What it’s like watching your photo go viral

By James Cook

Reddit’s Photoshop Battles subreddit likes to take interesting images and make them, well, even more interesting. Once a Photoshop battle breaks out over an image, suddenly the web is filled with modified versions of the original photograph. This is what it’s like to discover one of your photographic cast-offs has gone viral and become a canvas for the internet’s Photoshop masters.

“I wasn’t expecting to see much but took a telephoto lens just incase. We came across a juvenile male European kestrel perched on a rock but the majority of the group was getting the exact same shot! This motivated me to ‘split from the pack’ so I went off on a hike by myself. I soon saw the same kestrel hunting, hovering above some heath land for quite some time. I quickly switched around equipment and took out my telephoto lens. I initially was just capturing shots of the bird hunting/hovering which was ok but I really wanted to make some eye contact. I then made some loud noises and shouted ‘Oi’ to attract the kestrel’s attention and captured the series of shots of the bird hearing, turning its head and staring directly at me”

The image that went on to go viral. Photo credit: Ryan Lang

The image that went on to go viral. Photo credit: Ryan Lang

Ryan Lang is a 20-year-old Marine and Natural History Photography student at Falmouth University. Soon his photograph of a kestrel in mid-flight would be all over the internet.

“I was quite happy with the shot at first, but unfortunately it was slightly out of focus which meant that I couldn’t use it for any coursework at university. This led to the idea to stick it on Facebook and stupidly, I did everything that my professional practice tutor teaches us not to do; sticking a high resolution photo on social networking sites, with no watermark and no metadata.”

After posting his photo on Facebook, Lang forgot all about it. A month passed and someone on his university course contacted him to tell him that his photo was on joke sharing site 9GAG.

The 9GAG post that made Lang realise his photo had gone viral

The 9GAG post that made Lang realise his photo had gone viral

After seeing the 9GAG post, Lang searched on Google for his photograph and was amazed to see it all over the internet.

“The first site I looked at was Imgur which told me that the picture had just over 317,000 views. I couldn’t believe it. Mind blown. I checked it over the next couple of days and just on that site it increased to its peak of 322,354 views. I also found it on sites like Pinterest, I had no idea what that was but my house mate said it was a big deal.”

Lang's photo had arrived on Pinterest

Lang’s photo had arrived on Pinterest

After further digging, Lang discovered that his photograph had been posted on the Photoshop Battles subreddit, where internet users had merrily created their own modified versions.


So what did Lang think of the internet’s creative handiwork with his photograph?

“I didn’t mind that someone had made a meme out of it and that it spread across the net. I thought it was funny. A course mate posted a link to a site called Reddit, which again, the same house mate told me was a big deal. However, this was a link to something known as a Photoshop battle, which after searching through, I realised it was where people posted their edited versions of the same shot, my shot. I admit there were some funny ones but the 9/11 image was where I started to hate this whole thing. I didn’t see why it was funny or why someone would even think to edit what was originally a funny photo into something that brings anger and sadness to mind.”

The modified 9/11 photograph featuring Lang's kestrel

The modified 9/11 photograph featuring Lang’s kestrel

Despite seeing the kestrel he photographed Photoshopped into 9/11, Ryan Lang is happy with his photo being used as the scene of a Photoshop battle.

“It was a good but surprising experience. I do regret not putting a watermark on it. Even if they cropped it out, they would know who took it, but then, if I did, it probably wouldn’t have gone viral. At the end of the day, I’ve got a picture out there which has been very popular and I’m happy about that”