TinEye: a web service every photographer should know about

The modern media landscape is one where high-quality digital content is so undervalued that it is extremely difficult for creators to make a living from their work.

Every business, every profession, every craft changes over time. Hand-made, wooden, beer barrels are in less demand now due to the fact that hygiene and advances in technology meant aluminium barrels took over where the skilled cooper lost-out. Similarly, with advances in camera technology, ease of distribution and self-publication via the web and social media, photographers’ lives are changing to the point where some suggest the ‘professional’ photographer will very soon cease to exist. Some also suggest this would be nothing to cry about. That photographers, like many other professions throughout time, have had their day.

In some ways this is a good thing; increased competition levels the playing-field and makes those who are truly professional pick up their game and gives them, actually, the potential to shine.  I know it has done that for me, making me constantly aware of keeping my skills and creativity honed, my address-book up to date and my public exposure relevant and fresh.

And some things need to change, frankly. The days of crap photographers being able to charge through the nose for mediocre services may not quite be over but it is becoming harder and harder even for the best survive, let alone those who have questionable skills and even more questionable business ethics or customer-service.

But the ‘everything for free’ culture that seems to define the internet age has its downsides. The current vogue of the internet is to take what you like without asking, slap it up somewhere for free and then stick two fingers up to the people who created it when they complain about the fact that it cost them money to originally create the content you have ‘stolen’ and re-published.

One of the downsides for creators specifically has been the tightrope-walk of using the web in a way that gives them exposure to the public and potential customers, whilst at the same time trying to find ways to give themselves proper control over the usage of their work and the ability to police and follow-up infringements.

If the web and all its innovation can help with creation, distribution and re-distribution of digital content, let it also help creators protect their work and track those who take it without paying or asking.

Enter a web service called TinEye. Still in its ‘beta’ phase but already very useful in demonstrating how essential services of this kind are right now. Embedding watermarks, visual or coded invisibly into digital content, has always been something of a misnomer; a few operations in Photoshop and you can easily engineer out most digital watermarking. The visual watermarks just take more time but, once you’ve got rid of one, an action can easily be programmed into most graphics software to batch-engineer others out with one click of the mouse.

TinEye is not about watermarking or embedding of code, it’s a service that allows you to upload an image from your computer and then search for the same image out on the web. It can’t look for components in your image, but looks for the exact image. It’s pretty good though, even at finding images that have had other items added in to the original. And the current database for searching covers about 1.2 billion images out there on the web.

I used it very quickly this afternoon, with two images of mine [see images below] that I know are popular and have been knocking around for a while. Both turned up in the searches I made and both, it turned out, had been grabbed without permission and re-published. One image was being displayed on a site which stiuplated that any content uploaded by users must be owned by them or at least uploaded with the permission of the creator. That very popular music website has been contacted about the infringement. The other image was being used on a personal, non-commercial website but – again – no permission had been sought. I will usually allow free usage of my work on such sites, provided I am credited and that there is a link back to my own website. People who take my images without asking get an invoice.


So, get yourself along to TinEye and do some searches. You might be surprised what turns up.

Over time TinEye will, I am sure, get better and that’s good news for photographers and creators. Currently the site owners apologise for not being able to be better at searching more of the images on the web but it’s a big ask and they are doing their bit, which they should be appluaded for.

Technology has made taking and distributing photos easier. It’s about time that more people out there do what the folks at TinEye have done;  decide that it’s not for them to jump on the ‘everything is free’ bandwagon.

About Japanorama

Japanorama is run by British professional photographer, Alfie Goodrich, and provides practical photography teaching in Tokyo. Weekly workshops, group and one-to-one lessons bring together photographers of all ages and abilities.

We also welcome submissions of photos and articles for this site, so please get in touch via our contact page. Thanks.

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