PRESS RELEASE: New Eyetrack Research: Study commissioned by NPPA explores what makes a photograph memorable, shareable, and worth publishing

Monday, January 26, 2015

National Press Photographers Association

Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication

The University of Georgia at Athens

Athens, GA, USA    



New Eyetrack Research: Study commissioned by NPPA explores what makes a photograph memorable, shareable, and worth publishing


ATHENS, GA (January 27, 2015) – A study released today by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) offers insight into what makes a photograph worth publishing in an age when images are shared in an instant, around the world.

In a statistically significant study, 52 people were interviewed by Sara Quinn and David Stanton, researchers who conducted major eye tracking projects on news consumption at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies. NPPA commissioned the research project and retained Quinn and Stanton to develop and implement the research methodology.

The study on photojournalism is the first of its kind.

Quality matters, according to people in the survey who rated as many as 200 photographs on a scale of one to five for quality and “shareability.” 

“These details from extensive interviews begin to help us understand what people value in journalistic photography,” said Quinn. “It’s evident from the research that people — publication readers — prefer professionally-captured images over user-generated content.”

Study participants were able to tell whether a photograph was made by a professional or an amateur 90 percent of the time.

Eyetracking gear was also used to record and analyze what people looked at in a photograph, how long they looked, if they read captions, and more.

Combining eyetrack research with a survey in which people rated the quality of the photographs on a scale of 1 to 5 created powerful data. Subjects also rated their likelihood of sharing each image. They told the researchers which of the images were most memorable, and why; where and how they usually encounter photography and what characteristics make a photograph worth sharing and publishing.

Participants had the opportunity to view as many as 200 photographs and captions. Nearly 20,000 eye movements were annotated and studied.


Other headlines from the research:  

— Professional photographs were twice as likely as user-generated photographs to be shared, according to ratings given by people in the study.

— More time was spent, on average, with professionally generated photos than with published photographs submitted by the general public.

— Professional photojournalists took each of the 25 photographs rated highest from the collection of 200.

— The 20 most memorable photographs were also taken by professionals. Each was cited by at least four of the test subjects. One close exception was a user-generated photograph of a bulldog in a hoodie, cited by three people.

— The longer or better developed a caption, the more likely it was to receive attention. Most captions were read to completion, as people looked back and forth between caption and image, establishing context. 

Note: A survey of captions collected for the study over a three-month period clearly shows that user-generated captions are generally under developed.

— The importance of “storytelling” to photography was mentioned by nearly every subject in the exit interviews.


NPPA President Mark Dolan emphasized that in commissioning the study, NPPA had no assurance that the results would be favorable to the photojournalism profession. 

"NPPA honestly did not know what to expect," said Dolan. "We obviously were hopeful that research participants would have positive impressions, and were gratified to learn that those who were interviewed appreciated the value that high-quality images contribute to news publications and the publications' readers."

NPPA intends to present these and more, specific results and testing methodology to news organizations and universities to help make sense of digital sharing and determine the best forms for storytelling.

Full details about the study can be found online here.


For more information related to the Eyetracking Photojournalism, please contact:

Sara Quinn, Sara Quinn Media, (727) 366-0128, [email protected]

Charles W. L. (“Chip”) Deale, CAE, Executive Director, National Press Photographers Association, (434) 270-5483, [email protected]

The National Press Photographers Association, based at the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication in Athens, Georgia, is the leading voice advocating for the work of visual journalists today. Founded in the days of sheet film box cameras and newsreels, our organization fights for the working news photographer, videographer and multimedia journalist in the Internet age. NPPA’s Code of Ethics stands for the highest integrity in visual storytelling. Our Advocacy efforts put NPPA in the center of today’s thorniest issues of journalists’ rights to do their work — and to earn a living from their craft. NPPA’s ongoing education initiatives seek to equip our members and prepare the emerging generation of visual journalists in the face of an ever-changing media landscape. In light of these challenges, the work of NPPA has never been more vital than it is today. 



Sara Quinn 

A design and journalism consultant and researcher, Quinn is spending a year teaching at Ball State University. She is also an affiliate faculty member for The Poynter Institute where she taught full time for more than a decade. Before that, she spent nearly 20 years in newspaper newsrooms, including the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Florida and at her hometown paper, The Wichita Eagle in Kansas. She has a B.A. from Wichita State University and a master’s in illustration from Syracuse University. Quinn is the vice president for the Society for News Design. The large-scale research she has directed on newspaper, tablet and online reading habits has been presented in newsrooms and at universities around the world. Follow @saraquinn

Dave Stanton 

Stanton runs development teams building mobile projects with Mobiquity. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Florida using stochastic models to understand news-reading behavior and cognition. For Journalism is his passion project. Stanton talks about workflow, design, HCI and cats on Twitter. Follow @gotoplanb


The authors would like to thank Nora Paul, Dr. Albert Tims and the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communications for their ideas, support and for allowing us to conduct testing at their facility. 

We would love to talk with you in person about this important research on photojournalism. Join Kelly McBride of Poynter, Dave Stanton of Mobiquity and Sara Quinn at SXSW Interactive in March for a full presentation on this study. And watch for a webinar on Poynter’s News University.