Image Search is the ability to search on a term and find images related to what you typed. Most search engines offer it, and it's great. But what if you have an image and want to know its origin? Or find similar photos? That's a reverse image search.
Google's reverse image search is a breeze on a desktop computer. Go to images.google.com(Opens in a new window), click the camera icon, and either paste in the image link (URL) for an image you've seen online, upload an image from your hard drive, or drag an image from another window.
But what about when you're on a mobile device and want to do a reverse image lookup? There are options.
Google Reverse Image Search on Mobile
Google built its reverse image search function into phones and tablets, albeit on a limited basis.
When you fire up images.google.com on mobile, the camera icon won't show up in the search bar. To get it, you'll need to load the desktop version on your mobile device. It works in Safari, but it performs best in the Chrome browser app (iOS(Opens in a new window) or Android(Opens in a new window)).
In Safari, tap the aA icon on the top left and select Request Desktop Site. In Chrome, tap the three-dot menu, scroll down on the menu that pops up, and select Request Desktop Site. On both browsers, that will load the desktop version of Google Images, and the camera icon will appear. Then you can upload photos from your camera roll.
Depending on your phone, Chrome also supports a reverse image search workaround. When you see the image in your browser that you want to search, hold your finger on it until a pop-up menu appears; pick Search Google for This Image at the bottom. Note: This will NOT work in the Google app or other browsers (not even in Safari). It only works in Chrome.
If for some reason this doesn't work, you can also select Open Image in New Tab. Then copy the URL, go back to images.google.com, and paste in the URL. With either method, reverse image search results then appear; you may have to click a More sizes option up top to see only the images. You'll see options to narrow your query, such as finding animated GIFs, clip-art equivalents, or looking by the color scheme used in the original image.
Google Lens also offers a reverse image search option. Lens has its own mobile app(Opens in a new window), but is also part of the Google app, and the apps for Google Photos and Google Assistant. However, Lens is really more about helping you perform tasks, like instant translation, identifying things, or finding a product to buy, than it is about finding a source image.
Bing Visual Search on Mobile
That other big search engine, Bing from Microsoft, also does reverse image searches, but calls it "visual search." Click Bing's camera icon on any mobile browser or in the Bing app. A pop-up says that in order to search with an image, you'll need to give Bing access to your camera; accept or decline with a tap.
On the next screen, tap the Browse button on the bottom left. A pop-up menu will let you take a photo, browse your photo library, or browse third-party services. Tap browse to find photos stored in third-party services like iCloud Drive, Google Drive, and Dropbox.
The latest versions of the Bing app (iOS(Opens in a new window) and Android(Opens in a new window)) let you snap a photo and image search it immediately. You can upload a photo from your camera roll, scan a QR code, or point your camera at text or math problems (cheaters!).
Third-Party Image Search Engines
There are a few search engines out there dedicated to looking up just pictures, but not all of them work directly with your smartphone or the default browsers.
TinEye(Opens in a new window)
Canada-based TinEye has crawled over 56 billion images(Opens in a new window) to date and was probably the first image search engine, since it launched in 2008. TinEye allows search by URL, upload, or drag-and-drop on the desktop. On mobile, just click that upload (up arrow) icon to get options to take a photo, use one from the library, or upload from third-party services.
Image Raider at Infringement Report(Opens in a new window)
Image Raider used to be a pretty standard reverse image lookup tool, but it has since been absorbed into the services at Infringement Report. Which is a site that is all about helping photographers and artists and lawyers find works being used without attribution or payment to them, so they can go after the offenders. It will cost you to do that, but probably pays off if you're being ripped off. That said, you can use the Image Raider tool to paste in a URL or upload an image to see a few results, even on your mobile device...just don't expect the full magilla of results.
Apps for Reverse Image Search
If you prefer apps over the browser, go directly to a reverse image search tool you keep on your smartphone at all times.
Free for Android and iOS(Opens in a new window)
This is a basic tool for taking shots with your smartphone and searching for similar items, as well as getting price comparisons if it's a product shot.
Free for iOS(Opens in a new window)
This app sends your pics directly into the Google Images database to search for similar images, but upgrade to the pro version for $3.99 via an in-app purchase to get results from Bing and Yandex (an image search company out of Russia) as well.
Reverse Image Search: Eye Lens
$2.99 subscription for iOS(Opens in a new window)
This one isn't an app you go into, but rather an app that adds an extension to other apps. It will put one of those extension buttons inside Photos, Facebook, and other apps, so along with Copy or Send, you'll have an option to Search Image. Results appear in your mobile browser and come from Google, TinEye, and Yandex.
$1.99 for iOS(Opens in a new window), free on Android(Opens in a new window)
Photo Sherlock has a website (Opens in a new window)that should work fine on a mobile browser (just avoid all the advertising), or you can grab the mobile apps. It promises a full search of Google and Bing results; photos to search can be shared from just about any app. Even dating apps, so you can make sure that the person you swiped right on isn't a model stolen from another site.
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