My question is: where are the captions saved on a PC? OR how can they be accessed by looking at the image file, not with one of the above programs?

    Many thanks in advance,

    DS

  3. Hi,

    For a simple to use program that was designed pretty much specifically for this purpose check out the new CaptionsMadeEasy CaptionSuite software. It was designed to mimic writing captions on the back of old photos and under photos in albums. It stores the caption in the photo file but not on the photo and displays it in slideshows with CaptionViewer. Utility programs are available to quickly add multiple captions (QuickCaptions), sort photo slideshow order (PhotoSorter) and adjust the camera stored date and time taken data (TimeRepairer)

    http://www.captionsmadeeasy.com

  4. This is great info – Do you have an thoughts on the best apps/ or software for adding text onto photos? I found it by accident in “preview” on my macbook pro -but I’d love to have one for my iphone.

    • Thanks Mimi.

      As far as the best apps/software for adding text to photos on your Macbook Pro, I would start with one of the four applications I talked about in this very article. All of them do a great job of not only allowing you to organize and edit your photos non-destructively, but they all let you add captions (descriptions) to your photos.

      The application Preview that you found by accident will allow you to view the captions you typed in using a program like iPhoto or Aperture for example, but I don’t believe it will allow you to enter in the caption.

      I haven’t really found any good apps for the iPhone (yet!) that allow you to enter captions on your photos other than Apple’s own iPhoto app for the iPhone. I haven’t done a lot of testing with it yet, but you should definitely check that one out.

      You just select a photo you want to write on in the app, then select the info button at the top (square with the letter “i”), and then it will let you add a caption at the top. Pretty easy!

      Hope this helps out!

  5. Interesting but …. for Windows XP o Seven, how
    to export captioned photos from Picasa along with description ?
    And is it possibile to save the photo with caption in a new “global” captioned jpeg photo ?
    Thanks in advance
    Regards

  6. Very interesting post and comments. I would like to use the photos with captions in a family history scrapbook. I would also like to have the option to print the caption when I print pictures. Any suggestions?

    • Hey Terry. That’s a great question. What program are you using to organize and caption your photos?

      I know programs like Picasa for the mac/pc and iPhoto for just the Mac, will allow you to print out photos in collages — usually called contact sheets. And from within the contact sheets, you can tell it to add the caption (or sometimes called the description) below the photo. I believe this will probably be your best and easiest solution if you are using an image manager like one of these.

      Both of these programs also allow you to choose which font and font size you would like to use as well, which will really help out if you have a particular design style in mind for your scrapbooking pages.

      In Picasa, select your photos and then hit control/command (mac) P to print. In versions 3.9+ at least, select the button “Border and Text Options” and you will have the option to select captions and choose the font.

      In iPhoto, select your photos and hit command-P as well for Print and then choose “Contact Sheet” from the left column of choices, then “Customize” at the bottom, and then “Settings” at the bottom as well. From there you have the option to include comments or titles and choose the font and font size.

      Hope this helps get you started Terry. Let me know if you have further questions.

  7. How can you export your captions with your photos in Lightroom? I want to make sure the caption can be read by the person receiving the digital image.

    • Hi Julie. Where a caption is displayed when printed is up to the capabilities of the software that you are using to print out the photo(s). In the latest version of Picasa, you are in fact able to choose where the caption is printed — either on the photo or underneath it. Just know if you select underneath, and you are printing out a photo on small piece of photo paper like the tradition 4×6″ size here in the U.S., Picasa will probably be adding a white border underneath to allow space to print the caption. So your photos may end up being shrunk a little bit or cropped. If you are printing on an entire page — such as a contact sheet, then this probably won’t be an issue.

      Here I have marked up the settings you would want to select in the options during the print process (This is on the Mac version, but it should be the same if you are on a Windows system):

      picasa-captions-under-photo-setting

  8. Will Lightroom allow me to attach captions outside and below my photos so that those captions are viewable when I transfer the photos to my iPad?

    • Hi Ken. The short answer is yes! Lightroom allows you to type in captions and this information is then stored inside of the photo’s metadata. The long story, and problem we still all have in the year 2014, is that there are many many programs out there that don’t take advantage of this metadata field. So, it’s no guarantee that you will always be able to see the captions on a given program on your iPad. What you are looking out for are programs that will display “IPTC” metadata. So, if you scour the App Store, you might find one to your liking that will pull and display information from it.

      iPhoto for iOS has had a major update not too long ago. I need to look into it again and see how much further it’s come handling metadata.

      My frustration with most software and their lack of enthusiasm for IPTC metadata (which IS a standard) hasn’t stopped me from pushing forward with using it in Aperture or Lightroom. At some point, more and more software will finally take advantage of it and we will all benefit from all of our hard record keeping work.

