New Sources of Travel Photography

August 31, 2009 · 10 comments

1-62-78  stock photo of California, San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge roadway

In 2008 over 16 million people visited San Francisco and most of them had cameras. Many of them also saw the Golden Gate Bridge and posted their tourist photos online..

In an interesting report on the official Google blog, A New Landmark in Computer Vision, engineers described a research project to discover 5,000 primary landmarks in the world and then develop an algorithm to recognize and index images of those landmarks (pdf here)

Noting the “explosion of personal digital photography..and the phenomenal growth of landmark photo sharing in many websites like Picasa” they say “the time has come build a landmark recognition engine, on the scale of the entire globe.”

This is of course what travel photographers and specialized stock agencies have been doing for years.

What do the Google engineers have in mind? First, using 20 million images from Picasa and Panoramio they used GPS encoding to identify frequently-photographed places. Then they analyzed text classifications in an online travel guide, Wikitravel, to discover well known landmarks and matched the results with text descriptions in the image collection. Then they matched the images with each other, looking for visual similarity in subject matter, and removing mismatches (like maps, etc.)

The result is a mosaic of images of each landmark, using thousands of images by different photographers, taken on different days, in different weather and lighting conditions, from all points of view. Already this user generated content is being shown in Google Maps in conjunction with Street View.

Golden Gate Bridge from Google Maps

Golden Gate Bridge from Google Maps

Another sample of images of Paris in Street View is at SearchEngineWatch.

Where is this headed? By being able to automatically recognize any image or video clip of a world landmark just from visual information Google can create a worldwide database to support tour guide.

“This engine is not only to visually recognize the presence of certain landmarks in an image, but also contributes to a worldwide landmark database that organizes and indexes landmarks, in terms of geographical locations, popularities, cultural values and social functions, etc. Such an earth-scale landmark recognition engine is tremendously useful for many vision and multimedia applications. First, by capturing the visual characteristics of landmarks, the engine can provide clean landmark images for building virtual tourism of a large number of landmarks. Second, by recognizing landmarks, the engine can facilitate both content understanding and geo-location detection of images and videos. Third, by geographically organizing landmarks, the engine can facilitate an intuitive geographic exploration and navigation of landmarks in a local area, so as to provide tour guide recommendation and visualization.”

Other similar work is being done at the University of Washington by the team that helped develop Microsoft’s Photosynth. Their newest project, Finding Paths through the World’s Photos focuses on navigating paths through landmarks, so that the user can get a continuous view amalgamated from a mosaic of millions of images with smooth transitions from point to point.

All this promises end users a rich visual experience of the landmarks of the world.

But where does it leave classical travel photography, the millions of carefully crafted images by professional photographers?

More on that in the next post.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

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3 David Sanger October 30, 2009 at 9:39 am

Well i t hasn't taken long. Fodors is now corwdsourcing via a Show Us Your Australia contest. hey get an operator to provide two trips to Australia for the winner, and in return get to use all images submitted in all their books and products for the price of a free book.

LICENSE AND WARRANTIES: By entering this contest, entrants grant to sponsor and its licensees and assigns, a royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide right to copy, crop, edit, publish, display, distribute, sublicense or otherwise use their photographs for the full term of copyright thereof, in connection with the publication or display of sponsor's travel-related content, in all languages and all media, whether now known or hereinafter devised, including without limitation on the Internet, on mobile platforms and/or devices and on the cover or in the interior of sponsor's travel guides, and in the advertising, publicity and promotion thereof. (rules)

Not so good for pros but it is the trend.


4 Paris Hotels October 30, 2009 at 8:51 am

A very great idea again done by google. Google always have new features and good ideas. that is why i really love them. This feature will be like by most like their google earth, the new features in their gmails and more.. More power Google!


5 David Sanger September 19, 2009 at 4:42 pm

These to my mind are just prototypes of one direction where imagery technology is headed, crude mockups if you like of what will eventually be much slicker means of presentation. User-driven guide sites like will encroach upon professionally developed sites like

A good writeup on this process of market disruption is Josh Kopelman on Shrink a Market! and th e follow-on piece “a href=””>Shrink a Market 2.0.


6 jimpickerell September 18, 2009 at 8:23 am

Hi David:

I don't see the practicality of these techniques. Sure there is the “Gee Whiz” factor and “They can really do that!”, but I don't see any practical application of why anyone would care. I can't see a tourist looking at such a demonstration to learn more about a site or decide whether it is some place they want to visit. A single still from any angle will do the job better and a video of the location is much better than seeing this mixture of stills from all different lights and angles. I can't see a tourist using such a presentation to decide what angle to take a picture when they get there and of course the lighting and the tourists blocking their view will be different when they get there.

These seem more examples of technologists producing something because they can without any idea of what the application might be. Please let me know if you see an application I don't.

Jim Pickerell


7 Len Wilcox September 17, 2009 at 4:41 am

David – thanks for your thought-provoking and insightful posts on the current state of affairs with travel and stock photography. It's a scary world out there, and getting worse. Understanding the market is the first step in figuring out how to deal with all these changes.


8 Lee Foster September 1, 2009 at 11:08 am

Very thoughtful and profound analysis of where visual presentation in our times is going.
Many implications for the traveling public and the travel content providers, such as myself, who want to make a living presenting travel photos.
Lee Foster


9 Lee Foster September 1, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Very thoughtful and profound analysis of where visual presentation in our times is going.
Many implications for the traveling public and the travel content providers, such as myself, who wants to make a living presenting travel photos.
Lee Foster


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