IPTC is a standard for embedding metadata in photographs. This is a summary of what is and isn’t IPTC-compatible software.
Picasa. Free organizer and simple editor. It works, for both IPTC keywords and captions, on JPG’s. Putting captions and keywords on anything other than JPG’s here is a waste of your time. You can write keywords and captions to TIFF’s and PSD’s but you will not see this information in IPTC fields in other software. If you have IPTC captions, keywords, locations, copyright, source, etc. entered on TIFF’s and PSD’s in other software it will not show up in Picasa. There are no information fields beyond keywords and captions so it’s treading on the outer edges of what IPTC can be. Nowhere in this software does it even say the word IPTC but that’s what it is.
Photo Info. Free. Not an organizer but a Microsoft add-on that sits in your context menu and writes IPTC to JPG’s and TIFF’s and a few exotic file formats. Has a range of fields to cover most anything you could want. Also has a batch mode. A little slow and sticky in its execution but worth having. You’ll still need something else that can read and search IPTC on a global level. (2010 update: No longer what it was. Now something entirely different called Microsoft Pro Photo Tools 2)
XnView. Free photo viewer as well as IPTC-editor that can work in batch mode. Very nice program. Has a few quirks in regards to field length. I also recommend this to my non-technical friends and family as an IPTC-viewer as it has an easy layout anyone can understand.
iTag. A nice little program for adding captions, keywords and copyrights to JPG’s and TIFF’s. Fairly limited but it’s a start.
I have looked at several other free programs that claim to write IPTC info. Invariably they only write to JPG’s. There’s probably a hundred of that caliber.
Windows File Properties in XP is not IPTC. Although it shows EXIF information, the summary fields available for adding information are not EXIF either. They’re not anything except Windows File Properties. I do not recommend this as a way to annotate files unless you’re a masochist.
FastStone Viewer. Free. Does not read or write IPTC. If you change and re-save photos here sometimes it will strip out any embedded IPTC info because it doesn’t recognize its relevance. Sometimes it leaves it in. You’d have to experiment to know which is which. If you’re serious about annotating your photos it would be best to stay away from this.
iMatch touts itself as a professional-quality image-management system, including IPTC. In my humble opinion it’s a train-wreck. If you don’t believe me you can try it free for 30 days.
ACDSee Pro Photo Manager. Editor, Organizer and general Photo Wizard. Reads IPTC on PSD’s, TIFF’s and JPG’s. Writes to TIFF’s and JPG’s. It has detailed batch modes for anything you could possibly need. It can also catalog text documents, PDF’s, etc. I like it a lot. Suitable for anyone, beginner to advanced. 1 GB of RAM recommended. There’s a lesser version called Photo Manager although I haven’t worked with that one. From what I’ve read it seems the keywords are IPTC and the categories belong to the ACDSee database itself.
Adobe Photoshop Elements. Editor and Organizer. Can read and write to PSD’s, TIFF’s and JPG’s. (Nothing writes to BMP’s.) If you add captions, copyrights, etc. in the Editor it will save when you save changes to the photos. If you add tags and captions using the Organizer you have to remember to use “Write Tag and Properties Info to Photos” under File on the main menu to make it stick. It does not have batch mode for anything other than ‘tags’ (their word for keywords) but does have Search options. The IPTC fields are split between the Editor and the Organizer so this is a very overly-complicated way to annotate photos.
MediaDex. Organizer. Reads, writes and searches IPTC with a virtually unlimited range of fields. Although not recommended as a beginner’s program, anyone with fair-to-middling experience and some patience can work with this. Tech support is limited to one primary responder at their forum and a fairly unintelligible manual. It can be maddeningly unintuitive and utterly useless in places but its depth and range of options makes it very attractive. Love it or hate it. It has immense potential and I’m praying for a Version 3.0. It took me about a month to hit a comfort zone with it.
There are others such as Photo Mechanic and BreezeBrowser, dedicated to photo metadata rather than other things. Photo Mechanic is fine-dining. If nothing else, go taste it. All of the retail products have trial versions and that’s the best way to find the one to suit you.
If you allow Windows to re-size your photos when you email them it will strip out any IPTC-embedded info so send your photos at their original size. This is not a failure of IPTC, it’s just the idiocy of Windows. If you need more space than email allows, sign up for a free YouSendIt account or a free account at Dropbox or SugarSync and share your photos without compromise.