Given the picture below, can you locate the exact location where this picture was taken?
This practical will allow you to follow along and think like an OSINT analyst. Let’s get started.
*There are reverse image search tools, but goal of this is to teach manual OSINT research techniques, because you won't always have the luxury of an image populating through a reverse image search tool.
The initial Assessment
At first glance at the above picture, we need to collect any information that can provide context. Things like type of architecture, important landmarks and any other clues where this location could be in relation to land.
We can see right away that the architecture of the buildings is North American in nature. To the left we can see an older building with a greenish-blue roof, which is most likely some sort of a landmark. In the bottom right corner we can see an art display which resembles a large clock. Our land orientation is an easy one, we can see a large body of water with a cargo ship sailing through it, which indicates that this a port city. Also don't forget that we can see mountains, so we can rule out places such as Miami as our port city. Here are the points to take away from our initial assessment to help narrow down the location:
*North American port city with mountains
*A landmark building with a greenish-blue roof
*An art display shaped like a clock
Digging Deeper with Google
Let's use the above points from our initial assessment and to help us search on Google. Searching for "port city North America mountains" and click on images, give us the following result:
*Depending on which country you are searching from, different results will displayed. Try using a google dorking techniques to get a more accurate result. For example, "port city North America intext: mountains" or "port city North America intext: greenish-blue roof".
We can see that the search is possibly pointing towards Vancouver as our "port city with mountains", let's use Vancouver and combine it with our other initial assessments points. Searching "Vancouver greenish-blue roof building" will give me the following results in images: (Pro tip, if you are using a VPN try switching to a country such as US or Canada to get catered results)
The first building we see that resembles the building in our original picture is the "sun tower", you can also see that there is a link to a Wikipedia article with an address where this building is located, 128 West Pender Street Vancouver, British Columbia. This is going really great, looks like we found our landmark building.
Let's google the address of the "Sun Tower" building and see what we can see using Google street view.
When dropping into street view the first thing we see is this:
It looks the building is covered for some repairs, so we can't exactly confirm yet that we are on the right street. Not to worry, Google Street view allows you to travel back in time, lets click on 2017 and see what the building looked like then.
After looking at the building from different angles, we can now for sure confirm that this is the right building.
The best thing to do is to explore the area. We know that our original picture was taken from a greater height and building should be facing the water. So naturally we would explore away from the water and see what tall buildings we can see.
The two buildings there look interesting, let's take a look at the tallest one and see what we can see.
To get a better point of view, we should switch to Google Earth and use their 3D simulation and estimate best point of view knowing all the possible landmarks we discovered earlier.
As you can see in the picture above, we could see both landmarks from the balcony of the building in question. The next step would be to use Google Earth and get closer to the building and position ourselves right on the balcony of that building and see if we can recreate our original view from the picture.
When we position ourselves near the top floor of the building and orient ourselves, we can now see that we almost recreated the view of the picture we started with. We can see the 2 landmarks we were interested in and the apartment building next to us looks identical to the one in the original picture. Let's zoom out and see what building this is.
After zooming out, we now have the intersection of the building in interest. (WB Expo blvd and Abbot St.)
Using Google Maps Streetview, we can see live pictures from the intersection found earlier, we can all see that the address of the building is "689 Abbott St.". We have to be real careful with street address records on Google Maps, since they are not always correct, its better to see what is number of the building in question. The tree is currently blocking the number for the building, so we need to use the time travel tool and look at the building's entrance when the tree was smaller.
By viewing the street view from a year earlier, we can now confirm that the building street address is "689 Abbott St.".
We can now google the address and see if we can get lucky and locate the exact floor where the picture was taken. Looking through Google Image results, we can now see what some of the condos look like on the inside, but we also starting to see real state agents that are involved with this building. The really over zealous OSINT analyst could at this point use some social engineering and contact these agents, pretend that he or she is interested in purchasing a condo in that building and show them the picture of the view in interest. Most likely a motivated real state agent will know exactly which will floor and apartment number the picture was taken.
For our purposes we can just stick to our own research and scan any apartment rental websites to see if we can locate the exact floor where this picture was taken.
It will not be long of searching a website like TripAdvisor for "689 Abbott st." that a description of the apartment can be found and we can confirm that the picture was taken on the 35th floor. We also found 26 other pictures of inside the location.
Try picking a random location yourself on google and see if you are able to locate where the picture was taken (without using image reverse search tools). Any process can be used and try what works best for you.