Simon has been involved in software development since the days of paper tape. He has developed niche software for information management.
Photo Captioning Applications at a Glance
The leading desktop, web, and mobile apps for captioning as evaluated in this review are listed below. More detail of these and other apps follow. To locate them, type Ctrl-F and enter the Application name.
Note: Australian vendor Aleka Consulting is donating 50% of license fees for Caption Pro to bushfire relief.
Windows Desktop ApplicationsApplication Rating Notes
Caption Pro 4 Stars Converts prints, editable captions Photo Gallery 3 Stars Photo editor,unsupported Photo Caption Creator 3.5 Stars Unsupported Picasa 3 Stars Photo editor,unsupportedAutoSplitter 3 Stars Converts and captions prints
Mac Desktop ApplicationsApplication Rating Notes
SnipTag 3 Stars Converts and captions prints
Web ApplicationsApplication Rating Notes
Caption Pro Web 4 Stars Preserves all pixels Lunapic 4 Stars Photo editor AddText 4 Stars ImgFlip 4 Stars Meme-oriented, sharing
Non-Native Mobile AppsApplication Rating Notes
Typorama 3.5 Stars iOS only Phonto 3 Stars iOS and AndroidPicScanner Gold 4 Stars iOS only, preserves pixels PhotoMyne 4 Stars iOS and Android, preserves pixels
Why Add Text to Photos?
Taking photos has never been easier. Some estimates place the total number of photographs in the world at about 100 billion. Their content has meaning for the people who took them, and maybe the people who appear them. For anyone else, a few words of context adds enormously to their value to other people. In the paper era, they were often added on the back, or in an album. Digital photos have a huge capacity for storing data within their file structure, but this is mostly used for recording automatically captured data such as camera and exposure parameters, date and time. Geo-tagging using recorded latitude and longitude from GPS data is frequently added by mobile phone cameras.
However, what people most want to know about photographs are the four W's of journalism - who, what, where and when. Computer power can be applied to answering all of these questions.
'When' is easily supplied, relying only on internal clocks in the camera. They may become confused about time zones, but an accuracy of a day or so is all most people want.
'Who' is performed increasingly well by automated face recognition, once some examples have been provided. Without examples, faces tend to be recognized as celebrities.
'What' is a question that automated image analysis (or auto-captioning) struggles with. It often comes up with accurate but uninformative descriptions as shown below.
'Where' is provided by turning latitude and longitude into a named location using a gazetteer database. Mobile phones do a pretty good job in well-populated areas, but off the beaten track, results may not be satisfactory. Digital cameras do not routinely have built-in GPS location tracking.
Although technology is making inroads into automatically adding the kind of information humans want to photos, it has a long way to go, and adding text manually looks like being necessary for many years yet.
With social media came the meme, where the image resonates with the text rather than the text describing the image. Some memes are the electronic successors to the broadsheets and posters that have been used to influence public opinion for centuries. However, the near-zero marginal cost of electronic production and distribution means that many more people now create them, and humorous/philosophical memes now probably outnumber the ones seeking to influence people.
Another class of computer application assists with the creation of digital photo albums from existing hard-copy albums, which many people own, usually containing photos of family members. These applications have the capability to create a number of separate digital images from a scan or photograph of a number of paper prints, such as those appearing in a photo album. As well as improving the quality of original images in the manner of phot editors, the applications can add captions (and sometimes metadata) to each of the digital images. The caption is added below the original image so that it does not obscure any of the original image pixels. These capabilities are of particular interest for people interested in genealogy.
What Software Should I Use to Add Text to my Photos?
When computers were less powerful and graphical user interfaces were a novelty, information about images was often easily visible in the file browsers (such as Windows Explorer). In that environment, adding information to a file name or placing the file in a folder with an informative name was what most people did.
Nowadays, applications dominate the operating system. File names and folders are not readily accessible to image viewing applications, especially on mobile devices. If it’s not in the image pixels, users won’t see it. This gives new importance to embedding information into images.
Most social media platforms offer image captioning, but the captions are placed on a web page containing the image and are only visible using that platform. If you download a single image from a social media platform, the caption (or any other metadata added by the platform) does not come with it, although if you download all your images, some metadata may be included in the download.
