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Finding Images

This guide aims to support staff and students in sourcing and using high quality still and moving images for teaching, learning and research.


Welcome to this guide to searching images. The purpose of this guide is to support the use of still and moving images by staff and students at the University of Birmingham in teaching and research. In this guide you will find links to useful archives and image and film databases, some available through university subscription and others openly accessible online, as well as practical guides for best practice use of a range of visual resources. 

Why use specialist image databases?

There are many good reasons why you should use the specialised image databases and multi-media collections such as Artstor or Box of Broadcasts  in preference to using Google:


Google only has access to certain moving and still images - while this appears to be endless this is limited by certain factors. Many organisations only make their images available through licensed collections or specialist image databases such as Bridgeman or Artstor.


Searching Power

Specialist image databases often have more sophisticated search methods which allow you to more accurately narrow your search, such as by creator, medium, technique, location, colour etc.



It is very easy to alter images online in all sorts of ways. If you need to be certain you are looking at a faithful digital version of an image, use a specialist image databases such as Bridgeman or Artstor.



It is not easy to tell which images on Google are in copyright and which are in the public domain or covered by creative commons licenses. If using a specialist image databases such as Bridgeman or Artstor you can be confident that the image has been correctly sourced and that artists and museums are fairly compensated for use of their images.

Effective Searching for images - Tips

Searching for images

Searching for images is based on the same overall principles as searching for text such as journal articles, but the practical steps involved are a little different.

Get to know your topic

Firstly, you must be familiar with your topic so you can discern whether the results of your searches are what they say they are and whether they are appropriate for your needs for example: Search engines such as Google Image Search can be very useful but the results can sometimes be inaccurate or incorrectly attributed. You should use reference sources to read around the subject familiarise yourself with topics and themes and examples of images and learn the key words that will make your searches effective.

Use good sources

A google search may be useful but it is better to use specialist databases such as Artstor and Bridgeman Education as these have gathered their images from authorised sources and indexed them with accurate descriptors and key words known as metadata.

  • Try starting with one or two keywords. If you retrieve too many results, add more  keywords to reduce the number of images.
  • Don’t rely on a single database. Use a mixture of specific and general databases.
  • Get to know your sources
  • Use the "About" or "Help" pages as these explain how each database works.   

Think about your keywords

Most image databases rely on keywords to describe the content and context of the images but the images can be described in many different ways so think of as many terms as you can which someone might use to describe an image you are looking for. What is the subject of the image, what is the date, where was it taken, who took the photograph or painted the picture .Try using synonyms, singular/plural variations, and words from different languages. Also, you may need to specify if you are looking for particular types of image for example engraving, drawing, photograph, cartoon, etc.

Keep accurate records

Keep a record of what databases and search strategies have been the most successful. Some databases allow you to create a profile and save your searches.

Store your images safely

When you download images give them meaningful names that will enable you to recognise them and retrieve them when you need them! Remember to save any captions and contextual information that comes with the images. Some databases allow you to create a profile and save and create playlists of your results.

Some databases give recommendations on how to cite images correctly.

Reverse Image Searches

Reverse image searches can help you track down and identify an image you already and to find similar images.

Google Images allows you to search by image by selecting the camera icon in the search box (search by image). You can upload an image file or search by image URL.

TinEye is an image search company whose website allows you to upload an image file or search using an image URL.

Search ofline!

Not all images are available online. You may find many useful images, graphs, charts, maps, etc in printed books or archives


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