Google’s new “Search by Image” feature a joy of juxtapositions

This summer, Google released a new search feature that has provided me with hours of entertainment. It’s called “search by image.” You can upload a photo (or paste in a link to an online photo) and Google will comb the web, looking for matching photos on websites throughout the world. In the past, if I wanted to see where my photos appeared online, I could do a Google search (under the “images” tab) by typing in my own name, or by entering words that described the photo or the subject. That approach had limited success. TinEye has offered a “reverse image search” for years, but Google’s new “search by image” seems to find results that TinEye misses — not a surprising achievement from the world’s largest and most powerful search engine. (Though TinEye does deserve acknowledgement for beating Google out of the gate with this concept.)

Photographers will use Google’s “search by image” to find their own photos online, whether the images have been purchased and used legally, or copied without permission. No doubt Google’s new feature will precipitate some copyright infringement lawsuits. I’ve already found some improper use of my photos (including by media outlets that should know better, like the Florida Sun Sentinel). I’ve also been able to finally see my stock photos in the many places they appear (legally) all over the Internet. Here’s just one of the nine pages of search results showing my stock photo of a model (my friend Avram) illustrating a “breath check”:

Interestingly, Google will also show you what it thinks are “visually similar images.” Sometimes these search results are obvious — similar lighting, similar color palette, similar composition — but this doesn’t always mean similar subject matter. I’ve been delighted with some of the serendipitous results for “similar” images. I upload a photo of a man holding a slice of pizza, and Google shows me a photo of a breast exam, an exotic bird, a sailboat, some modern architecture, a bowl of cereal, and a woman in a bathtub. I have to admit, these things are visually similar, though it takes the algorithmic objectivity of a search engine to distill these results from among the billions of images on the web:


1 Response to “Google’s new “Search by Image” feature a joy of juxtapositions”

  1. 1 Ellie Valentine
    July 2, 2011 at 4:57 am

    Seems what’s most consistent with that last search is the color gamma…. which is a nice one, btw, for future presentation reference!

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