The infographic above appeared in the April edition of National Geographic, and it demonstrates that the American addiction to digital images has created a huge surplus of pixels that tell us what most of us already know, people like to take A LOT of photos. Their graphic is pretty telling and the designer has done a great job creating each circle out of shifting boxes that give a kinetic feel and eludes to how precarious the lives of these little units of imagery are as they can be deleted at any moment.

Last year, 37% of the images in the US were captured using camera phones, but by 2015, National Geographic writes, that number is expected to be 50%.

The first camera phone by J-Phone, Nov 2000 (via

The volume of photos will no doubt change how we will grapple and archive them in the future — though no one has figured out what that exactly means.

It is estimated that 2.5 billion camera phones were in use in 2009, which is an incredible number considering the first camera phone was released in November 2000 by J-Phone and it had a resolution of 0.1 megapixels or 300 pixels by 300 pixels.

1000memories, a website that allows users to archive and share old photos, has done some research into the matter and has some amazing statistics (emphasis mine):

by 1960 it is estimated that 55% of photos were of babies … Year after year these numbers grew, as more people took more photos — the 20th century was the golden age of analog photography peaking at an amazing 85 billion physical photos in 2000 — an incredible 2,500 photos per second.

The site goes on to discuss the scale of this growth and they try to contextualize the numbers using a graph that contrasts various well-known “archives.”

They point out that in 2011 there were 140 billion photographs on Facebook, which is … wait for it … 10,000 times larger than the number of photos in the collections of the Library of Congress. They estimate there were 3.5 trillion photos in existence in 2011. Simply WOW.

If the ease of taking photos has increased, the ability to archive them has not. According to 1000memories, “Every 2 minutes today we snap as many photos as the whole of humanity took in the 1800s.” What will we do with this avalanche of pixels and how will we ever be able to find anything?

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

2 replies on “How Many Photos Do Americans Take a Year?”

  1. Just shared this with the office. Pretty shocking stats, nice find. This reminds me of Aaron Koblin, who says the 20th century was characterized by the database and the 21st will be characterize by the interface, so we can actually manage all of this content.

  2. Thanks for this Hrag. Funny story, I’ve ridden my bike across the B Bridge for 20 years and though I’ve tried to avoid them because I don’t like my photo taken randomly w out my permission, I’ve been in 100’s or more of photos prolly spread across the world. I often wonder waht
     if I could recover them all..signifier/signified fun.

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