How Many Photographs Have Been Taken?

By: Austin (Google)

based on a video made by Michael Stevens of VSauce.

In 1826, a man by the name of Nicéphore Niépce captured the first photograph ever taken. Then, in 1992, the first image was uploaded to the internet. But the question is…

How Many Photographs Have We Taken All Together Throughout History?

A blog by the name of 1000Memories dove deeper into this very question. They took into account the number of digital cameras that are currently in use, the typical usage of a digital camera, as well as the amount of analog film and film developing supplies used by the industry ever since the 19th century. Tabulated altogether, they estimated that we have taken 3.5 trillion photographs. That’s 3,500,000,000,000 photographs. 4 billion of which were taken in 2012 alone. Michael from VSauce says:

We are currently taking far more photographs than ever before because of the proliferation of easy to use, affordable digital cameras. And we take 4 times as many pictures per day, as we did ten years ago. Or think of it this way: in two minutes, we take more pictures than we did during all of the 1800’s.

The 1800’s were a long time ago, however. If you look at every year from the beginning of that first photograph until today, 10% of the surviving still image photographs ever taken…were taken in the last 12 months. What’s even more insane is that 20% or 1/5th of all these images wind up in the same place—Facebook. But keep in mind that Facebook is HUGE. It has over 1 billion users. If all of the members of Facebook were to break away and decided to form their own country, they would be the 3rd largest country in the world, only behind China and India. On a darker note, it’s estimated that of the 1 billion users on Facebook, about thirty million of them are dead. Also, in one hundred years, it’s estimated that 500 million of the people on Facebook will be deceased. Facebook Stories is a unique website in that it lets you click on a country, and quickly and easily see what country most of their friends live in. Although it’s fun to just quickly look at this site and see who’s connected to whom, it raises the question of…

Degrees of Separation.

Michael from VSauce explains further about degrees of separation. He asked:

If you were to take two random people on earth, how many “friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friends” would you need to connect those two people?

In real life, it can be a bit problematic to try to figure out, because it’s so difficult to know who is friends with whom, and there are a ton of people. About 7.1 billion people. Luckily though, a duo by the name of Watts and Strogatz have figured it out. They found that you can calculate the path between any two people quite easily (Log N/Log K). In the equation, N stands for the total number of people in the population, and K stands for average number of friends that each person has. So, if you were to assume that every one has around 30 friends, given that about 10% of our population is too young to have actual friends, it turns out that you can connect any two people on earth by about 6.6 connections. Granted, this is just an estimation. In the real world, we don’t all have exactly 30 friends and some people are nearly impossible to even connect with at all. Isolated tribes in Brazil make the average much higher. Of course there are non-real world places where the connections are easier to follow.

Back to Facebook.

In 2011, the data team at Facebook released two different papers saying that amongst all users at the time, the average distance between any two users  was only 4.74 friends. Numbers such as this can make large, impersonal crowds actually seem quite intimate. However one of the most interesting things about crowds, is how smart they truly are.

Wisdom of the Crowds

According to BBC, wisdom of the crowds is a fascinating phenomenon in which the collective knowledge, guesses, or estimations of a large group of people, when averaged, are better than one individual person working alone. An example of this the classic, “How many jellybeans are in a jar?” question. Some over estimate, while others under estimate, so collectively each member cancels out the errors of the other. This means that in the end, the estimation of the group of the jellybeans winds up being smarter, than the sum of its parts. The actual study done by the BBC had 160 different people guess the number of jellybeans in a jar. The guesses had a wide range from just a few hundred, to tens of thousands. The average of all 160 guesses was 4,514.89688 (or 4,515 if you want to round it). The actual number of jellybeans in the jar was 4,510 beans, meaning that the group average of the 160 people were only 5 beans away from the actual answer. Michael Stevens says:

It’s amazing to think that in a large enough group, the errors and shortcomings of everyone else, no matter how annoying they are individually, actually can balance and correct our own shortcomings. It feels good and a little bit strange to think that while in a group, it’s possible for nobody to be correct but for everybody to be right.

Thanks for reading,


Austin Duncan, Author

Sources are present in the links found throughout this article. The concept of this entire post and its content is highly borrowed from Michael Stevens from VSauce. Look him and his channel up, it’s really interesting.



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