I was stoked to see that Bing had launched a new feature in its image search. It’s basically a reverse image search feature for areas inside images you’ve already found. After playing with it, though, I find myself with mixed feelings – a little disappointed but at the same time still impressed with the feature.
But before we get into that, a little about reverse image search.
Reverse Image Search
Reverse image search is what it sounds like: enter an image, and the search tool finds you other images that look like your image. Google has a reverse image search in Google images.
Then there are standalone tools like TinEye, RevIMG, and Image Raider (which is kind of a reverse image meta-search.)
What Bing Does
Bing puts a little twist on this by letting you search for an image first and then do a reverse-image search within the found image.
Start at https://www.bing.com/images/ . Run a search. In this case I’m going to search for straw bale gardening. Run the search and you’ll get images related to straw bale gardening.
(This is half a page of search results; I have a wide monitor and it’s not great for screenshots sometimes.)
Perhaps you look at the image in the upper-right corner and think “Hey, I wonder what plants are growing in that picture.” So you click on it and get the page for that picture.
Three corners of this image have little icons in them. The bottom right corner, where the i is, gives information about whether the image is copyright-free or not. (I went and looked at several images, even images I knew to be copyright free, and got nothing more informative than “This image may be subject to copyright,” so I’m not sure how useful this will be to you.)
The bottom left corner lets you save the image to your favorites, though it reminds you that you’ll need to sign in to your Microsoft account if you want to save the image across all your devices. And finally, the top left corner, with the magnifying glass, lets you draw a square and search for images similar to the content within that square.
Click on that corner and you’ll get a square you can manipulate to be the size you want. For best results, choose a clear area focusing on a single image or a logical group of images. In this case I’m focusing on one plant at the bottom of the page.
As you’re choosing and refining your image, the search results underneath will refresh with images similar to yours. You’ll also get suggested keywords for refining your search, which (mostly) help if you just want a quick identifier of what you’re looking at.
Now obviously this is a pretty nifty feature; you do a search, spot something you like, and then do another search. I can see where this would be handy for things like decoration (searching for a room in the house and then searching on design aspects of that room) or gardening (like the example we just did) or other things like fashion. But it could be even better.
I was hoping that once I did the first search and chose an area to search, the image might refresh to just that part of the area, close up (or at least give me the option to zoom in.) But I couldn’t find a way to do that. Depending on the resolution of the original image, zooming it might get blurry, but it seems to me it would be easier to compare the zoomed area to the results you get back from the image search. This is even more important if there’s an image toward the back of the photo that you might need to crop carefully. If you can’t zoom in, you might not be able to crop well and get decent search results.
That’s one thing that bothers me. Another thing that bothers me is the lack of context in the second search.
Say I’m interested in bird anatomy, so I go looking for a picture of a hawk. Oh, there’s one!
I want to know more about hawk eyes, so I highlight the eye and wait for the search results. And here’s where the lack of context hits your search results.
The image search is good in that the results are mostly eyeballs (and a few random round things.) But this revised search did not pass along the context of what I was originally looking at – that is to say, a hawk – and did not even offer me that option.
Do you see what I mean? Being able to search within a photo is great, and a feature that could be really useful. But the way Bing is implementing it means, as far as I can tell, that you’re just getting a raw reverse-image search. That’s not going to help you find things.
There are a couple of ways you can refine your search, however. First you’ll see that there are keywords at the top of the reverse-image search. You can click on those and it’ll revise your search further.
In this case the keywords I want to use aren’t there. But that’s okay; I can put them there with a little old fashioned URL hacking, though that might or might not work well.
Click on a couple of keywords that Bing offers. I’m going to choose pupil and the eye. The search results will change a bit.
Now look at that extremely messy URL in your browser’s address bar. Scroll all the way to the end of that giant URL.
Now just substitute whatever words you want to add for context instead of these words. Separate concepts with a comma, and put together phrases with a +. I added birds and hawk.
In this case the results changed slightly but didn’t get me where I needed to go with the results.
I’m afraid this article sounds like I’m slagging off Bing when that isn’t my intention at all. I think this new search feature is a great idea. But just adding a couple of tweaks to its functionality could make it truly excellent.
This WILL be pretty nifty when they refine it (assuming they will). First thing I thought of was singling out a single person — even just a face — in a crowd, theater, graduation photo, etc…. Thanks for the heads-up about it!
So I just tried it by searching on “US presidents,” hoping to get one of those “all living Presidents in one group” photos. Did even better than that; it found a Madame Tussaud’s exhibit of all #44-and-earlier wax presidential effigies. Obama it got right away, ditto FDR. But it fell flat on a lot of the others (many of which, to be fair, sorta look alike). I didn’t bother with Lincoln — seemed too easy for me — but it never did get, say, Calvin Coolidge, or Andrew Jackson, or Grant, or… It seems quite sensitive to the exact placement and sizing of those borders.