Find Your Images Online Using Reverse Image Search on Google

Find Your Images Online Using Reverse Image Search on Google

If you’re concerned about image theft, then this post is for you. Using Google to do a reverse image search is one of the easiest ways to find unauthorized copies of your photos online. The service has been around for a while, and is traditionally meant for people looking to find specific images online. By using the info below, you can also find your own images all over the web.

Conducting a reverse image search using Google Images takes your image as the query (i.e. search term), and locates images with visually similar elements (colors, textures, patterns, etc.) as well as similar text descriptions (metadata and captions).

There are two  main ways to start your image search on Google:

1. Upload your photo to Google Image search. Note you can also drag-and-drop your photo from your desktop to upload.

2. Copy your photo’s URL from its original location on the web (i.e. your website or blog) and paste it into Google Image search.

In this example, we’re using an image by PhotoShelter member and concert photographer Todd Owyoung that he gave us permission to use in our post 14 Respected Photographers’ Plans to Jumpstart Their Photography Business in 2013.

Once you’ve uploaded your photo or pasted your image URL into Google Image search, it will return a page that includes a collage of visually similar images, which might resemble yours but not be exact copies, and a list of webpages that contain matching images. This is where you can determine if anyone is using an unauthorized copy of your image.

Google will also try to determine a text description for your image – you can alter this in the search box if it’s slightly incorrect (in this case, “uestlove kit” instead of “questlove kit” or simply “questlove”). Once you go through these initial search results, you’ll want to try employing some advanced search techniques to help find any images that Google might have overlooked.

Google has a nice advanced image search page that lets you search by image size, file type, colors, region, and more.

Here are some other alternative reverse image search tips:

  • If you have other versions of your image, upload those to Google, too – especially if you’ve posted them online at some point.
  • You might find a manipulated version of your image out there. It could be cropped, black and white, rotated, or otherwise adjusted. Try creating these variations on your own and then doing a reverse image search to see if someone is using a Photoshopped version of your work.
  • Upload different sizes of your image. Smaller sizes means that Google has to work harder to infer things like specific colors and patterns. You might get more results that are irrelevant, but it might also turn up some new results.

So what happens if you find unauthorized copies of your images? Depending on the specific instance, you might have a case for copyright infringement. To learn more about copyright law and protecting your images, see our free resource The Photographer’s Guide to Copyright. Get tips to keep your work safe.

Update: If you’re trying to do a reverse image search on an image that’s displayed on your PhotoShelter website using the URL, be sure to follow these steps:

1.  Navigate to the single image view of the desired photo.

2. Copy image URL by right-clicking on the image and selecting “Copy image URL”

3. Paste this URL into Google Image search.

4. Check out the results

Note that this is the same process you would use to search for any image by its URL, regardless of where it’s hosted (your PhotoShelter site, your blog, etc.).

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There are 30 comments for this article
  1. Nacho at 11:24 am

    This seems to work much better than TinEye. With a small test I have found this way many more of my images being used. It is actually a bit depressing.

    What happens with the images we upload to do the image search? Where do we upload them? Are they kept somewhere, or are they deleted once we are done with the search?

    • Lauren Margolis Author at 11:27 am

      @Nacho Thanks for bringing this up – it’s actually an extremely important point that I should have mentioned in the post. Google’s terms say: “When you search by image, any images that you upload and any URLs that you submit will be stored by Google. Google uses those images and URLs solely to provide and improve our products and services.” So use caution. Read more here: https://support.google.com/images/answer/1325808

  2. Mark Turner at 11:30 am

    This one-image-at-a-time approach to finding one’s photos on unauthorized websites just isn’t practical … especially for those of us who have thousands of photos on our own sites. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do the searches, even without doing any of the other important things in business, including creating new images.

    What I’d like to see is a tool that would allow pointing a service at an entire domain and saying “find any of these images anywhere else online.” Digimarc does this, but as an individual the cost for their Small Business edition at $499/year/5,000 images would not cover the ones I currently have online … and would require re-exporting and uploading the entire content of multiple websites. So I guess I’ll never know where my images have ended up.

  3. Alan Look at 12:13 pm

    It’s great to see this topic still being worked on. I couldn’t agree more with Mark. One at a time with a 40,000 image archive is just impractical. Digimarc isn’t better. I checked the pricing the other day and it is way too few images to cover. I don’t know any pro that has only 500 images they want to track.

    I’m going to give this a try by using Google Analytics to find which of my images have been looked at in order to find out which ones I need to check for improper use. That’s still a lot of manual work and it won’t help me find thumbnails if they are improperly used because they won’t show up on the analytics report.

    Hopefully evolution will continue to get this topic addressed in a more meaningful manner.

  4. Michael at 12:32 pm

    A photographer friend gave me a handy tip: Use Stolen Camera Finder to search images by camera serial number. That number is often stored in the metadata of your images, so it’s easy to search images, as long as you’re able to grab that number, even for cameras you no longer own, via the images properties or via Photoshop or similar programs.

  5. Lisa at 2:48 pm

    But what happens then to the image you uploaded for comparison? How do you then remove it to avoid it being accessed as a google image search by someone else later?

