Find photos using smart searches in iPhone Photos app

Smart search features in the iPhone Photos app enable photos to be found based on the content of images, without having to add tags and categories. Use the AI-powered search on iOS to find photos.

We take more photos than ever thanks to mobile phones and it is very easy to build up a large collection of photographs from events, holidays, trips and so on. When you have thousands of photographs on your phone, finding the one you want can be difficult. Swiping through thousands of photo thumbnails is not a good way to find one.

For this reason, at one time we would spend many hours in photo manager software or organizers manually adding tags and categories to each photograph. It was slow, long and tedious work. It wasn’t much fun and consequently, many people did not bother.

Those days are gone and now we no longer have to tag photos with descriptive words and organize snapshots into categories in order to be able to find them. The Photos app on the iPhone and iPad can find photos by using several different methods.

One is geotagging, which provides the location where the photo was taken, another is the time and date photographs were taken, and a third is AI analysis of images to automatically determine the content.

Basically, the Photos app can recognize the content of many photos without you having to tag them. It isn’t perfect and it might not get everything right all the time, but it is surprisingly good and very clever. It is automatic too, with nothing to do on your part. Photos knows what objects and scenes your photographs contain and this enables you to search your photo collection for specific subjects, events or locations.

Photos app search suggestions

Press the Search icon at the bottom of the screen in the iPhone Photos app and there are a few suggestions, such as People, Places and Moments. I had suggestions like Summer, Trips and Dining. I never told the Photos app I had photos of these subjects and it worked it out all all by itself.

It appears to look for lots of photos of a woman in a white dress and automatically classify them as wedding photos, and pictures of beaches are classed as beach photos, and so on. It is very clever and fully automatic. You will have different Moments to me of course.

Search for pictures in the iPhone Photos app: Screenshot
Search features in iPhone Photos app

Enter a word into the search box, like Trips and it then suggests different places you have been to. It is probably basing this on location information stored in photos. Your trips will reflect your own activities so they will be different to mine.

Searching in the Apple Photos app on the iPhone: Screenshot
Search results in the Photos app

Select one of your trips in the suggestions and the text added to the search box. A new list of search refinements is displayed and in my case, it shows two trips to Ambleside in Memories. The number to the right is the number of photos that were found. Tap one of the memories to view the photos.

At any time you can jump out of search and view the photos by pressing the See All link. This shows thumbnail images of the photographs and you can browse them view them, and so on.

Search for scenes in the iPhone Photos app

You don’t have to start with Moments, People or Places suggestions and you can simply type in your own search term. For example, to find all beach photos you would simple type ‘beach’. Without any tagging or input on your part, it will find all the photos you have taken at beaches.

Searching for scenes in the iPhone Photos app: Screenshot
Search for specific scenes and content in Photos

It then suggests a list of specific places to filter the results by, so photos at a particular location can be viewed. In my case, I can view photos taken at Criccieth beach for example. However, there are more general suggestions, like Beach Activity.

Tap a suggestion, Criccieth Beach in my case, and photos and moments are shown. The moments show related photos, like those taken in the same geographic area.

Search for objects in photos

Of course, the Photos app might simply be looking for location information stored with photographs, but it is more clever than that. Try searching for people and it shows all the photos in which they appear, or even type in something like ‘cat’ or ‘dog’. It can clearly distinguish common pets and find them in your photos.

Searching for objects in photos in the iPhone Photos app: Screenshot
Search for objects in photos

Take a look at the screenshots above. In the first, I search for ‘flower’ and it came up with 26 photos with flowers in them. That is quite clever, but the Photos app can actually distinguish between different types of flower and a search for ‘petunia’ shows only flowers of that type. Similarly, a search for ‘rose’ shows all photos that contain roses.

The iPhone Photos app is clearly super smart. Not only can it recognize scenes and the general objects they contain, like flowers, it can even identify specific types of object. Try searching for specific flowers, breeds of dog or cat, and so on. Instead of searching for ‘dog’, search for ‘spaniel’ and it shows dogs of that breed. It is very clever.

To be honest, I never did get around to tagging all my photos with descriptive words to aid searching. It was just too much work. Now I am glad I didn’t waste my time because Photos can find the photographs I want to see without tags.

iPhone Photos app competitors

Google Photos is a major competitor to the Apple Photos app and it works well on the iPhone. For a long time Google Photos has been one step ahead of Apple Photos when it comes to features and it still does a few things Apple Photos cannot do. You can perform similar searches for scenes and objects within scenes in photographs with Google Photos and the search facility is excellent. Well, you might expect that from a search company.

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