We take a closer look at Google’s reverse image search feature, explaining what it does, why it’s useful and how to use it.
Google reverse image search, more accurately called Google Search by Images, is a service the internet giant has provided since 2011. It’s accessible from the Google Images search box, and can be incredibly useful once you understand how to use it, whether you’re a photographer, on holiday in a foreign country, or if you’ve come across something unfamiliar that’s in some way piqued your interest.
Here, we take a closer look at why you might want to use it and how to do so.
What is Google reverse image search?
Google reverse image search, officially called Google Search by Image, is a service provided by Google that allows a user to search for images using an image as the starting point, rather than a written or spoken search query.
You simply upload an image, or provide a link to an image that can be found online, and Google will try to find related images. These will typically be similar images, or a mix of similar images and exact copies.
How do I do a Google reverse image search?
Just head to Google Images and click on the camera icon in the search box. You will then be able to upload an image from your computer, or paste a link to an image online.
To paste a link to a image found online, just right-click on the image and select Copy Image Address. This can then be pasted into the search box, which should be set to Paste Image URL at default.
If you’re using Chrome or Firefox browsers, you’ll also be able to drag an image from your computer into the search box.
Chrome users have another advantage, namely the ability to perform a reverse image search whenever they come across an image on a website. Anyone wanting to do so simply needs to right-click on the image and select Search Google for Image.
How is it different from Google Images searches?
Normally, when searching Google Images, you input a term such a flowers or landscape and Google will aim to show you the most relevant images related to that search term.
With reverse image search, however, you start off by uploading an image, or inputting the URL of an online image. This gives Google a clear idea of what it is you’re looking for, and allows it to find images and information speficially related to that image.
How does reverse image search work?
As Google explains in this video, an image that’s used for a reverse search is analyzed for distinctive points, colors, lines and textures. The query that’s generated from this analysis is then compared with billions of possible images that Google is able to access. Should an exact match be found, Google will display this, indicating the different sizes of images it has been able to find. Related images, along with relevant web pages, will also typically be shown.
Why do people use reverse image search?
Many photographers use reverse image search to discover whether an image of theirs has been published somewhere online without their authorization. Given the ease with which images can be stolen and the complexity in hunting for such violations yourself – not to mention the speed with which this reverse search process works – it’s easy to see the appeal.
Reverse image search is not just about finding exact copies of an image, but also related images, based on the recognition of the subject within them. And this unlocks many other benefits of the service.
First, it may bring up many similar images that may have some kind of useful or interesting information attached to them. An example of this would be when you’ve captured an image of a plant or insect whose name you’re unsure of. If you use this for a reverse image search, and a number of similar images showing this same subject are returned, there’s a good chance that a few will bear the same name in their descriptions.
Alternatively, if Google is confident that it has correctly recognised the subject within an image, it might show this in a separate panel known as a Knowledge Graph box. This may provide further images of the subject, as well as key information. If this is a prominent person, for example, it may have their birth date, place of residence, occupation and social media profiles, as well as related subjects.
What is Google Lens? And what does it have to do with reverse image searches?
Google Lens is the name of both a technology provided by Google and a standalone iOS and Android app that’s based around it. The technology can also be found within the Google app, and has also been integrated into the native camera apps on some previous Android phones.
Its goal is to deliver search results based on images, although it can also scan QR codes, translate text and more.
So what’s the difference between Google Lens and the standard reverse image search functionality? First, you can use Google Lens in real-time, such as when translating text. You don’t even need to take an image, you just point your smartphone’s camera at it, whether it’s a road sign or a menu in a restaurant.
Second, you can conveniently capture images in the app and perform a search straight away, rather than having to upload an image separately. Someone capturing an image of a product, such as a lamp or a radio, for example, should expect to find matching images with more information and potentially places to buy these products online too. The app also allows you to specify whether you want it to translate text, find products to buy and so on.
How do I use reverse image search on an iPhone or iPad?
Google Search by Image is not available in the iOS version of Safari as it is on desktop version, but it’s still possible to access the feature in a number of ways when using iOS devices.
First, the Google Lens icon can be found in the top-right-hand corner of search results in Google Images. All you need to do is tap on this icon and it will perform a search from this image.
Google Lens is also incorporated in the Google Photos app that’s available for iOS devices. Once you select a photo from your collection, you simply tap on the Google Lens icon and Google will bring up related results.
Tip: White dots may appear on different elements within the images once Google has scanned them, and tapping on them will search specifically with this element in mind. With some images, it may also be possible to draw around certain elements to highlight these over others.
How do I use reverse image search on an Android device?
There are a number of ways of using Google’s Search by Image feature on an Android phone.
You can search for an image in Google Images using text or speech, before clicking on a resulting image and pressing down your thumb or finger for a moment. This will give you the Search Google for this image option.
What does Google do with images uploaded to the reverse image search service?
Google states that images uploaded for reverse image searches may be stored for seven days, and will only be used during that time to improve its products and services. These also don’t form part of your search history, which you can download at any time.
What are the limitations of the reverse image search function?
Clearly, if Google is to successfully locate an image, it needs to have indexed it to begin with. Not all images online have been indexed by Google, whether it’s because Google has not found them or because the owner has decided not to allow Google to index them, or for some other reason.
At the time of writing, the service does not work with some image formats such as TIFF files, nor does it work with images whose dimensions exceed 8000 x 6000 pixels.
Are SmartFrames included in reverse image searches?
Yes. If Google finds SmartFrames that appear similar to images used as the search query, it will return these in search results in the same way as conventional images.
SmartFrame users do, however, have the option of omitting their images from being indexed by search engines, so these would not be found by Google.
Furthermore, the fact that SmartFrames cannot be downloaded, and can only be shared with the owner’s permission, means the owner has far less need to perform reverse image searches to discover unauthorized use of their images.
Please also note that as SmartFrames have right-clicks disabled to prevent images from being stolen, options such as Search Google for this Image and Copy image address will not show upon right-clicks.