Google Search by Image

Inspired by WIC librarian Caitlin Shanley’s post about Google Power Searchers, I thought I’d share some pointers on image searching that I’ve learned recently. While working on image copyright for Penn’s offerings on Coursera.org—a platform for free online classes from top universities— I’ve become well-acquainted with Google’s Search by Image feature. I was surprised to find out that not too many people know about this useful tool! It’s a great solution for common frustrations like:

  • I saved an image to my desktop to put in a paper, but now I can’t remember the source to cite it.
  • I have a picture of a plant/creature/landmark/item/work of art, and I want to get information about it.
  • I want to reuse an image on the web, but I need to track down the owner to get permission.
  • I want to find the original source of a pinned image on Pinterest.
  • I want to find a better resolution or uncropped version of an image.
  • I’m an artist/creator monitoring reuse of my work.
  • I want to find pictures of cats that look like my cat.

Here’s how it works: You can search with an image whether it’s online or saved to your hard drive– just head over to Google Images and click the little camera icon on the far right side of the search bar.

Google Image Search Bar

Search by Image box

For images online you choose “Paste image URL”
Be careful– this isn’t the same as the webpage URL! The link shouldn’t end in something like .html, but with an image format like .jpg or .png. If you right click the image on a webpage (control + click on a Mac), choose the option “Copy image URL” (Chrome) or “Copy Image Location” (Firefox) or “Properties” (then highlight and copy–Internet Explorer).

Right click menu for image

After that, paste the URL into the box. Even easier– you can just drag and drop the image into the search bar!

Drag and drop box

Another quick tip: if you’re doing a normal image search and you find an image you want to run a reverse search on, just click on it, and you’ll get a link in the information sidebar that will run a search with it.

Image search info bar

If you find yourself using this feature often, you can make it even easier and download a browser extension that lets you search by image in one quick step!

For images saved locally, you choose “Upload an image”
Click “Choose file” and browse to the location of the image on your computer to send it to the Google servers for processing. Here too you can just drag your picture right into the box and drop it! Keep in mind when uploading your personal photos that Google does store those images. This doesn’t mean that your images will be available for the world to see, but it does mean that Google keeps and uses them to improve their products as stated in their Privacy Policy.

So after you let Google work its magic on your picture, what do you get?

Google image results
You should see a thumbnail version of the image you used for your search, and Google may add some keywords in the search bar to help describe your image. Feel free to edit or add keywords to refine your search and get better results. Depending on what you’re looking for, you might get some non-image webpage results that could have relevant information. “Visually Similar” images are near matches, and if you want to see more, just click the link. The section “Pages that include matching images” has just that—other web pages that use the exact same image. Pretty amazing! If you search for something that’s well-known, you might get a Knowledge Graph in your results too. This is an interesting new feature from Google– an info box that appears to the side of some searches.

Now you should know more than enough to experiment with Search by Image yourself. It’s certainly become an invaluable part of my Google-fu—that is as long as I’m in front of my computer. Stay tuned for my next post on what you can do with image searching on your smartphone!

About Marie Jaquish

MS/MSIS Library Science/Information Systems student at Drexel University Library Intern at University of Pennsylvania Interests in digital libraries, scholarly communication, and web design
This entry was posted in Tech Tools and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Google Search by Image

  1. Mayumi-H says:

    Great post, especially for those of us concerned about copyrights!

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