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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35 Comments on "The Best Way to Add a Description (Caption) to Your Scanned Photos"

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Dr Carol Glover
Guest
Dr Carol Glover
April 9, 2012 10:42 pm

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

DS
Guest
DS
May 8, 2012 12:21 pm

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

Ken
Guest
May 27, 2012 8:40 pm

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

Mimi
Guest
July 7, 2012 9:46 am

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.

Danilo
Guest
Danilo
September 3, 2012 8:33 am

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

Terry Iorns
Guest
Terry Iorns
October 10, 2012 7:40 pm

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?

Heidi Meyer
Guest
Heidi Meyer
November 17, 2012 6:23 pm

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.

Julie
Guest
November 12, 2013 12:39 am

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.

Ken Molinkiewicz
Guest
Ken Molinkiewicz
March 17, 2014 12:09 am

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?

Joe Kellogg
Guest
Joe Kellogg
June 1, 2014 8:37 pm

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

Greg Smith
Guest
Greg Smith
July 18, 2014 7:07 pm

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?

Tim
Guest
Tim
August 26, 2014 8:10 pm

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

Tim
Guest
Tim
August 26, 2014 8:19 pm

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 smile tim

Jade
Guest
January 18, 2015 8:07 am

Hi Curtis,
I’m intrigued by your information and adding captions is definitely something I must do.
HOWEVER, right now, I need to do something different ( I believe ), from what you are describing.

I am sending large (13″ x 15″) mounted family portraits to relatives. I want to print out a small (4 x 6 ) copy of the portrait onto the Avery label paper and I want to type the name and birth-death dates across the chest of each person in the photo. This way people can stick this information on the back of the real portrait or the back of the frame, as they choose.

Is there a method of printing information on specific areas of the downloaded photo and it will print out that way?

Thanks,
Jade

Suzanne
Guest
Suzanne
April 15, 2015 6:58 am

I am really happy to have found this website. I am trying to do a big project this year, scanning and organizing thousands of family slides and photos and then making DVD copies organized by folders for family members. I want it to be well-organized and have information about the photos included. I have been looking into metadata, but it’s kind of confusing to me. I do use Apple (MacBook Pro) at home and have a PC at my work. I’m trying to avoid putting everything into iPhoto because I don’t want to use up all my memory storing everything there and obviously not all my family members are going to have Apple computers, so I’ve been scanning and saving photos to a large USB drive (which I’m terrified is going to suddenly stop working…I really need to back it up somewhere). I’m trying to figure out a way to get everything together onto one USB drive. I found it is possible to add metadata to a photo on a PC just using the desktop, no program needed. I was hoping that on my MacBook I could use the comments field in Get Info (Command I) to enter info and then I’d be able to see in the metadata field on a PC, but that doesn’t seem to work. Nor does the metadata I type on a photo using a PC seem to show up anywhere in the Get Info box of photos on my Apple. Do you know anyway around this without using a specific program? I guess if not, I’ll try the directions you gave above for Picasa, if they are still current in 2015. At least it’s free, and hopefully would work for my project. I just haven’t used it before. I’ve been playing around with the best way to rename my photos to see if that could help with organization and identification, but I haven’t settled on the best way, yet. I thought about using Year, First and Last Name (of oldest person in the photo) or something, but of course there could end up being duplicates of the same year and name and that won’t work. Maybe trying to rename every photo AND do metadata is a waste of time. Perhaps I should just set up folders first and skip trying to name each one. It’s a huge project and I’m a bit overwhelmed. If you have any suggestions, I’d appreciate them.

Marc
Guest
Marc
May 17, 2015 4:16 pm

Hello, any idea on hownto do this on an iPhone right after I took the picture ? Thanks !

Marc
Guest
Marc
May 17, 2015 4:25 pm

Hello again, looking carefully inside all comments, I saw you mentionnend iPhoto for iPhone and then the sqaured I for information.

I can’t find that on an iOS 8 device, is there still a way ?

Thanks again!

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Nelson Kent
Guest
Nelson Kent
March 8, 2016 8:14 am

Thanks for an excellent summary of products that allow one to add captions to photographs. I am not familiar with any of these
product, but it looks like almost anyone of them will do the job for me. I am starting on the process of scanning old family photos so that I have digital images to work with. My objective is to produce a DVD that contains the photos with captions to help identify the content of each photo.

I may have missed it or perhaps it is a standard feature of these products, but I would like to know if any or all of the products discussed here will allow me to display the resulting DVD of photos with their captions on a TV as well as a PC/Mac?

Thanks for a great review!

Alexander Jhon
Guest
Alexander Jhon
April 8, 2016 12:45 am

The article really learns me a lot. Author introduces new tools and techniques that are very helpful in future.

John
Guest
John
April 10, 2016 7:03 pm

I just starting using Lightroom and am learning the ropes. I’ve captioned and titled hundreds of pictures in LR that I would like to send out for online prints that I can share with my less connected relations. Will any of the online services use my metadata to print titles and captions on the back of my prints? It seems like an obvious feature for these businesses to support, but so far my search has turned up squat.

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