This review looks at some of the leading software products for a range of image captioning tasks that you might conduct on a desktop, mobile device or using a Web application. These include adding names of people or places to photos you've taken yourself or creating a meme to reach as many people as possible. Different tasks need different software.
A major feature of social media is the ability to upload images and videos and text relating to them. The image and text are then displayed on a web page such as that shown below.
This facility is widely used, but viewing of the image and caption is restricted to the Facebook application. If the photo and video data are downloaded, images have reduced pixel dimensions and arbitrary names. Caption data such as that shown in the red box above is not included in the download.
Google Photos is a very popular web-based photo editing, sharing and tagging application with impressive image analysis capabilities that make it possible to search images for a range of entities, and to group photos according to who appears in them using facial recognition.
Multi-line captions can be added to images stored in Google Photos via the Info box as shown below:
However, if the Info box is not shown, the multiple lines are concatenated at the bottom left of the image as shown below:
Desktop Captioning Applications
Almost all image editing applications on desktops, phones, and tablets provide a capability to add text anywhere on top of an image, and many will let you add a blank region to the image in which you can place your caption. The major difficulty with using such applications for captioning is complexity: users want to type their captions, not learn how to use an image editor. A further difficulty is choosing a color for the text that stands out from the photo background. The same color may not work in all the photos you write on. If you make a mistake (such as mis-spelling a sports team member's name) you have to re-do the whole caption. And for historic family photos, you may not want to write over any of the existing pixels. Fortunately, there are a few dedicated desktop captioning applications that address these difficulties, but support for them may not be available.
The current native Windows photo management application is Photos. This is only available for Windows 10 and replaces the venerable Paint. Text can be added to the existing image via the Paint3D application, but with the limitations discussed above. However, Photos has impressive automatic image analysis, presumably in order to compete with Google Photos. It supports search using text describing objects in photos, such as food, animals, etc. in order to retrieve images containing the objects. It also performs extraction of text appearing in images, so if an image is captioned, a search for text appearing in the caption will give the image as a result. Faces are also extracted automatically and naming one will allow detection of all images containing this face. As Photos is a desktop application, the database containing all the automatically extracted data is available for enthusiasts to examine at C:\Users\<UserName>\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.Windows.Photos_8wekyb3d8bbwe\LocalState\MediaDB.v1.sqlite for the current version of Photos (2019.19011.19410.0).
Formerly known as Windows Live Photo Gallery, this free application is an image organizer, photo editor, and photo sharing app. It is a part of Microsoft's Windows Essentials software suite, but support was discontinued in 2017, probably due to competition from Google Photos, which offers similar functionality as a web app. However, Windows Essentials is still available for download from CNET and Photo Gallery will run under Windows 10, although the geo-tagging functionality does not work.
Photo Gallery offers a wide range of metadata addition including people (using face recognition to identify named individuals in other images), descriptive tags and a caption.
This caption display disappears after 5 seconds unless the cursor is over the caption, and is not shown at all in slideshow mode. The size of the captions is only controllable by altering the browser text size.
Although Google's captioning facilities are somewhat limited, download of all Google Photos data does include metadata such as captions as a separate JSON file for each image, and the album structure is mapped to a folder structure, which makes import to other applications much easier. However, only user-created albums are included. Google Photos' grouping of photos containing a particular person, or object are not included in the download unless the album is shared.
The Caption Pro desktop appplication is able to extract caption and album name metadata from data downloaded from Google Photos and generate captions and sub-captions. If files captioned in this way are then uploaded back to Google Photos, text can easily be viewed on all image displays as shown here.
Metadata created by Photo Gallery is not shown in image pixels but is displayed beside the image when it is selected, with the Caption displayed below. This restricts display to Windows environments with Photo Gallery installed, although the integration with Windows means that applied metadata is visible when the cursor hovers over a file which has been processed. It also shows all image files stored on local drives on startup, which may be time-consuming.
Ready availability and comprehensive functionality would have given Photo Gallery a substantial user base, but lack of support means that future operation is uncertain. A blog by Jean-Paul Olivier gives advice on how to obtain the geo-tagging facility in Phot Gallery with other applications.
