Have you ever wondered how to find the source of an image or where exactly a photo was taken? Maybe you want to find out if a photo from your friend’s Facebook is really what they say it is. Maybe you want to know whether that stock image is actually “royalty-free.” Maybe you just want to see more photos of the place where your favorite movie was filmed. No matter what your interest is, finding the original source of an image is likely to be helpful sooner than later.
Reverse Image Search
If you’ve ever needed to find an original source for a specific image, you’ll want to learn about Reverse Image Search. It’s a handy tool that allows you to type in or upload an image and retrieve all the websites where it occurs. You may be asking yourself why this is useful, but there are tons of reasons: maybe you’re curious about the person behind a particular picture, perhaps you’re trying to track down the source of an image that’s being used on social media without authorization, or maybe you want to verify something that seems too good/shocking/offensive/bizarre to be true.
To Use Reverse Image Search on Google:
- Go to Google Images and click on the camera icon at the end of its search bar
- Upload or paste in your image (you can also drag and drop it into the search bar)
- If your photo was taken with your phone’s camera app, make sure it isn’t automatically backing up photos online—this could cause them not to show up in search results because they’re only accessible to users who have permission from your account (such as family members).
You’ll now see every website where this photo exists.
Look for Watermarks
What is a Watermark?
A watermark is a recognizable image or pattern that’s usually translucent and often used to identify the owner of an image. Watermarks are most common in photos that are used online, especially on stock photography sites.
How do you find a watermark on an image?
Look for a small logo or other small graphic placed in one corner of the photo, which may not be immediately visible. You can also use the Ctrl+F (PC) or Command+F (Mac) keyboard shortcut to look for text that might be part of the photo’s file name. For example, if you’re looking at a Getty Images photo, try searching for “Getty” within the image to see if it turns up some text. If you still can’t find anything, keep reading!
Check the URL of a Site
- Check the URL of a Site
- Reverse search by image is an incredibly helpful tool, but it’s not always effective or even necessary. In some cases, all you need to do is look at the URL of the site to figure out where an image came from. Maybe it’s obvious and there’s no mystery, but in other cases finding a source can take some detective work.
- For example, when you’re looking at an article on CNN and you want to know how they found a specific photo that goes along with it, just add “.com” to the end of their URL without anything else. In this case, if we want to find out where CNN sourced https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/30/world/george-clooney-northern-mariana-islands-trnd/, we’d type in https://images.app.goo.gl/A5zrJ1RxD7Vf6GpM8 instead and see what pops up!
Look at the Website’s Metadata
Good news! It’s easier than you might imagine. Metadata is information about data. In some ways, it’s like a database. A database contains files that are stored in such a way that they can be easily accessed by the server and then displayed on your screen. There are different types of metadata—a description, for example, or keywords—but all of it is intended to facilitate the ease with which you can find an image online.
Use a TinEye Extension to Automate the Process
TinEye is a search engine that allows you to search by image. It’s the first image search engine on the web to use image identification technology rather than keywords, metadata, or watermarks.
TinEye regularly crawls the web for new images and uses image identification technology to find exact matches. TinEye has indexed over 12 billion images so far.
TinEye is a reverse image search engine, which means you can submit an image and find similar photos or information about it on the web.
Use Google Images to Find Out Where It Came From
The first thing to do when trying to find an image is to use a reverse image search. Google images and TinEye are the top two choices for this. Both will search their database of photos, but they also include results from the web that aren’t included in the original database.
If those don’t turn up any sources, you can try looking for watermarks or signatures. Sometimes people won’t upload the best quality file, and these will be cropped out of smaller files or removed completely if someone tried to photoshop them out. If you can find these, they might lead you closer to the source!
Another option is checking the URL itself (or on other sites). Even if it’s been edited, sometimes parts of the original link will remain intact and could lead you back to a page with more information about where it came from.
Finally, another one worth trying would be looking at website metadata on a resource such as Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool or Screaming Frog SEO Spider (which is available for both PCs and Macs). This tool crawls through your website like a spider—hence its name—and checks all metatags, URLs, and titles for errors. It can also provide information about where images may have originally come from too.
So there you have it: two great tools to help you find out the original source of an image; hopefully one of them will work for you.
Remember, if at first, you don’t succeed, try again. If, for whatever reason, your image doesn’t have any results at all, try re-uploading it on a different day or using different keywords. As we’ve mentioned in this article before, some images simply aren’t available to be traced back to their source—you just won’t get results with certain images no matter how many times you try. Fortunately, though, there are lots of other ways that can help when that happens.
If none of these methods work and you’re still unsure about the origin of an image or if it can be found online at all, the best thing to do is ask a trusted friend or colleague who has more knowledge and experience in this area than yourself to help out.
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