In Tutorial 1 I looked at ways you harness the potential of Google Images. In this Tutorial we go to the next level by combining those simple and advanced techniques with Google’s reverse image tool: ‘search by image.’

A lot of confusion exists about what ‘search-by-image’ is actually for. Some people assume the tool helps you find alternative version of the same image elsewhere on the web. In fact, ‘search-by-image’ attempts to identify what an image is and where it comes from as well as other images of the same subject. You can use this technique to push a research task forward.

Search by Image is available with Chrome, Firefox 3.0+, IE 8+ and Safari 5.0+. If there is a small grey camera on the right of the main Google Images search field – then this shows that search-by-image is available from the computer you are using.

In this example I stumbled upon a picture of a ruin in a blog. I want to know more about the ruin: what it is and where it’s from.







With the Google Images window open I can drag the picture and drop it into Google Images (see below for alternative ways to upload an image).

The results give me Google’s best guess of what the image is in addition to a range of other results including similar pictures from a range of sources. In this case the picture is without doubt – Glastonbury Tor.

You can use a simple picture to explore a subject in unexpected and useful ways. In this example I uploaded a basic picture of a grand building.



Google Images identifies this as ‘Manchester Town Hall’. In this example all I’ve done is add the term ‘interior’ to obtain a range of pictures of the interior of the building.

You can use the technique with people. For example, you can use search-by-image to obtain other pictures of someone or locate more material about a person. You can even use it to identify a person. In this example I uploaded a picture of a politician and Google correctly identified him as Willie Rennie – the Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. It also identified alternative pictures and some political context.

You can push the technique further to check on the authority or the provenance of pictures on websites. Sometimes pictures look too good to be true or you suspect a site may be making a false or misleading claim. In this example, I searched for a picture I found on UK site selling solar installations. The company (not named in the page below) implied the picture was of a ‘recent installation.’ In fact, the picture is used by dozens of sites in the UK and abroad and is a simple stock picture from an agency.

Here is another example (below), people pictured on sites may not be what they seem. It is just as easy to check on the provenance of the claims companies make in ‘galleries’, ‘portfolios’ and ‘testimonials’.

One of the best ways to use this technique is to help you identify images and identify their context – without breaking our stride. You can do this simply by giving Google the URL of the picture you want to query. For example, imagine you are writing a story about the proposed badger cull and bovine TB. You are looking for technical information about the actual infection and  you find a picture that is labelled as being the bacterium involved. You’re not sure about the source site so you need to check the picture. As the image below shows, if you right-click (or ctrl-click) on the image you can select the option ‘copy image URL’ and then past the URL into Google Images.

You paste the URL into Google Images by clicking on the grey camera icon in the search field (below).

And this is what Google finds:

Similar images from a range of other sources. You can either confirm the provenance of your original picture or explore other images and the context you find them in.

You can also use this technique to push your research forward on developing stories. In this example I found a picture on a Facebook page of the recent Occupy London demonstration when protesters chained themselves inside St Pauls. I wanted to make sure the picture was what was claimed and so I uploaded it to Google Images:

This search confirms that the picture was accurate and identified other similar pictures, and their sources – pushing the research much further forward while revealing new sources.

A really neat way to use search-by-image is by installing the dedicated Chrome or Firefox extensions. This allows you to search-by-image with just one click. Instead of having to copy the image URL and then paste it into Google Images, you can just ctrl-click (or right-click) the image:


Like all good online research tools, to exploit their full potential you have to think broadly and out of the box. Combine tools by, for example, using advanced operators in conjunction with the techniques described above. Use social media, and Twitter in particular, to identify images and then explore those images using Google. Don’t forget the ‘filter:links‘ operator in Twitter that enables you to filter Twitter content to target only the Tweets that carry links – such as links to images.

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3 Responses to Google Images as a research tool: Tutorial 2

  1. […] and advanced options that demonstrate the potential of images as a research tool”. The second tutorial addresses “the ‘search-by-image’ reverse image search that takes things to a […]

  2. Sebastian says:

    Really great explanation on how to use google images as a research tool! Thank you!

    The question is though what to do with the images once I found some I really like? Keeeb is solving that problem – you can save the content that’s really relevant (text, pictures and videos) and beautifully organize it on your Keeeb pages.

    I would really love to know what you think about Keeeb – especially being an expert in doing research! We’re still in our early stages of development and constantly looking for good feedback so we can improve Keeeb.

    Kind regards,

    (Marketing&Social Media Keeeb)

    • Colin Meek says:

      Hi Sebastian – thanks for that. I’m doing a lot of work on images at the moment so I’ll certainly look at Keeeb and post an update to this post soon.