My rating: 3 stars
Google's Picasa is a discontinued image organizer and viewer for organizing and editing digital photos, plus an integrated photo-sharing website. It was superseded by Google Photos in 2016 but is still available for download from CNET. Google produced Mac and Windows versions. It offers a massive range of functionality, including the addition of captions, including those with multiple lines. Its handling of multiple lines is limited. Although a new line can be initiated (by entering ctrl-enter rather than shift-enter), only the first line of a multiple line caption is visible if the caption is typed in. If a multiple line caption is pasted on, a larger area is used for the caption, but the area used is limited and overlays the image as shown below. The full caption can be viewed by scrolling in the caption region.
Caption data added by Picasa is only viewable within the application, but is stored in file metadata, making it potentially accessible to other applications.
Whilst it has an impressive range of capabilities (including the production of Web albums), its deprecation by Google and the fact that its captions are only visible in Picasa make of it limited utility.
My rating: 3 stars
This is a Windows application from Golden Apple Software that can add up to 5 lines of captions below the image and creates a black and white border around the uploaded image, which can be in JPEG, GIF or PNG format. However, the aspect ratio of the selected image must be specified correctly otherwise the image is truncated. Although the caption font and color can be selected, there is no control of the caption size, and all lines are the same height. A watermark is added to images in the unlicensed version. A license costs A$13.39. The downloaded version threw errors when saving images. The Golden Apple Software website only describes a website builder, so it is unlikely that support is available.
My rating: 1 star
Free Caption Maker
This simple application from Free Picture Solutions only operates on single JPEG images. The captioned image is saved manually. Caption font, color, position (on, above, or below the image) are specified numerically and multiple captions can be applied to the image to create a multi-line caption by a laborious process. Captions can be edited before saving, but not afterward. Captions can be saved as image descriptions but in this case, the image pixels are not changed. The publisher's website is accessible but does not mention the product, whose copyright date is 2014. It is unlikely that the product is still supported.
My rating: 2 stars
Caption Pro (v3.1.103)
There are a number of products with this name: Caption-Pro is well-regarded UK-based metadata editing tool for media professionals which generates captions composed of the names of people appearing in the photo using facial recognition. There is also a poorly-reviewed iPhone app of this name offering a selection of pre-made captions for photos.
Caption Pro (from Aleka Consulting) operates with JPEG files and video files (mp4,mov and 3gp formats only). It supports editing of already applied captions by storing them in metadata and placing the caption in a strip below the original image, thus preserving the integrity of the original image and making the caption visible from any image viewing application.
Images and videos can be loaded from a file or folder browser, by drag and drop or pasting from the Clipboard. Automatically cropped and de-skewed Images can also be obtained from scans or photos of multiple paper prints as shown below:
Loaded images can be automatically ordered by file name or date, and manually re-ordered via a graphical interface. The drag-and-drop interface can be used to upload and merge groups of files from different sources, such as a mobile phone and a digital camera SD card.
Captions can be added as a single block, either by typing or from speech (for Win 10 users) with either continuous or multi-line text, or in two parts with different sizes for each part, making it particularly useful for team photos. Names of people can also be added automatically via face recognition.The second part of an image caption may be a region of another image (such as the scanned back of a photo with descriptive handwritten text). Caption font size is scaled automatically to fit into the area specified for the caption bar. It offers a wide range of other features including streamlined captioning of multiple images, font, and background color selection, slideshow, zoom, aspect ratio adjustment, automatic captioning from geolocation or other metadata (such as that created by Windows Photo Gallery, Picasa, Google Photos, Windows Photos and professional metadata addition programs), and a command-line interface. Double byte characters (such as Chinese) can be included in captions, but not emojis.
Image caption text is stored in IPTC metadata fields as well as in the image pixels and a high-quality save option minimizes processing changes, making Caption Pro particularly suitable for genealogy and archival applications.
Caption Pro offers a slideshow view, in which only captioned images and videos are shown, making it particularly suitable for processing large collections of travel photos and videos recorded on a mobile device.
For non-Windows users or users without local administrator rights, a Web application for single images is available, and remote access to the full application via a Windows server with Dropbox integration is available on request. It offers a free 30-day trial and a license fee of US$29 per year. The Aleka Consulting website is accessible and describes Caption Pro, which has a copyright date of 2020. Context-sensitive help, a local help file, and email support are all available.
My rating: 4.5 stars