Ever wondered if your photos are floating around somewhere else on the internet that they shouldn't be? Think someone is claiming your photos as their own? Concerned that your latest photo of a rockin' granny is being used to promote Iggy Pop's latest tour? Well the answer to your problems is simple - Image Reverse Searches.
What is an Image Reverse Search?
An Image Reverse Search is a way of searching the internet for a particular image; you provide the image and the reverse search engine will tell you where it's currently being displayed. It’s like Pictionary for Google. Well, for the most part anyway. These searches are not 100% accurate and they all have their restrictions, but they're as good as it gets, currently.
Each have different functionalities, qualities and ways of being used, but for this post today we'll look at how to use probably the most thorough, Google's Image Reverse Search.
Why would I want to Reverse Search an image?
People’s photos are regularly used without their permission. Sometimes, this is a non-issue - for example, there’s a blog run by some teenager somewhere in the Middle East using a photo I took in Howth as a banner image. It’s a personal blog, full of girly things that I don’t fully understand. I don’t think it was consciously stolen, or that she’s making any money by using this image as she writes about her friends and family.
However, if this little person was say, a multinational corporation using my image - that’d be a different case altogether. They would have chosen the image on merit - it perhaps suited their Marketing Plan, appealing to a certain audience segmentation. They’d be expected to have an ethics code of conduct, or god forbid, a budget for photography.
Knowing where your images are being used is, first of all - fascinating - however it can also strengthen the case for paying for photographs. It can also have financial benefits for you. I’ve been paid some sums of money retroactively for images used on site that should’ve known better. I’ll go into that in a later blog, but remember - as a photographer you own the copyright to your images* and control where, when and how they’re used. Today we’ll be looking for this image of mine:
(*providing there’s no person in the image, in which case you’d need a Model Release Form)
What's so great about Google Images Reverse Search?
Hah! C'mon. We all know how great Google is at pretty much everything. In terms of their Reverse Search capabilities, it should be no surprise to learn that they offer that bit more than their competitors for image searching too - and that makes them the obvious choice.
Google offers a powerful search - One that not only searches for your image, but alterations of that image (crops, monochrome versions, flipped images, etc., etc.). It'll also suggest similar images - both visually and based on the theme you're looking at. Hell, it even found one of my images of Miss Steph Zombie that somebody painted:
How do I do a Reverse Image Search?
If you use Chrome, Reverse Search is at the click of a button. Literally. Right-Clicking an image and selecting 'Search Google for this image' will run a reverse image search for you.
If you don't use Chrome for some reason (i.e. you're a Luddite who escaped the mill), you can still avail of Google's fantastic services. When you go to Google Images you'll have three options:
Drag and Drop the image into the search bar.
Click the camera icon and paste an image URL
Click the camera icon and upload an image.
If you've done that correctly, you should end up with a results page like this:
How Do I Read the Results?
When Google presents the results, you'll see everywhere that the image is currently searchable by Google. It might look like your image is EVERYWHERE, but it might not necessarily be. In fact in the first photo above, the image searched is no longer on these pages.
So lets break down the photos into three categories:
Top of Search Page
Visually Similar Images
Pages That Include Matching Images
The Top of Search Page
The top of the page suggests a title sometimes. In this instance, Google recognised this photo was linked to a blog post about 50mm lenses, so it suggested the title ‘50mm prime photography’. Clicking the phrase will take you to a list of photos with similar themes.
There’s main thing up top is the image itself. Once it’s there, click it and it’ll take you to a page with a list of results where the image appears: Just a heads up, some of these sites are proper suspect. They’re going to riddle your computer if clicked into. And many don’t even seem to host your image in any meaningful way that they could gain financially from them. They’re just there as filler. Check the domain before clicking through into any of them.
You might notice a lot of duplicates. If your photo is on Flickr, for example (and I’d argue it shouldn’t be anymore), it’ll turn up in several groups or on Hivemind (a page that sorts images from Flickr by keywords)
Visually Similar Images
These are images that are similar in colour, tone and content. You can see that in example above, that there’s lots of orangey-brown tones and faded greens. Women standing about the place looking contemplative. It’s pretty impressive. In terms of finding your images, this bit is probably the least useful.
Pages that Include Matching Images
This is where you’ll get most use of the Reverse Search. This does what it says on the tin - it shows you pages where your images are currently used. In some cases, they’ll be Social Media Pages, like Flickr or Facebook, but for the most part they’re solid websites.
You can click each link seperately to view where the image is at. Ideally, most of these should be your own pages, pags you’ve sold the image to, or social media pages of people you’ve agreed to let use this image. If you’ve found a website that it’s not supposed to be on, keep an eye out for my guide on what to do when somone used your image without permission, which will be published next month.
Otherwise, that’s it! Go forth and find your images wherever they may be!