How to add permanent captions or descriptions to multiple pictures with free software

There seems to exist surprisingly few good and efficient tools for adding permanent descriptions, captions, titles or labels to multiple photos. But there are a few good tools out there – and luckily some of these are freeware. After much trial and error, I have listed my favorite options below.

But why would you want to add permanent captions to a photograph? In my own case, its about ensuring that old family photos retain their (sentimental) value to coming generations. As the older generations in a family die, so does the knowledge of who is in the family photo album – unless someone takes the time to write captions for each image.

One option is to write the caption on the reverse of each paper photograph. But a better option is to scan or photograph all the pictures and label them digitally. This allows you to share your family pictures easily with all your relatives, giving the images a chance at immortality.

Several image viewer applications allow you to add captions or descriptions as so-called “meta-tags” – i.e. hidden text embedded in the image file, typically using standards such as EXIF or IPTC. The benefit of such tags is that they do not alter the image itself and that they can be easily edited later. The downside is that not all image viewers show the tags, so less tech-savvy people may have a hard time finding out how to view the captions in a practical way. In addition, depending on which software is used, the tags are more likely to be stripped from the file if the images are converted.

A more user-friendly way to clearly show people a caption is to add text to the bottom of the picture. Thereby, the caption is visible regardless of who opens the image and what software is used to view the file.

Read on to learn, which options I think are the best. Regardless of which tool you use, I do recommend that you backup your images before editing them.

How did I select my favorite methods for adding captions to pictures?

My main criteria in selecting the options below were:

  • Manual and individual captions – Can you manually type captions for individual pictures?
  • Batch capability – Is the solution suitable for adding captions to many pictures at a time?
  • Speed – Is the work flow fast and efficient?
  • Price – Is it free or at least inexpensive?
  • Caption below image – Ideally, the caption should be added below the image so as not to obscure any part of the picture. But many software solutions will instead overlay the caption (i.e. add it as a watermark of sorts)
Photo Caption
For WindowsYesYesYes
Caption below

The best free option: FastPhotoTagger (FPT) and IrfanView for overlaying captions on JPEG pictures

My favorite method actually uses two separate applications, both of which are free:

  • FastPhotoTagger – For adding captions as (invisible) meta-tags
  • IrfanView – For overlaying the invisible captions and making permanent captions

For FastPhotoTagger (FPT), you will have to download the free ExifTool, since FPT relies on this software. Once you have downloaded and installed these programs, you are ready to go.

First you must add the captions in FastPhotoTagger:

  1. Open FastPhotoTagger. The first time you will have to setup the program by telling it where to find “ExifTool” (you may have to make sure that ExifTool is called exactly “exiftool.exe”)
  2. Open the folder containing your JPEG pictures
  3. Select the pictures that you want to tag.
  4. Click on the button with a lightning bolt icon (“Use Fast Tagger for Selected Photos”).
  5. Type a caption for each image. If you reuse text often, consider using copy+paste (CTRL+C and CTRL + V) to quickly insert that text into the caption.
  6. Once you are done adding captions to all your images, click the Save button.

The steps above will only add the caption as metadata – i.e. text hidden inside the image file, but not immediately visible. You will need IrfanView to add the captions to the images themselves (if you are more comfortable with a program such as XnView, that should also work):

  1. Open IrfanView
  2. Click on “File”, then “Batch Conversion/Rename…”
  3. Add the images that you want to the list of files to process.
  4. Click on “Advanced”, then check “Add overlay text” then click on “Settings”. Play around with the settings to get the result you want. Try the settings shown below (“$I120” will ensure that the caption is loaded from the image meta-tag). The top box describes the location of the text box. It seems that text will wrap just fine even if you set a width that is larger than the actual width of the image.
  5. Make sure that the other batch settings are as you want them to be.
  6. Then run the batch job and check your results.

The best free option for adding captions below pictures: Photo Caption Creator

Photo Caption Creator (PCC) is mainly a good option, if it is important to you that the caption is placed below the picture – and not as an overlay – and if you do not have a very large number of pictures to add captions to.

PCC is quite self-explanatory, so I won’t go into much detail here.

The main benefit of using PCC is that you are not forced to overlay the caption. If you use PCC, your text caption will not have to obscure any part of the image.

The downside of PCC is its workflow. There is no automatic word-wrap for your captions, so you will have to insert manual line-breaks if necessary. However, the main annoyance is that saving images requires you to manually specify the filename of each image. This is fine if you have only a handful of images. But if you for example are captioning 500 images, this adds up to 80 minutes spent naming your files (assuming that each file takes about 10 seconds to name and save). Also, PCC cannot rotate images so make sure that you rotate these beforehand (and perhaps remove any embedded picture orientation tags).

The best (but not free!) option: Caption Pro by Aleka Consulting

If Caption Pro by Aleka Consulting were free – or cheaper – it would be my preferred option for adding captions to images.

But it is not free. It costs $ 29… per year. This is definitely affordable for most people, but given my limited need for adding captions to images and the availability of the (almost just as good) alternatives listed above, I don’t think the price tag is justified.

That being said, it does seem like a very good option for adding captions to images. Unlike in PCC, Caption Pro automatically wraps text and saving your results is much faster, since you do not have to manually name and save each file.

I have only tested the shareware version. My conclusion is the following: If you are only adding captions to a very limited number of photos per time, the shareware version will likely be sufficient for you. But if you need to add captions to a big bunch of images and price is not an issue, you will have to pay for it.