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Question Your World: How Many Photos Have Ever Been Taken?

camera pictures
(Image: Getty Images)

Birthday parties, graduations, engagements, and most other milestones in our life get captured by photograph. The camera has revolutionized how we as a species document things, ranging from scientific purpose to simple a selfie with a friend at lunch. These days most people have access to a camera and the amount of photos we take is getting larger daily. So, how many photos have ever been taken? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.

The oldest remaining photograph comes to us from Burgundy, France dating back to 1826. Like all other technological breakthroughs, this one too had a relatively basic beginning and was improved upon by future generations. These earliest cameras were a far cry from today’s modern click-save-share options that we have, but they did initiate humanity’s obsession with permanently documenting life as we saw it.

While many advances happened in camera and film technology, no one could have predicted the profound impact this process would have once it entered the digital era. The first photo to ever be uploaded to the internet was of a musical group created at CERN for their talent show night back in 1992. Les Horribles Cernettes ushered in a new era of digital snapping and sharing that has changed the landscape of science, business, entertainment, and beyond.

So, the big question now is how many photos have ever been taken throughout history? To answer these big questions researchers looked at camera technology throughout time, the amount of cameras made, rolls of film created, amount each camera was able to take, the average lifespan of a camera, access to developing and other technologies, and many other variables. After going through the staggering amount of data they concluded that throughout humanity we have taken a little over 3.5 trillion photographs! That is a huge number, so massive that it totally dwarfs the concept of a billion!

Despite the immensity of this number, the information on the more recent end of camera history is even more remarkable. For example, of the more than 3.5 trillion photos ever taken more than 10% of those were taken in the last year. That means we're taking in the neighborhood of 350 billion photos every single year. But wait there's more! Every two minutes humanity is taking more photos than all the photos taken through the 1800's combined!

So, of all these photos from all around the world, what is the most common type of photo? The selfie. Nearly 93 million selfies are taken on smart phones every single day. This technology not only applies to people at lunch, parties, on vacation and so on. Camera technology also can be applied to research and documentation in the world of science. Humanity's interest in selfies transfers over to astronomers as well. In 1946 we took our first selfie from space as a camera was mounted on board a rocket shooting up to 65 miles above the Earth's surface. Since then we've taken many selfies of us from all sorts of interesting locations including the moon, from La Grange points, and even the beautiful and sobering photo taken by Voyager 2 beyond the orbit of Neptune.

As the exponential growth happens in the tech sector we can see the results in our day to day lives. Social media, hand held HD video recording, editing films from coffee shops, uploading and sharing your moments with the rest of the world in real time, and many other modern conveniences are all possible due to the hard working men and women that have devoted their lives to pushing technology forward. What's the next milestone for us creatures that are obsessed with documenting as many things as possible with our cameras? Similar to the process that kicked it all off, we'll just have to wait and see what develops.