Monday, 29 June 2009

London - mapped by its photographs

David Crandall, Lars Backstrom, Daniel Huttenlocher and Jon Kleinberg at Cornell University have recently created automatic maps of cities, including London, by analysing 35 million photographs from Flickr, the world's largest online photographic collection.

The London map was created by analysing 1.2 million photos taken by 36,000 photographers. The majority of photographs were taken over the last 3 years. Photographs used for the study were either hand encoded by photographers (marking their position on a map), or more recently through the use of geo-enabled cameras / iphones etc which automatically encode photos with location information.

From Cornell's paper: "...studying the connective structure of a corpus at a global level exposes a fascinating picture of what the world is paying attention to. In the case of global photo collections, it means that we can discover, through collective behavior, what people consider to be the most significant landmarks both in the world and within specific cities, which cities are most photographed, which cities have the highest and lowest proportions of attention-drawing landmarks, which views of these landmarks are the most characteristic."

The study found that London was the second most photographed city in the world after New York.

In the Cornell study, out of the seven most photographed landmarks on earth, four were in London:
  1. The Eiffel Tower
  2. Trafalgar Square
  3. Tate Modern
  4. Big Ben
  5. Notre Dame
  6. The London Eye
  7. Empire State Building
Geo-encoded photography has the potential to revolutionise how we understand where our common visual interest lies. The information starts to show us those areas of cities where the greatest number of people are looking, noticing, and recording memories. In time, as the sample size grows and the demographic widens, photo mapping information is likely to become increasingly useful and relevant as evidence to help us understand where people wish to record the buildings and landmarks that are of the greatest visual interest.


  1. Kevin PurdeyJuly 20, 2009

    Amazing. What a fantastic study! The democratisation of viewing (everyone gets a vote) - all it takes is a photograph. A hierarchy of people movement and visual interest emerges. Bravo Cornell - and Hayes Davidson for highlighting this.

  2. Damian FennnellJuly 21, 2009

    Fascinating concept - although, it only records what people are most interested in at this point in time. It identifies a visual zeitgeist that will be greatly influenced current affairs, media and social networking. To ascertain people's long-term interests I think it would have to track photographs over long periods of time.

    In addition to this I think there is a place for an undemocratic process of determining sites of cultural value; St.Paul's is the obvious example - it has dominated the London skyline for hundreds of years thanks to planning regulations, and it would be a loss to see it disappear behind new developments because the London Eye is still relatively speaking a novelty sight.