One interesting aspect of publishing “PDN Photo of the Day,” our photography blog, is seeing which photographs and photographic subjects attract the largest number of readers. Often our readers enjoy photographs that we find interesting and beautiful, then share the posts with friends, and the audience for a particular entry grows exponentially. Other times a post we’re particularly excited about receives a more modest response for one reason or another.
As the year drew to a close, we decided to get in touch with the editors of four photography blogs published by major newspapers to see which of their posts were the most-viewed this year.
The Boston Globe’s “Big Picture”
The “Big Picture,” which is edited by Alan Taylor, features thematic posts that often gather images shot by various photographers. The majority of the time Taylor picks images from wire services to create his posts. Taylor was perhaps the first—and is certainly the most popular—blog editor to publish photographs in a large format that nearly fills readers’ computer screens with each frame.
Taylor’s top post this year, which he says was viewed more than 16 million times, was a collection of images of the eruption Eyjafjallajokull, the Icelandic volcano. The epic nature of the imagery and the fact that the pictures were tied to a major news event contributed to the popularity of the post, Taylor said. “The Icelandic volcano had been creating havoc in Europe for weeks, but all anyone seemed to be showing was photos of people stranded in airports and some distant smoke,” said Taylor via email. “I found as many of the best close-up photos as I could and put them up, and the entry really went viral in a big way.” Taylor says that Google Reader (RSS), Twitter and Reddit are the most common ways people find and share “Big Picture” posts.
Other “Big Picture” entries that generated widespread viewer interest included photos from the National Geographic Photo contest, AP Photographer Charlie Riedel’s tragic images of birds covered in oil from the Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, and unique color photographs taken in Russia in the early 1900s by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.
The New York Times’ “Lens”
Times photographer and “Lens” photojournalism blog co-editor James Estrin estimates that the core audience for “Lens” is made up of photographers or people who are passionate about photojournalism. The entries that are most interesting to that core audience don’t always reach a larger viewership, but Estrin says the thoughtfulness of the comments often indicates how a post has been received by regular “Lens” readers. Estrin believes a post of photographs from Joao Silva, who was wounded by a landmine late this year in Afghanistan, was one of the best on “Lens” in 2010, because in addition to Silva’s photographs, the post also included a frank interview with Silva by photographer and “Lens” contributor Michael Kamber. Estrin also cited an “important” pair of entries that gathered photographs by John Moore of military detention centers like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Estrin and Lens contributor David Furst also interviewed Moore about his work. “I think it’s historically important to have [Moore’s photographs] in a single place,” Estrin says of the posts.
When an entry reaches a wider readership, Estrin says, it usually does so because the subject of the entry is particularly newsworthy, thus leading more viewers to find “Lens” via search, social networks and other sources. “On any given day half of our traffic is from people that came in sideways because of the topic [of the post]” Estrin relates.
“A Moment in Time,” an interactive feature that combined photographs made at the same time by “Lens” readers all over world, drew the most traffic to the blog this year, Estrin says. The fact that the feature was crowd-sourced undoubtedly contributed to its popularity.
As “The Big Picture” did, “Lens” attracted a large viewership with a post on the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. Estrin also recalls that photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield’s images of the housing bust in Dubai generated a good deal of interest.
The Denver Post’s “Captured”
“Captured” is one in a collection of five photo blogs, or “Plogs” as The Post calls them, published by the Denver news organization. Editor Meghan Lyden reports that “America in Color from 1939-1943,” a collection of color images of rural and small-town populations taken by photographers working for the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information during the 1930s and ’40s, was the top post this year on “Captured.” “Maybe [the popularity of the post] had something to do with the similar economic times we find ourselves in today,” Lyden says. “I think people were also amazed to see the scenes in color.”
The Wall Street Journal’s “Photo Journal”
Wall Street Journal director of photography Jack Van Antwerp reports that an assignment to a handful of photographers to go out and shoot scenes in New York City after hours grabbed the most attention this year on their “Photo Journal” blog. Van Antwerp believes the quality of the photography and the subject—what New York looks like when most of us are asleep—led to the high interest in the post.
The list of most-viewed posts on our photo blog this year was topped by a collection of staged photographs created by Norman Rockwell, on which he based his paintings. Though this post was created in December 2009, it is still drawing new viewers and comments late into this year.
Our blog entry with the second highest viewership was of photographer Tom Hussey’s images of elderly people looking into mirrors and seeing their younger selves. Hussey created the images on commission for drug company Novartis for a campaign promoting an anti-Alzheimer’s drug.
Other posts that were widely read on “PDN’s Photo of the Day” this year included two sets of images from National Geographic photographers. Published to coincide with the release of their books, these posts included images from Paul Nicklen’s Polar Obsession, a look at the arctic and Antarctic ecosystems; and Rare, Joel Sartore’s survey of the endangered species of America.
Which were your favorite photo blog posts this year? Please let us know by posting links in the comments.
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