Q&A: Tracing a photo’s origins

This is a sample question from Mathilde in Marseille.

DSC_0600_640x290_smallOKI found this photo in a French discussion group. I would like to know who took it, where, and learn a bit more about the context in which it was taken.

This is a sample answer from Robert in Geneva.

bourgoing-avatar100x100There is no way one could answer your questions by simply looking at the page where you found this photo. Let me walk you through how you can quickly find this type of information using search by image and machine translation.

 

Watch a video…

…or read the transcript:

1) Searching for hidden clues

At first sight, the page where this photo is posted doesn’t provide any clue to answer your questions.

It’s a French forum, and if you copy and paste the address (URL) of that page to translate it into English using a tool like Google Translate, you won’t find any hint regarding where the photo comes from and what is the context in which it was taken. This forum is about a controversial issue surrounding Muslim sex workers in Amsterdam and, apparently, the photo has nothing to do with the subject matter except that it shows veiled women who, we can safely assume, are Muslim. And if you click on the profile of the person who posted this image, whose username is ‘Buffalo’, you won’t find anything there either.

What can you do in such a case?

First look for hidden clues, information that may be there on the page but that you can’t see because it’s buried in the source code of the page.

Search-by-Image7For information about an image, the simple thing to do is to right-click on it and then click on ‘View Image Info’ (I’m using Firefox but you will find a similar contextual menu item in any browser). In this case, the ‘Location’ of the image shows that it is hosted on another website:

http://www.bourgoing.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/DSC_0600_640x290_smallOK.jpg

You could copy and paste this link to follow it but it won’t help because it only displays the image file with no other information. Going to the root of the site (www.bourgoing.com) won’t help either because the image is not on the homepage, you don’t know how big the site is and don’t have the time to visit each and every single page to look for the photo.

There is a much more powerful way to search for images.

 

2) Searching by image

We usually search for images using keywords. But we can also search for images using… other images. It’s called ‘reverse image search‘ and it’s very handy now that editing photos or reusing them with false information on social media and the web is so common and used for propaganda or to spread rumors.

A few search sites offer reverse image search but from my experience, Google Image Search is by far the most powerful and reliable.  When you’re there, instead of typing keywords, just click on the little camera icon in the search box.

Search-by-Image2

Then, you can either upload an image file from your hard disk, if you have saved it locally. Or you can simply paste its URL which you found by right-clicking on the image as you did earlier.

Search-by-Image3

After you hit ‘Search by image’, in this case, you get a few results that show where this exact same image was published. Most of them are discussion forums or photo sharing sites. But one is from the website where the image that was used in the forum came from.

Search-by-Image4

3) Browsing across languages

The blog article where this photo is posted is in French. To read what it says in English, you could select ‘English’ in the drop-down menu on the top right-hand side.

Search-by-Image5

If there was no such automatic translation feature available on the site, you might also copy and paste the URL of that article in Google Translate and then click on the link in the translated box.

Search-by-Image6

If you go through the translation, you will learn that those women are volunteers from the Tihama coastal region of Yemen. It was taken in November 2005 at the end of a training session where they were learning about malaria prevention.

As you may have guessed by now, this photo was taken by… myself. I never used it in any publication other than this blog article. I took it precisely to illustrate the importance of being very cautious and critical about the images that you find on the web. It intentionally distorts reality and isn’t representative of  the situation it is supposed to illustrate. If you read the article, you will understand…

Please leave a comment or any follow-up question in the comment section below.

By | 2017-08-27T16:00:51+00:00 May 15th, 2017|Hotline|0 Comments

About the Author:

Robert Bourgoing
Robert Bourgoing, CEO of AidInfoPlus, is an international development journalist, media trainer, global health and digital communications specialist.

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