How to Reverse Image Search Like a Pro (With Examples)

How to reverse image search

Reverse image searching helps you find images online that match, or closely resemble, an image that you provide. It’s an incredible tool to find where your images are being used on the internet, what artist created a certain work, and so much more.

There are plenty of reasons you might want to find images online with an image search. If you’re a graphic designer, artist, or photographer, for example, it’s a terrific way to make sure your work isn’t being copied without your permission. It’s also a good way, if you are distributing your work, to find websites that are using it, which can be an excellent resource for lead generation.

In this post, we’ll first learn how to do a reverse image search, and then what we can do with the results.

  1. How to reverse image search
  2. Analyze your search results
  3. Track your images
  4. Stay ahead of your competition
Step 1: Choose a reverse image search service

First, let’s choose an online search engine. For this article, I’m using Artist Ninja’s, as it’s free, and has enhanced features meant for artists and creatives. It uses Google to do the heavy reverse image search lifting, then organizes and displays your results in a really useful way (more on that to come); a feature that the other search engines lack. It’s a tool we developed to fill that need and more.

There are other search engines, too, like using Google Images directly, TinEye, Bing, or our own reverse image search tool. These are also excellent tools, though Bing doesn’t produce as accurate results as the others, in my experience.

Step 2: Pick an image to search with

Your image – whether it comes from your phone’s camera, your hard drive, or elsewhere, should be exactly what you want to search. No more, no less. In other words, if you’re searching for a specific image used in a magazine, don’t take a photo of the entire page, the floor around it, your rumpled shirt, etc.

Make sure the image you’re using is high enough resolution – around 500px on the smallest side, minimum – and well-lit. If you’re taking photographs of your work, or someone else’s, make sure they’re done in the same high-quality manner.

The higher quality the source image, the better.

Here’s the image we’re starting with (thanks to Andrew Neel via Unsplash for the image):

Not enough?
Step 3: Adjust your image (if needed)

In our case, we’ve got plenty going on in this photo. If we run this through the reverse image search, it will give back results of where this actual photo was used – not of the art within it.

Let’s say, though, that we want to search for a specific painting in the photo. Ideally we’d use a cleaner and more focused image, but we’re working from this photo, so let’s do what we can. Realistically we may not be able to get a perfect photo of our subject, so this is a fairly reasonable scenario.

First, crop out everything we can that’s not the painting that we want to use for our search. Which painting? How about this one for a bit of a challenge:

You can see I removed the frame, and brightened it a bit to enhance the contrast. Fortunately the source image was high enough resolution to get some detail out of this small area. I think (hope) there’s still enough image left for a possible search, even with it being grainy and low quality. (By the way, this is NOT what you’d want to do in most circumstances). But, let’s test it out and see.

Artist Ninja’s reverse image search tool searches billions of web pages to find your images

Again, we’re using Artist Ninja’s search tool, but you can use whichever you’d like. The process is more or less the same, but the results and options will be different. Click the big button in the middle to upload a file, or if in your case you have the image’s URL, paste it in the search box and hit the blue button to search.

2. Analyze the search results

Let’s see if the reverse search found anything useful. Here are the results:

Great! It worked, even with a fairly terrible quality source image. 21 results total, with 8 pages (web pages) of matching images.

The first and third links look like Pinterest boards, which do indeed feature this image, but normally I’d look for something more specific to the individual piece. It’s good to know though that I could probably hunt down the piece if those were the only results.

The second link points to an image that isn’t this one, but shares a similar composition. AI ain’t perfect. I can use the trash can icon to remove that from the results.

The fourth link points to … a match!

We found our source image!

There, in about a minute or two, I’ve discovered that the blurry image from the photo taken of that art on the wall is Alexander the Great at the Tomb of Achilles by Giovanni Paolo Pannini. Wala.

After you’ve found the websites using the image you’ve been searching for, you can follow up if needed. You could:

  • Submit a DMCA claim if your image is being used improperly
  • Thank the website for sharing your work, and possibly reach out for marketing or sales opportunities
  • Add an “Featured on” to your portfolio if your image is being used by a company/individual of note
  • Etc.

3. Track your images

If you’re interested in reverse image searching more than just a few images, or if you want to see how image use varies over time (for instance, to see if the image is gaining or losing popularity, which new sites have started using it, etc.), you’ll need some way to track them.

You can either do this manually (if, for example, you’re using Google Image Search), or use a service. Thankfully, they exist! TinEye has one called TinEye Alerts, but it’s pricey. It’s $300 per month, with an initial setup cost of $12. It also doesn’t search social media sites. For some people it definitely might offer enough of an advantage over other services feature-wise to be worth the cost.

Artist Ninja, on the other hand, is free. There are limitations to the free account, though:

  • Free users can only search 3 images per day
  • Free users can’t perform automatic searches

If you have a subscription you can perform lots more searches (plus use all the other features without limitations). For example, the entry-level account is only $7.99/month if you sign up for a year, and you get 25 manual searches per day, plus 50 bi-monthly automatic searches.

Not all reverse image searches have an auto-search feature. If not, you can track results manually with a spreadsheet, for example.

Set up automatic searches to keep track your images’ use over time

The automatic searches are great, because twice per month all your images are checked and updated with the most up-to-date information, letting you know which websites are showing your images soon after they’re indexed by search engines.

4. Stay ahead of your competition

Who says we have to search our own images using a reverse image search tool? Let’s search this photo, and let’s also say we’re a photographer in Norway, and the talented vychegzhanina is our competition. Let’s search one of her images:

I’m going to filter the results by adding the keyword “Stock” since I’m interested in where she’s selling, and potentially how well her images are performing.

Alright – I see she’s selling on lots of sites (including others without that keyword in their title). iStock is a popular site, so I can head there, check out her entire gallery and sort by what’s popular to get some idea of what types of photos are selling.

There are other actions you could take, too, depending on your results. You could find new or unused platforms for selling or advertising your work that have benefitted other artists you admire, for example.

Final thoughts

Hopefully you found this guide on how to perform a reverse image search useful. Even if you use just one of the tools mentioned in the article you have a good chance of discovering something interesting at least, and potentially actionable. Leave a comment below if you make your own discovery, or have a different method of finding where images have been used online.

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