A new research project is using visualization techniques to tell us more about the world using our Instagram uploads. Phototrails explores the "visual patterns, dynamics, and structures" of over 2 million images shared on the popular photo-sharing service, helping researchers map the behavior of people in 13 cities across the globe.

You can see the exact moment Hurricane Sandy took out power in New York

Researchers were able to identify the differences between users in Tel Aviv when they monitored Instagram uploads on three different national holidays. While many Israeli users were happy to share photos from a national ceremony on Soldiers Memorial Day (a day when TV stations go mostly dark and places of public entertainment are legally closed), attendees at an alternative, more left-wing, event were not — highlighting the cultural magnitude and sensitive nature of the day. Photos taken in New York during Hurricane Sandy were also sampled and showed that the number of photos and breadth of colors dramatically decreased as the power in the city went out — displaying a clear line before and after the city plunged into darkness.

The visualization techniques rely on numerous visual attributes including hue, brightness and line orientation. Bangkok was found to be the most visually unique city, while at least 68 percent of all photos sampled had a filter applied. According to FastCoCreate, researchers will now shift their focus to Facebook, using their computational software to see if any behavioural patterns emerge. The project provides food for thought; the next time you stop to snap a photo — particularly on a national holiday — how many others are doing the same and how similar are their images?