You don’t often read the word “instagrammable” in a scientific paper.
But a recently published study that asked “what makes a great bird photo?” has officially named the frogmouth, which was once designated “the world’s most unfortunate-looking bird”, the most instagrammable of avians.
The result surprised the scientists themselves, but it has also revealed some of the secrets to attracting “likes”, but only if you’re an animal.
“It just does not look like any other bird, with its almost anthropomorphic facial features,” said lead researcher Katja Thommes, a photographer as well as a psychologist from the University of Konstanz in Germany. “And frogmouths are quite rare. Even in our 20,000-image database, it featured only 65 times. I believe the ornithologist community celebrates every sighting of this bird with tons of likes.”
What makes a good photo?
She used the photo-sharing platform to investigate what makes a good photo by ranking bird species based on the number of likes that images of the species received. “It’s the perfect field of investigation as it is a place where countless active users from all over the globe interact with an enormous amount of visual content,” she said.
Dr Thommes and her colleagues found that decorative plumage (feathers) helped a bird’s ranking. “The emerald turaco and the hoopoe, both with crown-like head feathers, scored highly,” they wrote in their paper in the psychology journal i-Perception.
Blue plumage is also “most aesthetically appealing by far” something that is line with other studies that have examined what tempts us to engage with tourism images. Think of all those pictures of pristine beaches, blue skies and sparkling seas.
Seabirds though, at least in this study, appear to be far less appealing. The sandpiper and the oystercatcher joined storks and vultures on what the researchers called the “not-so-pretty birds” end of the list.
Graeme Purdy, who recently took second place in the prestigious Sony World Photography Awards, says he tries to use the platform to engage people with images that he values. “On Instagram, people generally love big cats and elephants, but if I post what I think is an amazing photo of a mongoose, it’ll get no likes. So great images and popular images, those two aren’t 100 percent correlated.”
While the most popular wildlife photographer on the platform has 6.9 million followers, an extremely fluffy (and very well-dressed) Pomeranian dog called Jiffpom has more than 10 million.