Isn't it amazing how the "in" look of many web pages has changed suddenly in a year or so? In such a short time.
At least among the sites I generally see, an astoundingly great number of them have changed from a text-based design with images and many text links, to a heavily image, large-image, many-image based design, with the most important links being embedded and usually written on, images in the prime space.
I think it was the theVerge.com who pioneered it, although their images usually are a compromise between an actual photo and a colored background for the text, making them semi-abstract. (I think it's a good look, and good for them, it was not easy, I'm sure, to actually come up with a fresh design for home pages.)
When others took it over, they usually went with pure photos, I would guess simply because that abstracting thing is much harder to do right than one would think.
David Pogue's site tech.yahoo.com