Lots of Google products are under-used or misunderstood but the research tool that causes the most confusion is Google Images. Most people think it helps you find images by keyword – that’s a given. But it does a lot more and if you master a few simple strategies you can exploit its full potential. Even if you are not primarily interested in finding or exploring specific images – using image search properly can help you focus your research in unexpected ways especially when your research subject has a strong visual element.
Here, I explore some of the basic and advanced options that demonstrate the potential of images as a research tool and Tutorial 2 will look at the ‘search-by-image’ reverse image search that takes things to a different level.
Imagine you are writing an article about the Curiosity Rover Mars landing – but your specific brief is to look at the people at Mission Control. A quick search on Google Images picks up a range of fantastic shots about the rover.
As you scan the picture you notice that the colour blue dominates the pictures of mission control while brown dominates the simulated and actual pictures of the Mars surface. You can use these clues to filter the content even when the pictures have titles that don’t include your keywords. You filter Google Images using the colour palette in the bottom left of the window. In this case I filtered for blue.
Clearly, most of these images are on target. Explore them using your cursor to hover over the images of your choice. This lets you see the title of the picture, some words from a relevant caption and, crucially, the source URL. You can explore the URLs for clues about the authority and provenance of the images selected. Perhaps most importantly – you can opt to explore ‘similar’ images to focus in further on exactly the images and sources you want.
And almost all of the images below are on-topic and relevant giving you a range of pages to explore for further background and material.
Another tactic is to add keywords that define the type of visual you want to see. Just by adding the word ‘diagram’, ‘graph’ or ‘schematic’ helps you locate visuals that may help you grasp or explain your research topic. In this case I added the term ‘diagram’ to the keywords ‘gulf’ and ‘spill’.
We can push these techniques forward by deploying Google’s advanced search operators. Imagine you are writing about the Palomares controversy when a US air force accident led to nuclear bombs being dropped in Southern Spain. There was no explosion but an area was contaminated by plutonium.
You are keen to locate material originating from Spain. You can do this by not only including key phrases such as adding ‘bomba nuclear’ to ‘palomares’ but you can also add the advanced command ‘site:.es’ which limits the result to Spanish sites only.
An interesting technique here is to filter these results to ‘black and white’ (this option is located just above the colour palette). This identifies pictures taken at the time of the accident or just after. Filtering by ‘black and white’ has the added value of helping to identify documents and articles linked to your subject area. Again – this search was filtered using the advanced command ‘site:.es’.
Tutorial 2 will look at Google’s reverse image search: ‘search-by-image’.