A decade ago, Jim Bumgardner discovered that a composite photo averaging any number of any images on Flickr always yields the same color: orange. Bumgardner offered a few theories why what he termed Emergent Orange exists on his blog, Krazy Dad, including:
- Colors blue and green do not occupy large areas of most photographs (pictures of sky and greenery aren’t that exciting, are they?), hence the red shift.
- Cameras today are calibrated toward warmer colors.
- Photos in artificial light or using flash lean spectrally toward yellows and whites.
- The sun is a hot yellow star, so daytime photos lean toward its color.
- People like to photograph Buddhist monks whose robes are orange.
More recently Bumgardner suggested that the photos reflected “the average chemical composition of the subjects being photographed.” Others have proposed their own theories, each reflecting their professional biases.
Do Sunset Photos Cause Emergent Orange?
As I read The Atlantic article about Bumgardner’s discovery, I thought the explanation was a no-brainer: the phenomenon was caused by the pervasiveness of sunset pictures, whose color profile, of course, leans toward yellows, reds, and oranges (sunrises are similar, if a bit colder in that regard, but they are photographed much more rarely). Perhaps this idea reflects my own bias: as a traveler I have taken a few photos of sunsets myself and seen a fair share of sunset pics on blogs and social media. Not even jumping photos come close to the popularity of sunset photos (332 million search results as I write this).