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.
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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.(opens in new tab)
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:
|Rank||Name of Photo||Photographer||Year||Reverse Image Search Results|
|1||Man on a Moon||NASA||1968||31,003|
|2||Lunch atop a Skyscraper||Unknown||1932||18,691|
|3||Flag Raising on Iwo Jima||Joe Rosenthal||1945||16,235|
|4||Einstein's Birthday||Arthur Sasse||1951||15,206|
|5||Migrant Mother||Dorothea Lange||1936||14,711|
|6||Earthrise, Nasa||William Anders||1968||14,351|
|7||Afghan Girl||Steve McCurry||1984||10,556|
|8||Napalm Girl||Nick Ut||1972||8,925|
|9||The Wright Brothers first flight||Unknown||1903||8,419|
|10||Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston||Neil Leifer||1965||8,224|
|11||Mushroom cloud over Nagasaki||Lieutenant Charles Levy||1945||8,074|
|12||Winston Churchill Portrait||Yousuf Karsh||1941||6,015|
|13||V-J Day in Times Square||Alfred Eisenstadt||1945||5,409|
|14||The Burning Monk||Malcolm Browne||1963||4,207|
|15||Falling Man||Richard Drew||2001||2,294|
|16||Tank Man||Jeff Widener||1989||2,112|
|17||Gandhi and the Spinning Wheel||Margaret Bourke-White||1946||1,946|
|18||Black Power Salute||John Dominis||1968||1,910|
|19||The Steerage||Alfred Stieglitz||1907||1,765|
|20||Leap into Freedom||peter Leibing||1961||1,725|
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.(opens in new tab)
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!
|Rank||Description||Year||Number of Instagram Likes|
|2||Cristiano Ronaldo announces twins with his partner||2021||32.9m|
|3||XXXTentacion's last Instagram post||2018||29.5m|
|4||Ariana Grande & Dalton Gomez marriage photos||2021||26.6m|
|5||Travis Scott & Kylie Jenner second child announcement||2021||25.0m|
|6||Zendaya's Birthday post to Tom Holland||2022||24.5m|
|7||Tom Holland recreates Spiderman meme||2022||24.2m|
|8||Kylie Jenner holds her second baby's hand||2022||23.0m|
|9||Billie Eilish reveals blonde hair||2021||22.9m|
|10||Lionel Messi PSG announcement||2021||22.0m|
|11||Billie Eilish in British Vogue||2021||21.9m|
|12||Lionel Messi wins the Copa America||2021||21.9m|
|13||Lionel Messi says goodbye to Barcelona||2021||21.2m|
|14||Tom Holland's Happy Birthday post for Zendaya||2021||20.04m|
|15||Girl reacts to real life mermaid video||2021||20.0m|
|16||Cristiano Ronaldo says goodbye to Diego Maradona||2020||19.7m|
|17||Billie Eilish at the Met Gala||2021||19.3m|
|17||Cristiano Ronaldo's first game back for Manchester United||2021||19.3m|
|17||Chadwick Boseman death announcement||2020||19.3m|
|18||Cristiano Ronaldo Manchester United return||2021||19.0m|
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.
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!
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