  6. Mathew at 5:26 pm

    @Lauren,

    The illustration shows a URL being pasted from that of a WordPress integrated site. While we all know how well WP plays in the Google sandbox. Especially when it comes to search. It would be beneficial to have an example that shows how to do this with a PhotoShelter account that does not use WordPress integration.

  7. Mark McGowan at 6:28 am

    There is a slightly quicker way to do this – if you use Google Chrome, there’s a plugin called Search by Image for Google that allows you to right click on an image and send it straight to a Google Images search.

    More details here – http://markmcgowan.co.uk/photographers-get-paid/

    It’s still not going to be useful to people with thousands of images to scroll through but it’s quicker than the above method.

  8. Laura Berman at 3:48 pm

    I’ve never been able to do an image search using a Photoshelter-generated url. It always returns “The URL doesn’t refer to an image, or the image is not publicly accessible.”
    Am I doing something wrong?

    • Lauren Margolis Author at 5:05 pm

      Hi Laura! Because of the Image Theft Guard on every PhotoShelter members’ websites, you actually have to grab the image link from the Image Browser, and search for that. If you have any questions, feel free to email me!

  9. Brett at 11:25 am

    I don’t think it makes any sense to do this from PS urls. Just drag drop your actual images locally onto the image search. It couldn’t be any easier. As far as checking thousands of images, I’ve just intuitively checked the ones that I know are very popular and have already been published fairly widely. In almost every case for me they are being used by anywhere from 1-20 different unauthorized parties.

    As far as worrying about Google now having a copy of your image, I’ve only ever fed it tiny thumbnails, 120px wide, and it nails it perfectly every time.

  10. Majid Ali at 5:03 pm

    Hmm I didn’t know about this reverse image search. Thanks for enlightening us. This way we can see who is using our Photos without our permission. That’s awesome. I am excited about this feature and going to use it and share with my friends.

  11. Ian Ivey at 10:40 pm

    I’ve tried grabbing the link from the image browser for this, and each time, I just get “The URL doesn’t refer to an image, or the image is not publicly accessible.”

    I’ve tried both the link in blue on the right-side panel and also the url in the browser itself, and both produce this result. Can you post a clear how-to for using Google Image Search with protected images on photoshelter?

  12. Donald at 11:24 pm

    I’m an amateur photographer and when I upload to Facebook or Flickr, I don’t really mind if someone “steals” my pictures. I don’t feel that I’m at the level(skill and gear) to actually have my photos considered to be valuable. Lately, I have been downsizing my photos because I’m sure thieves love high-res photos.

    I’m just curious as to what a person could really do if they found their work being used without permission.

  13. Thomas Pickard at 9:09 pm

    @Donald…

    When someone takes or steals one of your photos, it is for a very good reason – that photo has or provides value to the person who is using it.

    Though you may think your photo has no value, it is actually irrelevant. If a person is stealing your imagery for their use, then by definition that photo has an intrinsic value. Honestly, think about it…

    Now if you choose or are happy for people to take your photos, then that is your choice. But please, be clear that if someone is taking your imagery and using it, it has value.

    There are a variety of things you can do if someone is using your work without your permission. Here are some links to get you started:

    http://blog.photoshelter.com/2013/03/the-photographers-guide-to-copyright/

    http://blog.photoshelter.com/2013/04/what-you-should-know-about-social-media-protecting-your-copyrights/

    http://www.aphotoeditor.com/2011/06/23/your-images-are-stolen-now-what/

  14. Johnm at 12:21 pm

    Response to Michael…
    “A photographer friend gave me a handy tip: Use Stolen Camera Finder to search images by camera serial number. That number is often stored in the metadata of your images, so it’s easy to search images, as long as you’re able to grab that number, even for cameras you no longer own, via the images properties or via Photoshop or similar programs.”

    That is not entirely correct. Camera and copyright metadata is easily bypassed by people determined to use an image, simply by opening up a copyrighted image in Photoshop, copying it, and pasting the image into a new document. All metadata vanishes from the file.

  15. Aly at 12:28 pm

    I am not currently a PS customer but I’m looking for a host site for my stock business and PS seems to handle stock sales pretty well. The idea of having a system that operates in the background of PS and indexes photos to search for any unauthorised use would be amazing, is there any plans for this to be an inbuilt security feature of PS?

    Also it would be nice if the automated system sent a lawyer and debt collector to the person who used the image and then posted me a cheque, could this all be done for £35 a month? (just kidding)

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  20. Vivian S. Bedoya at 9:30 pm

    That Google Image Search provides the best way to find infringed images is ironic considering the fact that Google searches make our images instantly available without requiring a visit to the website it’s hosted on. That is, in my opinion, one of the biggest contributors to the infringement issue. Their puny gray-on-black disclaimer that “Images may be subject to copyright” is not only hard to see but completely disregarded. Google Reverse Image Search works very well – I use it frequently as I am a victim of copyright infringement. Tin Eye has never turned up a single location of my stolen photo in spite of the fact that the image has been used hundreds of times and in many countries. I don’t bother with Tin Eye at all.

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