Shutterstock’s Most Viral Photos of 2016

Social media is built on images, from culture-coded memes to 24-hour selfies to meticulously curated lifestyle photos. Images can transcend words and cross borders, and their place in the digital world is always growing. Social posts containing images get 650 percent higher engagement than text-only posts, and that engagement is only expected to grow; experts predict that 84% of communication will be visual by 2018.

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At Shutterstock our business is imagery, so we pay close attention to the photos that get the most attention. Every year, we round up our most popular social media posts – the most liked Instagram images, and the Facebook photos with the highest share rates – to identify what visual trends are emerging on social media.

This year nature ruled supreme. Haunting images of extreme weather events, from twisters to tsunamis, remind us that nature is beautiful for the very reason it is dangerous – it is out of our control. On the flip side were images of humans contemplating nature, seeking perspective in something greater than ourselves.

There were also trends on the color spectrum. While moody silhouettes were popular, it was the splashes of warm color that stood out in these photos. Think blazing sunsets, beaming lamp posts, and autumn leaves. White also played a starring role, with whole photos awash in a stark and stunning muted palette – the ultimate homage to minimalism.

Below are 16 of our most liked and shared images from the past year. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram to see how these trends unfold in 2017.

Image by EmiliaUngur

Image by jo Crebbin

Image by Giedriusok

Image by Michal Bellan

Image by Creative Travel Projects

Image by Banana Republic images

Image by andreiuc88

Image by Gardar Olafsson

Image by Masson

Image by BT Image

Image by Robsonphoto

Image by Zacarias Pereira da Mata

Image by kapyos

Image by solarseven

Image by Vitalii Bashkatov

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This article and image was adapted from

By Eleanor Innis

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