Skip to Main Content

PHOT 15: Survey of Photography

Keywords for Visual Searching

  • It is important to understand how images are typically described - images are retrieved through searching the text that accompanies them: captions, titles, tags, descriptions, surrounding text, text of the webpage, html markup, and other metadata.
  • Visual components and subjects of images are rarely described in detail.
  • Images are not usually cataloged with controlled vocabularies like books (although they may be in academic databases).
  • Unlike with text research, we can't rely on "full text" searching (searching all content/every word of the source).
  • Keep in mind, these terms were created by humans and are therefore subject to all kinds of biases (including what has been decided are the "appropriate uses" for the information), and the systems these are organized and cataloged in do not allow for complete objectivity.

Example from the library's Artstor database:

(Photograph: 1984). masks at anti-witchcraft ceremony, Zonie. [masks]. Retrieved from

Sources for Finding Images

Web vs. Library Databases

  • Google, Flickr, and similar sites can be a completely different searching experience than a library or academic database
  • Google can retrieve images by color and has combined application of text  and visual search elements, while Flickr has user-generated tags and descriptions that can capture color and design elements
  • Library databases typically include context-based info about images, so searching for attributes like color won't always work

Digital Image Collections

  • Digital image collections provided by libraries, museums, galleries and some stock photo sites must be searched individually since search engine crawlers (e.g., Google) cannot retrieve content within these databases
  • Some other indexing systems can be used, such as library discovery platforms (like OneSearch) or portals such as the Digital Public Library of America

Using Print Sources

  • Your library's print collections can offer many quality visual materials (art reproductions, maps, drawings, photography, etc.) - use OneSearch to search the catalog
  • Find books with image content by searching for a topic and adding the word "illustrations," "plates," or "maps," OR use the Library of Congress subject heading "Pictorial Works." (You can also use these techniques with digitized print books in places like HathiTrust and Google Books)
  • "Pictorial Works" will allow you to use subject heading links to find other books on the same subject with images
  • Look at what the system uses to describe images in books (for example, illus. vs. illustrations) under the "Format" section


  • has a great selection of digitized maps in a variety of formats
  • Print (physical) maps are available in the library (use OneSearch or browse them on the 2nd floor behind the computer lab)

Searching for Images

To learn more about finding and using images online, check out this online guide:

In the guide you'll find:

  • Information about your rights to use and share images online
  • Searching Google Images and other image databases by license
  • Links to image databases, digital archives, and stock image sites
  • Instructions and examples for how to cite images

Reverse Image Search

Do a reverse image search

  1. On your computer, open a web browser, like Chrome or Safari.
  2. Go to Google Images.
  3. Click Search by image Search by image.
  4. You can either upload an image from your computer, drag an image from your computer to the search box, or paste a URL into the text box.

Search with a picture from a website

  1. On your computer, open the Chrome browser.
  2. Go to the website with the picture you want to use.
  3. Right-click the picture.
  4. Click Search Google for image. You’ll see your results in a new tab.

Search with an image from search results

  1. Go to
  2. Search for an image.
  3. Click the image.
  4. At the top right, click Visually search this image .
Last Updated: Jul 11, 2024 4:04 PM