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This is the most famous photography in history, according to image search study

Man on a moon is the most famous photograph according to new data
(Image credit: NASA)

New research has revealed the world's most famous and liked images, discovered using tools that include reverse image searching and Instagram likes to compile the list together. 

A world-record holding image of an egg photographed in front of a white backdrop is the most liked image on Instagram, with a staggering 56.1 million likes! The other set of data revealed that one of the most recognizable photos in history is the Apollo 11 moonwalk captured by NASA.

•  Check out these 5 photographs that changed the world (opens in new tab)

When we think of the world's most famous images, there's a certain list that come to mind – William Henry Fox Talbot's latticed window, Henri Cartier Bresson's decisive moment, the controversial Kevin Carter image featuring a vulture preying on a child, and what is regarded as the first ever permanent photo in history captured by Joseph Niépce in 1825. 

The most famous photographs of all time are usually also the most recognizable, and printing company inkifi has taken the opportunity to discover through new research not only the world's most famous photographs, but the most Instagram-famous photographs to reflect our current digital era of worldwide photo sharing. 

Top 3 most famous photographs (Image credit: inkifi )
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The results from inkifi's research are a little surprising, as the images they found to have the highest reverse image search results – and therefore what they consider as the most famous images in the world – were not necessarily the most obvious. And famous images didn't feature at the top end of the list that would instantly come to mind when reflecting on the most famous photographers and their notable works. 

The full set of research from inkifi (opens in new tab) can be found on its blog, but to make things simple we've created basic data tables to display the findings, so we can easily compare the statistics:

The 10 most famous photographs of all time
RankName of PhotoPhotographerYearReverse Image Search Results
1Man on a MoonNASA196831,003
2Lunch atop a SkyscraperUnknown193218,691
3Flag Raising on Iwo JimaJoe Rosenthal194516,235
4Einstein's BirthdayArthur Sasse195115,206
5Migrant MotherDorothea Lange193614,711
6Earthrise, NasaWilliam Anders196814,351
7Afghan GirlSteve McCurry198410,556
8Napalm GirlNick Ut19728,925
9The Wright Brothers first flightUnknown19038,419
10Muhammad Ali vs Sonny ListonNeil Leifer19658,224
11Mushroom cloud over NagasakiLieutenant Charles Levy19458,074
12Winston Churchill PortraitYousuf Karsh19416,015
13V-J Day in Times SquareAlfred Eisenstadt19455,409
14The Burning MonkMalcolm Browne19634,207
15Falling ManRichard Drew20012,294
16Tank ManJeff Widener19892,112
17Gandhi and the Spinning WheelMargaret Bourke-White19461,946
18Black Power SaluteJohn Dominis19681,910
19The SteerageAlfred Stieglitz19071,765
20Leap into Freedompeter Leibing19611,725

If you're unfamiliar with reverse image searching, it is a tool accessible primarily via Google that enables users to search using an image as opposed to text – and the yielded results show every corner of the web in which the image has been used. (This is also a great way to search for copyright breaches of your own photography and other interesting applications.) 

With this in mind, the data gathered from inkifi may not best reflect what are the most famous images in the world, but should perhaps instead be referred to as the 'most replicated' or 'most used' images. The Apollo 11 image being top of the list might therefore make sense, as a lot of NASA's images are public domain, hence them being used and repurposed a lot more frequently. 

(Image credit: inkifi )
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As for the most famous images on Instagram, top of the rank is the most basic of images of an egg pictured with a white background. Made Instagram famous for the purpose of obtaining a world record, it certainly succeeded, with 56.1 million likes to date, which is over 23 million more than the second most liked post. 

This egg is more famous on Instagram than the Kardashians, Spider-Man actors and even Billie Eilish! 

The 10 most-liked photos on Instagram
RankDescriptionYearNumber of Instagram Likes
1An Egg201956.1m
2Cristiano Ronaldo announces twins with his partner202132.9m
3XXXTentacion's last Instagram post201829.5m
4Ariana Grande & Dalton Gomez marriage photos202126.6m
5Travis Scott & Kylie Jenner second child announcement202125.0m
6Zendaya's Birthday post to Tom Holland202224.5m
7Tom Holland recreates Spiderman meme202224.2m
8Kylie Jenner holds her second baby's hand202223.0m
9Billie Eilish reveals blonde hair202122.9m
10Lionel Messi PSG announcement202122.0m
11Billie Eilish in British Vogue202121.9m
12Lionel Messi wins the Copa America202121.9m
13Lionel Messi says goodbye to Barcelona202121.2m
14Tom Holland's Happy Birthday post for Zendaya202120.04m
15Girl reacts to real life mermaid video202120.0m
16Cristiano Ronaldo says goodbye to Diego Maradona202019.7m
17Billie Eilish at the Met Gala202119.3m
17Cristiano Ronaldo's first game back for Manchester United202119.3m
17Chadwick Boseman death announcement202019.3m
18Cristiano Ronaldo Manchester United return202119.0m

The interesting thing about the most famous images on Instagram and their total number of likes, is that the images often have no photography related purpose or elements to them. The popularity of these images (or 'posts', we should probably refer to them as) are often less to do with the images posted themselves and more to do with which celebrity or influencer has posted it, and the meaning behind it. 

For example, the post below shared to Instagram by Tom Holland made the list of most famous photos on the platform, and this is in part due to the actor's celebrity status, the fact it is a recreation and reference to an existing pop culture meme that took over the internet – and the relevance to Spider-Man, Marvel and an enormously publicized new Hollywood blockbuster will undoubtedly bring in likes from a high volume of people. 

A post shared by Tom Holland (@tomholland2013) (opens in new tab)

A photo posted by on

This photo in terms of photographic approach is nothing super special, and would not necessarily appeal to a panel of judges or experts in the medium of photography. The reason many of the posts on this list have a high quantity of likes is due to the influencer culture and celebrity gossip culture, less so than the actual contents of the image when observed from a photographic standpoint. 

How do we critique and define what are the world's best or most famous images in a digital age dominated by hashtags and social media? Are the most famous and worthy images even posted to Instagram any more? Especially with the changing algorithm and constant updates putting pro photographers off of using the platform. Let us know what you think!

Read more:

The 50 best photographers ever
(opens in new tab)20 famous photographers you should follow on Instagram (opens in new tab)
10 most Instagrammed landmarks in America – top photo hotspots (opens in new tab)
My Instagram page is a mess: How do photographers organize their grids? (opens in new tab)
10 tips for Instagram success with your photography (opens in new tab)

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Beth Nicholls
Beth Nicholls

A staff writer for Digital Camera World, Beth has an extensive background in various elements of technology with five years of experience working as a tester and sales assistant for CeX. After completing a degree in Music Journalism, followed by obtaining a Master's degree in Photography awarded by the University of Brighton, she spends her time outside of DCW as a freelance photographer specialising in live music events and band press shots under the alias 'bethshootsbands'.