Scientists at Cornell University have super-computed the geotags of 35 million Flickr photos, creating photography heatmaps for locations around the world. Their conclusion? People really, really like taking pictures of landmarks.
The national maps—like the one above, which shows the most photographed landmark in each of the top 20 most photographed cities—are somewhat predicable, with photo density at its highest around population centres, especially large, scenic ones. Natural sights, like the Grand Canyon, make a strong showing, and the results generally support my theory that most peoples' vacations consist of trudging to a location of note, snapping a photo to prove that, yes, they actually went, and going directly back home, depressed.
The results get much more interesting at a local level. On the left are New York City and San Francisco, which were the first and third most photographed cities, respectively. Popular tourist destinations are prominently featured on these maps, but in addition the increased density of photos between these destinations form a sort of photo "track" along which tourists, apparently anxious for lack of monument-type things to photograph, take pictures anyway.
Researchers are said to be mulling the possibility of constructing some kind of online travel guide from the wisdom of the photo-taking crowd. Regarding that "wisdom": Apple's Manhattan cube store, a place that sells iPods, is the 5th most photographed place in NYC—just in front of the Statue of Liberty, which probably welcomed your ancestors to this country. What now, James Surowiecki?