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Arkansas State University

Image Searching: Google Image

A short intro to image databases and websites.


Google Image is one of the easiest to use image search engines.  One advantage is that most people are already familiar with using Google.  So even if you never searched the image part of Google, you should be comfortable using it.

Another advantage is the advanced options in Google Image.  It is easy to control what images your search for.  You can limit the size, the ratio (vertical versus horizontal), colors, image type and usage rights.  If you forget to limit before you search, you can also limit afterwards.

While Google Image is a great tool, keep in mind that it is not perfect.  First, it pulls from various web pages.  While *most* of the images you find will be what you are looking for, there will be some irrelevant ones that sneak in.  In some cases, it may pull pornographic images, even with filters on.  However, how often this happens does seem to depend on what you're searching for.  The more common the search term (e.g. "dog" or "horse"), the less likely to get something irrelevant.

Another problem with Google is the usage rights.  You can limit to specific usage rights (i.e. images that you can use) from the advanced search; however, you cannot limit after you perform a search.  Another problem is that the usage rights are imperfect.  Even is an image is returned as "available for commercial use" or "labeled for reuse," make sure you double-check the original site.  There are several blogs and web pages that make use of images that are not theirs.


Basic searching in Google Image is pretty straight forward.  Simply type your search term(s) in the box and hit enter.

Google Image Basic Search

After you search, you can either browse through your results or limit your results by using the options on the left side of the screen.  This is a good way to narrow down your search.

Google Image Search Results


Hint: While Google can handle "natural language" searching (i.e. writing a sentence), it works best if you just use keywords.  Another useful hint is to put phrases inside quotation marks.  This tells Google to ONLY return results that exactly match your terms.  It is very useful for looking up names.  For example:

April Sheppard             Over 1 million images
"April Sheppard"     800 images

Finally if you're having trouble doing complex searches, try switching to advanced search or making use of Boolean connectors.  Boolean is a great way to control your searches.


While you can limit a Google Image search after you do a basic search, it is often easier to just limit beforehand.  That way, you are not bombarded with stuff you can't use.  The biggest advantage to using the advanced search is that you can limit to usage rights (limit to images you can legally use).  But remember: even if Google returns an image as "labeled for reuse," make sure you double-check the original site.

To perform an advanced search, click on the link near the search button:

Google Image Advanced


The top part of the search page acts as your Boolean search.  This allows you to search alternative words or omit others. 

Google Image Advanced - Top


The bottom part of the search page are your limiters:

Google Image Advanced - Bottom


You can limit by:

Do you want drawings? Photos? Clip art?
Size Looking for a specific size? Hint: Larger images tend to be easier to work with.
Ratio   Look for square, vertical or horizontal images
Filetype   Find only jpg, gif, png etc images
Coloration   B&W versus color
Domain   Look for images from a particular website
Usage Rights   Limit to images you can legally use
SafeSearch   Control the filters for inappropriate images


To do a reverse image search in Google Image, click on the small camera icon in the search bar.  This will give the option to upload an image or enter an URL of an image already on the web.

Google Image

After you enter an image, Google will either tell you what the image is or show you similar looking images.  This is a good way to browse images in a particular style.  For example:

Google Reverse Image Results