First, only an idiot would put the metadata in a separate file - when files get separated, your work is lost.
There are three main inline metadata formats for photo tagging:
The metadata captured by your camera is called EXIF(Exchangeable Image File Format) Think - exposure time, aperture, GPS data. Somewhat fragile(easy to corrupt) - non extendable.
Created in the 1970's as IPTC(International Press Telecommunications Council) for the news business. Somewhat fragile(easy to corrupt) - non extendable.
XMP(Extensible Metadata Plateform) Supports most of the old IPTC headers and a lot more. XMP is XML and extensible and looks to be THE standard.
Both of these support EXIF IPTC and XMP
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