Reverse image search is a search engine tool that finds similar images on the Internet. This tool can help you find out if the photo is authentic or has been altered, and can give you hints about where and when the photo was taken. This tutorial shows how to use the search engines Google, Yandex, and Bing for finding related images.
Lets start with an example:
In February 2020, when Covid-19 had killed more than 2,600 people around the world and infected almost 80,000 others – mostly in China – this post was shared on Facebook:
In English, the Chinese-language caption translates as: “This is a mass burial ground for tens of thousands of virus victims. The cremation furnace running 24 hours a day cannot meet the demand due to the large number of bodies.”
To find out if this photo was indeed taken during the Covid-19 pandemic in China, we can use reverse image search. If you are using Google Chrome, the easiest way to do it is to right click on the image and choose “Search Google for image”.
An alternative way is to open images.google.com on your browser.
If the image is saved to your desktop, go to the right-hand side of the search bar and click on the camera icon.
Upload your picture by either dragging and dropping it into the search area or by loading the file from your desktop.
If the image is not saved to your desktop, you can also click on the Google image search’s camera icon again to paste the photo’s URL.
To get the photo’s URL, right-click the image with your mouse and select the option “open image in new tab.”
Highlight the URL in the website’s search bar and copy the text. Then, click the “Paste image URL” tab and insert your copied URL into the available space.
The search engine then shows you images that are visually similar to the one you have uploaded.
In this case, Google reverse image search gives a sufficient number of useful results.
One of the results is a tweet suggesting that the photo is a frame from the film Contagion.
Double checking this with other Google reverse image search results tells us that the photo is a screenshot taken from a July 2011 YouTube video titled “Contagion Movie Trailer”.
It was relatively easy to find similar images of this photo. Google is fine for most rudimentary reverse image searches, but if you only use Google for reverse image searching for more complex cases, you might be disappointed. Images.google.com may give you useful results only for the most obviously stolen or popular images. To get better results, it might be useful to try several different image search engines.
Yandex is considered to be one of the best reverse image search engines, with a powerful ability to recognize faces, landscapes, and objects.
To use Yandex, go to images.yandex.com, then choose the camera icon on the right.
Even though Yandex is considered to be one of the best reverse image search engines, its strengths lie in photographs taken in a European or former-Soviet context. While photographs from North America, Africa, and other places may still return useful results on Yandex, you may find yourself frustrated by scrolling through results that are mostly from Russia and eastern Europe rather than the country of your target images.
You can also give Bing a try. Bing’s “Visual Search”, found at images.bing.com, is very easy to use, and offers a few interesting features not found elsewhere.
Within an image search, Bing allows you to crop a photograph (the button below the source image) to focus on a specific element in said photograph.
Another possible one for you to try is TinEye
Give it a try!
If you get stuck, try first to crop out elements of the image, increase the resolution of the image, or mirror your image horizontally. Unfortunately, most search engines are focused on Western or former Soviet areas, and struggle for photographs taken in Africa, South America, Central America/Caribbean, and much of Asia. In most cases you need to use several different search engines and a creative approach to get good results.
And most importantly, don’t forget to double-check your results. Good luck!