The growth of digital insect photography

Here’s a chart I made this morning. It depicts the number of new photos tagged “insects” or “insect” uploaded over the history of the leading photo-sharing site Flickr. Note that the graph doesn’t show the cumulative total of insect photos on the site; rather, it shows the increase from year-to-year. Thus, even though the rate of increase slowed in 2009, the amount of insect content is still accelerating.

Interpretation of the chart is tricky. The increase may reflect several patterns: a growth in Flickr’s popularity, the growth of digital photography, and a growth in overall interest in insects.

I am particularly intrigued by the latter possibility. Is digital photography driving a renewed interest in arthropod diversity?

I would like to think so. Photography is certainly opening a new avenue for raising awareness about entomological issues and about insect conservation. But its effectiveness for outreach will depend on this pattern being driven by newcomers. If the increase in insect photos results merely from people already enthused about insects acquiring cameras, photography won’t pack nearly the same punch.

Acromyrmex versicolor

17 thoughts on “The growth of digital insect photography”

  1. I’d also like to think so. Instead, I think Flickr is the most popular photo sharing site in the world and digital photography use continues to increase. The world is moving online. Old manual cameras are being replaced by new digital ones. We’re seeing a convergence of interests that already existed outside the net, onto the net. This convergence will continue until the oldest members of the population have grown up with the internet, so for the next few decades.

    I think new interest in bugs is, unfortunately, the least significant part of this trend. The magic of the internet is its increased efficiency in bringing together like-minded people, whether their interests be financial, social, or medical. It allows people who previously like bugs in a vacuum to meet other bug nuts and delve deeper into their hobby. There may be a tiny fraction of people who view bug pics and become interested in the field, but how are they even seeing the pics unless they’re already on a bug site? The intrigue of bug pics only holds as a recruitment mechanism when bug pics are featured in mainstream media (i.e. advertising) and my perception as a western citizen is that this has not yet occurred. I hope I am wrong.

  2. You could test you hypothesis, Alex, by conducting a similar review of an unrelated area, e.g., “Humans”, “Cars”, “Landscapes”. If the number of photographs added under these categories increased at the same rate, then one would probably need to conclude that it’s not the subject matter that is responsible for the upward trend, but rather the technology/accessibility/other. Any significant difference, however, would lend some support to the “bugs are simply thought of as cooler now” idea. I would be interested to see a comparison.

  3. I can only really speak for myself, but i know digital has really opened up insect photography for me. The instant feedback to see if a shot worked and the amount i can take without worrying about running out of film or cost.

    1. I agree with you usagizero, digital cameras really helped me to get interested in macro photographs. When I started to take macro photographs, then insects were just a consequence… πŸ™‚

    2. I agree with usagizero too. I am much more likely to shoot an insect now that I don’t have to fret about the cost of all those wasted slides that could have gone to sure things. So, I suggest that part of the increase is from entomophiles taking more shots.

      I bet this has a Pied Piper effect too – even my sister, not a bug lover by any stretch of the imagination, takes pictures of insects now.

  4. A sample of one is meaningless, but in my case digital photography led to an increased interest in insects. I took photos of insects because I could and it was interesting to see insect details, but I quickly got bored with having my archives full of photos labeled “Bug”. I wanted to know more about what I was photographing.

    That digital photography led to an explosion in photographs is a given, but it would be interesting to know if certain easy-to-photograph subjects benefited more. By easy-to-photograph I mean that decent photographs can be taken without any specialized equipment (in the beginning) and the subjects are readily available in your own backyard or local park.

  5. Digital photography has lead to more people taking photos not only insects but everything internet is full of it. People are taking photos with some form of digital camera weather it a camera in a phone or a full blown DSLR camera someone will taking a photo as for the technical side most photo are rubbish.

  6. Using a digital camera did increase my interest in insects more, but I know few people who brought new digital cameras (point-and-shoot as well as DSLRs) and became interested in insect photography, and ultimately into insects in general.

    Thanks,
    Ani

  7. MrILoveTheAnts

    If anything it shows the increase of the Macro feature in digital cameras… or Alex’s fan base. Seriously I’ve found people’s photobucket accounts full of your photos Alex before.

  8. 101quickandeasysecrets

    I live in the desert. Every once in a while I get an amazing insect in my house. I always photograph it.

  9. “Thus, even though the rate of increase slowed in 2009, the amount of insect content is still accelerating.”

    If the rate of increase slowed, then it is decelerating. πŸ™‚

  10. Although these comments are totally subjective and anecdotal, I almost find them more fascinating than hard data! I guess I’m human after all πŸ™‚

  11. I haven’t posted any photos to Flickr, but the #1 reason I talked my husband into purchasing a macro lens was because I wanted to take ant photos like yours.

  12. I started doing a comparison against “insect”/”insects” and “cat”/”cats” but found your insect photo count seems to differ quite a lot from mine.

    I have:
    2004: 1216
    2005: 2651
    2006: 6018
    2007: 8671
    2008: 14887
    2009: 14248

    Settings:
    All of these words: insect + insects (tags only)
    Search in: Everyone’s Uploads
    Safesearch: off
    Search by content: Photos
    Search by media type: Only photos
    Search by date: Photos taken after 01.01.200x before 01.01.200x+1

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