Reverse image search is one of those innovations that sounds nifty but doesn't always have obvious uses. However, it's not just for finding the original version of a photo: it's also useful for hunting down product names, recipes, and even apartments. Here are a few of our favourite uses.
With Google, you can drop a picture into Google Images, and it will search for similar pictures. Other tools, like TinEye, do the same thing. Regardless of which service you use, you'll find lots of useful things when you search for an image.
Find Names Of Unlabelled Products
If you frequent sites such as Pinterest or Tumblr, you see all kinds of cool products that often aren't labelled properly. This might include something as simple as a wedding dress or as complex as a shot of someone's apartment with a cool chair. Lifehacker reader bobdvb shares how his wife uses it:
My wife often uses Google Image Search to find things and when she does she often wants to know where to buy it . The image link is irrelevant, so I do a reverse image search. I even did this when she was wedding dress hunting!
This method works well when you have a shot taken from a catalogue, but it's also useful if you frequent sites like Apartment Therapy that have unidentified furniture in shots of people's homes.
Find Recipes From Images
Let's say you're browsing the internet and find a picture of a meal that looks terrific but isn't actually named anywhere. If you throw that picture into reverse image search, there's a reasonable chance you'll pull up a recipe for it. This won't necessarily work with snapping a picture of something at a restaurant, but it's surprisingly effective for figuring out what some random picture of a meal on a news story or blog post is.
Figure Out Celebrity Names
If you're trying to figure who a celebrity is but don't have much information, a reverse image search can quickly pull up the information you need. As mr_bigglesworth points out, it's also good for memes:
[I use it] to work out what movie a picture that's often used as a meme/annotated picture is from.
Any image you have from any film or even a snapshot of your TV can usually lead you down the path to identify the star in question.
Debunk Social Media Posts And Profiles
Whatever your social network of choice is, chances are it will feature fake profiles set up with nefarious intent. Since many of these use stock photos, finding the fakes is easy with a reverse image search. Lifehacker reader oe_ku explains:
Mostly I am using it to identify fake profiles on Facebook or similar. If the picture I am searching for comes up on several profiles with different names than it's probably fake (especially if you consider some other facts to identify a fake profile).
The process works for any type of social network where people are creating their own profiles — from Facebook to AirBnB, and even dating sites. As Sayerofnothing points out, you can do the same thing to debunk viral posts in your news feed too:
I like to debunk viral images that comes up on my facebook feed, the last one was of a man saving a dog in a flood, it claimed it was of a flood we had a couple of weeks ago here in Buenos Aires, but I had seen it before, and alas, it was from 2011, a flood in the Philippines.
Spam, fake accounts and misinformation are annoying enough as it is. With a quick reverse image search, you can report it and move on with your day. (This approach is also useful for eBay or Craigslist listings that look too good to be true.)
Track Down Wallpapers And Higher Resolution Originals
One of the more common uses for reverse image search is to track down high-resolution original images for use as wallpapers. Our own Alan Henry uses it for wallpapers quite a bit:
I use it all the time for wallpapers - if I want to know where a specific photo was taken, who made the art, where the image came from, stuff like that. :D If it pops up in rotation and I get curious, I'll save a copy, upload it, and sift through the results. It's usually pretty easy to find out, too!
It's not just for finding specific wallpapers either. Since reverse image search can often work with nothing but a crop, it's also handy for tracking down backgrounds and wallpapers you find online.
Find Where Your Own Artwork Is Being Used
If you're a creative type who posts photographs or art on Flickr, your own personal blog, or wherever else, you might want to know where else it's popping up on the web. Part of that is making sure people are respecting your attribution requests and copyright, but it's also just about finding any other conversations that might be happening around your art. Kexino shares one experience:
I used to publish images under a Creative Commons (attribution) licence on Flickr. Every couple of weeks or so I'd do a reverse image search to see who was using my images and if they were giving proper attribution. It turned out (surprise surprise) that the vast majority of sites were using my images without giving any attribution at all.
Of course, it's not just photographers or artists who have a use for this. Even if you're a DIYer sharing your projects on places like Instructables, reverse image search is a useful tool to track down where your creations are talked about.
Track Down Original Artists
If you're looking for the original artist for a picture you find online then reverse image search makes total sense. But it's not just for images online. Reverse image search can often identify the artist behind paintings or photos you find in the real world as well. TheWraighL98 shares their experience:
I saw a framed picture I really liked in a restaurant while on vacation last year. I took a picture with my phone and figured out who took the picture and where to buy it.
As FIGJAM also points out, you can apply this same logic to murals, graffiti, and more.
Identify Plants, Animals And More
If you're trying to identify plants, animals, or even some crazy bug you find in your garage, you don't need a degree in biology. Reverse image search is handy for identifying all sorts of living things, and although the results are a little less predictable than what's mentioned above, it's still a useful technique. Carole Richard shares a success story with tracking down a tree name:
We have a tree in the front yard of the house that we bought a couple of years ago. I didn't recognise it and wasn't sure when to prune it. So I took a picture of it and searched Google images. I found out it was a Rowan tree (not indigenous to our area) and that the tree needed some extra care.
Tom4Surfing has also had luck identifying birds:
When I can't identify an interesting bird or plant when I'm out walking, I take a picture and use image search. It pops up other pictures of the same plant or bird - often the name is associated with the image.
Your luck with this one is going to vary, but in my own experience I've been able to identify weeds and even the occasional bug by digging through the "visually similar images" section. It's always worth a shot to at least figure out if that thirty-legged bug that just bit you is poisonous.