How to Generate Captions Automatically in Lightroom

Lightroom itself doesn’t have the ability to use tokens to automatically generate captions, but here’s a plugin that can do a lot of heavy lifting for you.

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Working with metadata in Lightroom isn’t bad, but it’s nowhere near as powerful as something like Photo Mechanic. But there are some very useful plugins that extend Lightroom’s capabilities.

One of my favorites is John Beardsworth’s Search Replace Transfer plugin. It’s a paid plugin that costs €23.

It does what it says–it lets you take information in one EXIF or IPTC field and put it in another field. It also comes in very handy for correcting spelling errors or recurring typos (something that can be compounded with Lightroom remembering keywords, for example).

But what if you want to build a caption based on information that is already in the image’s metadata. Maybe you want to be put the shot’s technical information in the caption. Or maybe you want the location and GPS coordinates to be pulled in. Sure, you can go ahead and copy and paste image by image. But that’s going to get very old very quickly if you’re working with hundreds or even thousands of images. It’s something that Photo Mechanic takes in its stride, but what if you don’t want to buy yet another piece of software for this function. Or maybe you just don’t want to deal with the synchronization and update required when editing images and their metadata outside of Lightroom.

It’s easy to apply specific metadata to multiple images in Wordpress, but it’s not easy to have that information dynamically generated for each specific image.

John Beardsworth has created a solution. It’s a new panel added to his Search Replace Transfer plugin for Lightroom that is named, appropriately enough, the Caption Builder. The catch is that it’s not available yet in the official release of the plugin. But you can download a copy of the pre-release version from John’s blog (here’s the direct link).

The Caption Builder Tool

When you install the new version of the Search Replace Transfer plugin downloaded from the link on John’s blog (currencty 1.52.1), you open it by going to Library > Plugin Extras. With the new version, you’ll get a new tab that wasn’t available before: Caption builder. When you open that, you get a screen that looks like this.

Caption Builder for Lightroom-08


The drop-down menu next to Field Names gives a long list of tokens that can be used. They’re pulled from EXIF and IPTC fields. Choosing one will insert the appropriate shortcode token into the Caption Builder panel above.


Make You Own Shortcodes

You can also make your own text shortcodes that can be integrated into a recipe. So if there are names, places, or text expressions you use frequently you can create a shortcode for them. There’s a very specific format to follow, and the feature will be refined and more tightly integrated in future versions.

Usage Examples

There are all sorts of ways that this can come in handy. Here are two common usage scenarios that give some sense of the possibilities.

Prebuilding Getty-style Image Captions

If you’re looking to create Getty-style captions for editorial images, which require that you begin with location and date in a very specific format, you can get the process started with the Caption Builder with a recipe that looks like this.

But note that the Caption Builder–at least for now–only works in replace mode, not append mode. So when you apply any Caption Builder templates they’ll overwrite anything that was already in the caption field in the selected images. To include the existing caption, make sure to use the dedicated caption token in your recipe.

Caption Builder for Lightroom-07

You can see the finished result here in the caption field.

Caption Builder for Lightroom-04

Adding Shooting Data to the Caption

It also comes in very handy if you’re looking to include the shot’s technical information in the caption, which is very useful if you’re posting gear reviews or how-to guides. I use it for sample images in camera reviews so that readers can see what settings were used for that specific shot.

In this example you can see a mix of tokens and static text.

Caption Builder for Lightroom-06

And this is how the result will look in the caption panel in Lightroom.

Caption Builder for Lightroom-03

That can come in handy in a number of ways. In this example, I’ve published the image to Wordpress using the WP/LR Sync plugin and publish service, with the option to preserve the caption. The caption information is then displayed automatically underneath the image when I embed it into a post.

Caption Builder for Lightroom-05


The Caption Builder isn’t yet part of an official version of the Search Replace Transfer plugin. So it should be treated for now as a beta version. A reliable beta version, to be sure, but there are a few things to be aware of when using it.

  • Currently the Caption Builder works on a “replace” basis, not append. So what you put in the Caption Builder will write over any existing information you have in the Caption field. To get the same result as appending, use the dedicated caption token as part of your recipe. (Thanks to John for the tip!)
  • It applies only to the caption field, not the title field (or other fields). The rest of the Search, Replace, and Transfer plugin works with most writeable fields.
  • There doesn’t appear yet to be a way to name the presets you create. Their names are generated from the text of the recipe.
  • When you use the field names drop-down to insert a shortcode, it automatically puts two spaces in front of the code in the editing panel. It’s easy enough to clean up once you notice it there.

How to Get It

The Caption Builder is part of a pre-release version of the Search Replace Transfer plugin, which is available for €23. You can use it on a trial basis for up to 10 images at a time. To download the pre-release version with the Caption Builder update, head on over to the developer’s blog.

David Coleman / Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my travel photography here. I've been using Lightroom for years, from back before it was Lightroom (RawShooter). More »

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