Create That Photo Collection You've Always Wanted

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


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

  1. Dr Carol Glover says:


    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.


    • Curtis Bisel says:

      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.


  2. DS says:


    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,


  3. Ken says:


    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)

  4. Mimi says:

    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.

    • Curtis Bisel says:

      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. Danilo says:

    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

  6. Terry Iorns says:

    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?

    • Curtis Bisel says:

      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. Heidi Meyer says:

    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.

  8. Julie says:

    Will I be able to print the captions that I’ve made in Picasa? I want the captions underneath the pictures, not actually on them.

    • Curtis Bisel says:

      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):


  9. Ken Molinkiewicz says:

    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?

    • Curtis Bisel says:

      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.

Care to add your own comment?