IPTC: Comparing Options

IPTC (a standard set by the International Press Telecommunications Council) is one method of photo organization. This is the closest thing we have to a standard for embedding information in digital photographs. You know, all that stuff people write on the backs of the paper ones, or anything else you’d like to add.

Adobe Elements uses it.  (They call it ‘File Info’.)  Even better news, Legacy will import IPTC information into its photo fields, and so will Passage Express.

Adobe Photoshop Elements File Info

Adobe Photoshop Elements Editor: File Info

What this means in practical terms is that if you enter the information once, it will carry through to other software. Some other software.  IPTC is still not as universal as it might be.  We can hope.

For instance, FastStone Viewer, doesn’t use it.  Picasa uses it but only on JPGs. Conversely, any description added to a JPG in Adobe Elements will show up as a caption in Picasa.  Adobe Elements will handle other formats but Picasa will not read them.  And so on and so forth with other graphics software.  Before you get too gung-ho jumping into this great idea, run some tests and make sure it works the way you want it to.

A good question to ask yourself is what do you plan to do with your pictures?  That can narrow down your experiments on a long-term filing system. I know it’s tough to have a plan, though, if you don’t know what all your options are and just owning a computer is like running on top of a moving ball.

Passage Express

Passage Express is still, so far, the best thing I know for presenting my genealogy work as it can make a compilation of many kinds of files: graphics, slideshows, audio, text, genealogy charts.  So I’m looking at this from the end point backwards.  Any number of programs will “organize” my photographs in some manner, but which method is going to get me from folders full of photographs to organized in Passage Express in the shortest line possible?

This is not all my 12,000 photos but since I know that I want to use some photos in both Legacy and Passage Express, using IPTC descriptions on those will save me having to rewrite or copy/paste the descriptions for them twice.

Importing a photo into Passage Express will take IPTC embedded information from the ‘Description’ field of a JPG or TIFF and put it into ‘Details’ in Passage Express.  Voilà.  A straight line.

It’s a little messy, though, as it precedes the wanted text with that will have to be deleted on every single one of them.  Perhaps the Passage Express engineers would be amenable to repairing that.  (Aug 24 update: The preamble only happens in certain instances, not most.  I have corresponded with their tech support about this and await further notice.)

(Another way around this is to use Windows File Properties.  This is not IPTC though. When you’ve imported your image into Passage Express, open it in ‘Default Application’ (Windows Picture and Fax Viewer probably) right-click and go down to Properties to open the File Properties box and copy and paste the information into ‘Details’ in Passage Express.)

Legacy Family Tree

Legacy will import embedded information from the IPTC Description field for either JPGs or TIFFs.  But it will only read TIFFs if they’ve been saved with no compression.  If you use LZW it will not recognize them.  If you click on a TIFF and get a blank you’ll have to re-save it first making sure to click the No Compression button.

Although I created a whole batch of TIFFs using No Compression with FastStone ViewerLegacy does not recognize them.  Also, adding IPTC info only works to add to the Description field in individual photo galleries, not in the Picture Center.

Although there are several fields for information in Windows File Properties and in IPTC, the only thing I’ve seen that translates automatically to this other software is the ‘Description’ field.

Embedding comments/descriptions is, of course, not the same thing as a file-naming system.  I’m using ‘surname/first-year-#’ for the ancestors.  I reached the end of my patience with file-names 50 characters long.  Most of that information belongs somewhere else.  I know some people put the information into adjoining text files, and I’ve tried that too.

Windows File Properties

I’ve added information to Windows File Properties in XP just to see how that would work out by comparison.  The results would be fine as far as indexing and searching and it’s simple.  But the information doesn’t carry through to anywhere else. As I said, it would have to be copied and pasted.

Maybe not a bad trade-off for what it’s good for.  As long as you intend to use a Windows operating system forevermore, it would be an OK investment.  I don’t think any other OS would care about it.  The best way to look at it is in the Details view so you can see a thumbnail in the sidebar and all the information laid out across the screen. Information can be sorted according to category by clicking on a header.

Windows File Properties

Windows XP: File Properties

I would be interested to hear from someone using Vista whether this has enhanced functionality there.

I like the idea of being able to Search for words or phrases computer-wide and gather up all related-files in a single batch.  With Windows indexing turned on this is a simple thing to do. Read Windows File Properties. Searching IPTC info can be done through Adobe, or other software that reads IPTC.


I did find a program called StudioLine that will import or add Windows File Properties as well as any IPTC information. The way the interface is designed makes it extremely easy.  However, it only works on JPGs in the free Basic version.  I haven’t tried the Classic ($29) so I can’t say.  It’s also a good-looking editor and file browser.



IPTC generally works with JPGs, TIFFs and sometimes PSDs so if you have other formats you’d have to convert them to one of the other formats first.  FastStone Viewer has a nifty batch convert mode.  I think Adobe will write IPTC info to any format but that doesn’t mean other software will read it.