  9. Hello, Thank you for your posting on adding captions to photos. I’ve been struggling with a captions/title problem in Lightroom for some time and I’m hoping you may be able to shed some light on it. In LR, if I add text to only the “caption” box as you suggest, I can see the text in file/properties, and in other programs like Picasa. Also, if I add text to only the “text” box, I can see the text in file/properties, and in other programs like Picasa.

    BUT, if I add text to BOTH “title” and “caption”, I can only see the text that was input to the “title” box in file / properties or Picasa etc. Do you know why this is, and is there a way to see both the title and caption inputs outside of Lightroom?

    I added title and caption to about 3000 files and did not realize the problem until too late. And while it is not a problem for me with Lightroom, I am sending the files to other family members who do not use Lightroom. Any thoughts? Thanks much

  10. iPhoto/Max: is there a way to get captions and titles into the cloud file, so they’ll be shared with friends who have access? I know it can be done from an i-Pad, but how about a MacBook?

    • Hi Greg. Which “cloud file” are you referring to? There are so many cloud services now that you could be using.

      The trick, at least at today in 2014, is to get your titles and captions entered into a program on your Macbook -before- you try and sync them to a cloud service. Right now, at least that I know of, there isn’t a reliable method to enter this information into a cloud service (like a website application like Flikr) and then have that information come back and sync with a program like iPhoto.

      Now Apple IS working on this with iOS8 and their new Photos for OSX that will come out early next year (they just announced). This will let you have all your photos sync through the new and improved iCloud (called iCloud Drive — coming out later this year for everyone) and have them be on all of your devices. And if you edit one on one device, that edit will sync to your photo on all devices. And presumably (I hope) your albums in this new set of apps will also be shareable with friends and family.

  11. Hi Curtis, first of all, I am so glad I found your awesome site! I have been reading and reading, and now I feel like I know you! I wanted to ask you about my caption idea and what you might think of it. Since I sort of view all of my family photos as something that may be looked at (not only years from now) but centuries from now, I feel like software “hidden” captions might get lost in the vast changes of technology. I’ve been thinking that the only totally secure captions would be actually typed on a thick white border at the bottom of the picture, in other words, the entire jpeg or tiff file would have the photo with a border around it and typing at the bottom (or possibly the side) of the photograph. It would take up more memory, and may make for a slightly smaller pic (for ex: 7 by 10 instead of 8 by 11 at full size), but having text right there would assure that even on paper, or no matter what software displays the image (hundreds of years from now), it would be there. Just wanted to know your thoughts on this. fyi I haven’t started my archiving yet. thanks. tim

    • P.S. and i also wanted your opinion of adding captions in the “properties” section under “details” of the image (or on mac it would be in the “info” then “spotlight comments”) where you can actually type a caption. Would that information stay with the file permanently? Would that be a good compromise? Thanks again tim

    • Tim, I’m so glad you found my website too! Glad to have you here!

      I know we’ve already chatted back in forth in email a couple times, but the SYEL website is finally back online with my new server, so I can now answer your question(s) here as well.

      First let me say that your idea to put captions at the bottom of photos is a good one. Your heart is in the right place, thinking forward about how useful your system will be to those you are care about. Having the caption visible in images at the bottom will make it easy for all people, from those who know little about technology all the way up to those who know it well, to see a caption in 99.5% of all photo viewing applications I would suspect.

      Additionally, having the caption typed out at the bottom (you could even use a hand written font to personalize it), brings back the emotional feelings we get reading descriptions currently found on our paper prints that family members have tirelessly taken he time to write out. How can this not be a win win for everyone?

      You are probably personally aware of all of the benefits this system would have for you, so it’s less important for me to keep going with all of the positives. It might be more useful if I play the devil’s advocate and try and bring up possible negative side effects of picking this path to go down.

      No system is perfect on its own — usually because of universal software compatibility. (We just can’t predict what software a photo recipient is going to try and load a photo or collection of them on) What we are left with is deciding which system has the advantages and weaknesses in certain categories that fit our needs and our collection’s needs.

      What I mean by this is, one system might be more user friendly for the end recipient, but will require more work on the designated “family archivist” to make it so. (Or vice versa) This first I believe is the case here with your system. Most software that makes it easy to organize photos, doesn’t make it easy to do what you are proposing. I imagine it would require a photo editing application like or very similar to the capabilities of Adobe’s Photoshop to increase the size of the photo’s canvas, to add a white area at the bottom to add your captions in. Then you have to create a text field area and start typing in your text, choosing the perfect font and font size that would be the best for the greatest amount of photo viewers today and hundreds of years from now.

      Problems I see forthcoming, even if you are technically proficient enough to easily handle the steps above, is that every time you find you’ve made a mistake in your caption, or you found new information to add to it, you will have to revisit this text field and expand and contract this white space to accommodate the increase or decrease of text.

      It’s not that this isn’t possible, nor is it out of the realm of something some people like yourself might be willing to do to make this system pay off in the end for your family members. It’s just that in today’s technology, we now have this “hidden” caption field that many applications have the ability to write to, and it’s just a lot easier technically and time wise to take advantage of this “convenience.”

      Part of it too might be how some of us might perceive this “hidden” caption. In many ways, the caption field in many photo applications is like the solution of seat belts for cars. It truly works — it saves lives. It’s just that it took a law to make people wear them before everyone made it part of their routine driving somewhere. The technology standard for captions has been laid down, now it’s just a matter of everyone taking advantage of it and asking software companies to utilize it more so that it seems like an obvious feature in all photo viewing/editing/organizing software. If this happened, many people may not even think of this caption information as “hidden” anymore because it will be a necessity.

      If anyone reading this confused what I am talking about, it’s a data field in many software that allows you to type in a description of a photo. This information is then written inside of the actual photo file, or saved in a sidecar .XMP file that accompanies the photo. Either method can be used by other applications to load the same information. So, if you share a captioned photo with someone in another country thousands of miles away, this caption can be pulled from this “metadata” field and displayed in the same manner. This creates universality. This caption field is part of the IPTC group of metadata fields. (International Press Telecommunications Council)

      As mobile devices become more and more prevalent, with varying size screens, I can imagine having a block of this “raw” caption text saved in this universal metadata field could really pay off some day. A photo viewing application on a smart phone with a 5 inch or so screen could harvest this text, and if a nice user interface is written by the developer, you could tap the photo twice or something, and the photo could slightly blur and a text overlay could then come in on top and all of this text could appear over the photo in the user preferred font, font size, and language (think possibility of translation for those that can’t read the native language of the “family archivist”) And long captions can then expand further and further down the page, as long as it needs to accommodate the scaling of the text based on these user-selected settings, and the user just has to swipe down the page.

      Do you see what I am getting at here?

      Tim, it’s not that your system isn’t great, or that it won’t work. It’s just a matter of making that hard decision what specific things you want to be “locked” in today, that will either benefit greatly or hinder capabilities in the future. And some of this is very subjective, which is why this whole photo archiving thing is so challenging. Your system greatly increases the security that your captions will never be lost in the future because they in theory will always be locked into the image in a visual way.

      But, this security also could partly be a mistrust of how secure caption metadata field information is, or might be, over the long haul — and that is very understandable!

      I personally believe metadata is extremely resistant and is very useful. For example the time and date a photo was taken stored in EXIF data has shown to be very reliable so far.

      But, others are more skeptical. They might say, “Who wants to spend hundreds of hours of work typing in captions to find out that the piece of software you were using wasn’t coded properly by an inexperienced programmer, and you pushed a button that wasn’t labeled properly for you to understand what it was about to do, and now all of your caption information has been deleted forever!”

      Is this likely? No, but sure it’s possible. I have to give that up as someone who speaks with a lot of people who have lost their photos in iPhoto because they didn’t understand how the program “thinks” when it does certain things. Or you might hand your pristine collection down to a family member and they unknowingly do something that deletes all of the metadata. (Again, not likely, but it’s possible.. these are computers)

      I really could go on and on about pros and cons. (e.g. it would be hard to turn “off” your captions in most photo viewers. Some would find this annoying like being forced to have closed captions turned on during a television show) But, maybe this should be saved for a post. Maybe I should turn this into a post and add more to it.

      Tim, would you be willing to create a prototype screen capture for me? Did you have a method of adding your caption under the photo that you could try and take a screen capture of it so I could add it to a post. For example, if you were going to do it in Photoshop, Acorn or Gimp etc, you could take a photo, add the border, type in the caption, and then do a screen capture of your screen for me that would show the entire application — tools and all — and the caption at the bottom so we could show people how the workflow would look.

      I think this would be really interesting to show people this alternative method with a couple screen shots of the workflow.

      • Sure Curtis! I would be more than happy to do this. I’ve already started a few templates in Photoshop and I am experimenting with square photos (with the captions on the side) and the more typical rectangular shape photos (3X5, 4X6 etc) where the caption is more at the bottom. This is not to say that I’m not hearing your point of arguments FOR trusting the metadata (even though I didn’t skip over the part where you wrote nothing can totally be trusted) lol. But your points FOR using the software are eye opening. For example, if the software could translate languages. And possibly having more space to write. Not to mention, text written under every picture could look unattractive, —however I loved the idea of having a more human handwriting font rather than basic lettering. But since I haven’t done much with these templates yet (I haven’t started archiving yet) I will re-evaluate what I am doing with them, then I will take screen shots and send them to you. I’m honored that you find my idea worthy of a post I will start working on this tomorrow. Tim

Care to add your own comment?