I’ve also tried BreezeBrowser for adding IPTC information.  This works on either single photos or in batch mode.  I looked at several others and this is the only one I found that will work with JPGs, TIFFs and PSDs.  My Adobe Elements version doesn’t have a batch mode or I would use that instead.  No matter which way you slice it, backtracking through hundreds or thousands of photographs to embed information is a lot of work.  The saving grace is that fields of information can be added in batch mode, wherever you have common information.


BreezeBrowser: IPTC

Batch mode would be handy for things like “author”.  I have photographs from many different people and have been lately marking them as such.  I’d like to make that acknowledgment and also have a record if I ever need to get back to that person for more information.  That’s just one example of information to add to photos.

A very simple and useful thing anyone can do is either add Windows File Properties or IPTC info to photos before emailing them.  Usually I get a list of comments in email preceding the photos and the photos never arrive in the order the sender thinks they sent them. Once I got a hand-written list to print out and cross-match. Dead people’s names and comments numbered 1-86 and there were 94 photos. J.B., if you’re reading this, I’m still confused.

If I have previously added Windows File Properties on a PSD or TIFF, adding IPTC through Adobe Elements will strip everything out. It will allow me to re-add Comments in Windows File Properties to PSDs, but not to TIFFs. Using both on JPGs seems to be fine.

7 thoughts on “IPTC: Comparing Options

  1. Laurence E Stephenson Post author

    Hello, jgen

    Have you looked at Xnview free program? Also lets you scan multiple pages into a single tiff file.

    1. JL Post author

      I like the way XnView puts IPTC/EXIF tags on the thumbnails for easy viewing, although it does it inconsistently. This may be a hangover from my work in BreezeBrowser. I have to re-save all of them through Adobe Elements to have the IPTC info show up in XnView. XnView’s main downfall, for my purposes, is that will read IPTC info on PSDs and TIFFs but the options for adding or editing IPTC info will only work on JPGs.

      I’ve seen that before – the ability to put multiple pages into a single image file. It’s fun, a home-made version of microfilm.

  2. JL Post author

    After more hours of testing, my conclusion in a nutshell is:

    Unless you’re only using JPGs, using IPTC through Adobe will give the best results. Not surprising as Adobe is a major support behind this ‘standard’. Other major photo editing software may do likewise but it’s not in my repertoire.

    JPGs and uncompressed TIFFs with IPTC-embedded information will import, descriptions intact, into Legacy and Passage Express.

    The information on PSDs, TIFFs and JPGs are all viewable in XnView, depending where the IPTC info comes from. Only the JPGs are editable there. Using both IPTC and Windows File Properties is counter-productive, as Adobe wants to be king-of-the-hill in this game and will delete any information put into WFP previously. For anyone not familiar with using TIFFs, Windows Picture and Fax Viewer provides a toolbar for adding captions, etc.


    This only works with TIFFs that do not have IPTC-embedded information, otherwise you have the usual option of opening the graphic in the Window’s XP ‘Paint’ program.


    Paint is simple enough not to get lost in. Theoretically. Under ‘attributes’ you can extend the height and make room for a caption. It doesn’t have fancy options like auto-centering of text, but it’ll do for a quick annotation.

  3. JL Post author

    On the question of why IPTC, now called XMP, is not more commonly compatible with other software is that it has only been recently released by Adobe under an OpenSource license for use in free software. (my favorite kind) So, perhaps we’ll see it around more in the future.

    Certainly this was not designed for genealogists but I think we’d all find it handy.

    If the higher end Adobe products are in your budget, they have much more extensive options for XMP use. There’s also an interesting article and flash presentation about it here.

  4. JL Post author

    Any information added to ‘File Info’ in the Adobe Editor will show up under the Metadata tab in the Properties window of the Organizer. The description in File Info will appear as a caption under the photo and can also be added or edited at this location. All caption information here is IPTC. It would be fairly quick to cycle through thumbnails here adding captions.


  5. Jeff Gedgaud

    Hello, I am a freelance writer who has come across your article on IPTC while researching some things for a friend.

    My friend is wanting to insert photos into MS Office Word documents that are named using family names while she is researching and doing some genealogy work. It is just simple insert photo using the menu bars on Word documents but she wants to have the file names as captions in the document.

    She has scanned the pictures into a file folder and named them right away and she wants to have the filename of each picture as a caption for the pictures when she inserts them into a document.

    Do you know of a way to do this or a program that will do this easily or is this a per picture additional that needs to be done for each caption and photo insertion.

    Thank you very much.

    1. JL Post author

      I don’t use MS Word myself so I don’t know what the capabilities of that program are. MS Word is not a photo organizer, per se.

      If you arrange and print the pictures from a photo organizer (Adobe, ACDSee, MediaDex, etc) as a PDF, for instance, you can choose to have the file-name inserted below each picture.

      Is there some particular reason why your friend would want to use MS Word for this project?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *