• January 3, 2014

Pictures We Love: Elements of Surprise

Alexa Keefe

National Geographic’s Proof blog invited the photography and design teams of National Geographic magazine to look back through the hundreds of photographs from the over 75 stories published in 2013 and select one photo that spoke to their heart, intrigued them, inspired awe, made them smile—in short, to choose their favorite photo from this past year. Over the next several days we’ll bring you a round-up of the breathtaking, the touching, the extraordinary, the imperfect, and the beautiful.

Armed with spear, shotgun, and machete, Minihua Huani (at left) and Omayuhue Baihua search for animals near the Waorani community of Boanamo. Villagers are allowed to hunt in the park, their ancestral territory. Many still do, to provide food for their families.
Rain Forest for Sale, January 2013
Sadie Quarrier, Senior Photo Editor

One of the most memorable stories I worked on this year was Yasuní National Park (“Rain Forest for Sale”). It was a special story because we conducted a photo blitz, sending five photographers for one month to document every aspect of this Ecuadorian park, from threatened species and isolated tribes to oil drilling and deforestation. They delivered a wealth of visual riches.

Photographers Ivan Kashinsky and Karla Gachet worked together to cover the Waorani people, immersing themselves in the daily lives of the tribe and documenting the impact oil companies have had on their culture.

This image of Waorani hunters by Ivan stays with me. I love its rawness—both how it was shot and what it portrays. It speaks to the purity of the people, still hunting for food and relatively untouched by the modern world and possessions. The image transports me to another time.

Ivan breaks the rules by putting a person in the middle of the frame and by cutting off half a body. Yet with the angled gun and machete in the foreground, and the hunter in the background giving dimension, the image is arresting.

Morning light shines on a worker and a goldfish tank at the Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang.
Now You See It, October 2013.


Janna Dotschkal, Assistant Photo Editor, Digital

This picture is really striking to me because of the beautiful window light and the woman’s expression. I’m drawn to pictures that inspire more questions, and this photo really accomplishes that well. Who is this woman? How does she feel about her life? The odd bareness of the fish tank reminds you of where she is: North Korea.

A manhole-size disk, customized for each of the telescope’s viewing angles, is perforated with a thousand tiny holes corresponding to the locations of previously identified galaxies.
Next: Dark Energy, January 2013
Jeanne Modderman, Photo Editor

What I love about this photo is that it exceeded anything I could have imagined. I am often tasked with making the non-visual visual. How was I going to illustrate a story about measuring an invisible quantity like dark energy? Staff photographer Mark Thiessen took this flat, dull metal disk and transformed it into a stunning object. His vision and technical skill made it intriguing and mysterious.

This is what is so exciting about photography. With most everything already photographed, you can still see objects in new, provocative ways. Whether you’re interested in space or not, this compelling image encourages you to read the story and hopefully learn something you didn’t know before.

After prying this blackcap from a lime stick, the songbird’s rescuer uses his saliva to remove sticky plum tree sap from its feathers and feet so that it can safely fly when released.
Last Song for Migrating Birds, July 2013
Jenny Trucano, Budget Manager

When David Guttenfelder showed us the pictures he shot for “Last Song for Migrating Birds,” a story about how poachers coat tree branches with glue to trap migrating songbirds, I was horrified.

Who would want to eat a sweet little oriole? And how could there possibly be enough meat to make the effort worthwhile? It would be one thing if people need the birds to subsist, but that’s mostly not the case­­. These birds are considered delicacies that people pay a lot of money for.

So when David projected this image of a man with the wing of a blackcap in his lips, I braced myself for a gruesome story about how the man ate the bird live. Instead, David told us, the man was actually a conservationist sucking the sticky sap from the wings of a bird that had been stuck in a glue trap.

What at first glance looks like a moment of imminent violence and tragedy is actually a moment of incredible tenderness and hope. As with so many things, there is more than meets the eye in this picture.

View these photographs and more in our interactive Year in Review.

There are 34 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. swati giri
    May 10, 2014

    its amazing to read these stories …!!! its shows us all new perspective of nature and life as well .

  2. swati giri
    May 10, 2014

    its amazing to read these stories …!!!

  3. Rose Ayap
    January 23, 2014

    These pictures tells us a beautiful story, story that touches our hearts and move us into action. So sad that some would tell that we can’t do nothing. I think every positive action we do to protect nature and it’s inhabitants no matter how small will have it’s ripple effect. Thank you for sharing these “talking photographs” .

  4. Adventurer’s Supply Store
    January 22, 2014

    Such a great story. Enlightening at times and sad at moments. Fantastic photography

  5. Sharon
    January 21, 2014

    Awesome images. Wonderful way to learn about the world.

  6. Nadine
    January 20, 2014

    Absolutely awesome as usual. I wish more people would look at Nat Geo! They might understand and appreciate our wonderful planet and some of the interesting secrets it holds!

  7. Ann
    January 19, 2014

    Beautiful! This inspires faith in humanity.

  8. Alexandra
    January 18, 2014


  9. Diane Barnes
    January 12, 2014

    A tender moment!

  10. jeff carlson
    January 11, 2014

    I enjoy photographing unexpected happenings.I was out for a bike ride one day last year ,I stopped to rest on a trail layed the bike down to my surprise, a blueish purple butterfly landed on my bike axle as if also wanting to rest it stayed there awhile ,I decided to photograph it ,it finally flew away when I picked the bike up to leave.

  11. Angelica Granda
    January 10, 2014

    Mi piacciono molto le foto ed i documentari che ci fatte vedere ogni giorno.Vi ringrazio.

  12. Sarah
    January 7, 2014

    Those men really need to put on some leaves.

  13. Francisco Jose Silva
    January 6, 2014

    Sem dúvida as fotos são registros incríveis e de grande relevância !

  14. Karen Farrell
    January 6, 2014

    This is a truly great photo in that not only is it artfully crafted with brilliant focus, color and subjects, but also asks so many questions, creates so many different possible reactions and is equally satisfying when you get the “real” reason the photo was snapped.

  15. Barbara Reish
    January 6, 2014

    The article on trapping songbirds gives me more reason to do what I can to help birds in Missouri. I was horrified that this is happening in Europe/North Africa.

  16. Christiaan
    January 6, 2014

    Wonderful a moment money cant buy

    January 6, 2014

    Words : Haim Hefer
    There is another song performance

    If I were a bird
    Glider cloud
    If I were a bird
    Glider cloud

    Retire Wings
    Ali Land and Water
    And assigns sky
    Aviac here

    And all because of love, love
    And all because of love, love
    And all because of love, love
    And all because of love, love
    Aviac here

    It was like a deer
    Cattails distances
    It was like a deer
    Cattails distances

    Mountains of Moon
    Meadows and forest thickets
    And afraid to speak
    Aviac here

    And all because of love …

    If I were a whale
    Fathoms diver
    If I were a whale
    Fathoms diver

    Time Saar wash it
    An ocean beach that has
    So from the bottom end has not
    Aviac here

    And all because of love …

    But I am a simple soldier
    The writer you Lyrics
    But I am a simple soldier
    The writer you Lyrics

    Ahrose you wings
    Veld and sea water
    Thus one and two
    Aviac here

    And all because of love …

  18. Yvonne van Schooten
    January 6, 2014

    This image is a gentle reminder of how dedicated we can be to saving the smallest creature. It is heart warming and sensitive.

  19. meenakshi
    January 5, 2014

    love the picture of the little bird in hands of this kind-hearted conservationist.

  20. Tammera
    January 5, 2014

    I didn’t see it as violent in any way, when i first saw this. I got the feeling of tenderness (for whatever the reason).. Beautiful photo, thanks.

  21. melisa
    January 5, 2014

    I think humans are a heartless species. .who eats little birds? The same people who like little kids thats who. ..terrible but what can we do to stop it? Nothing.

  22. joan
    January 5, 2014

    kindness goes a long way. Very touching.

  23. Marco
    January 5, 2014

    La nature joue des tours à toute créature. La solidarité des hommes est encore de ce monde. Bravo

  24. cherie
    January 5, 2014

    Thank you NG for another fabulous year of photos. Each one gives me more hope for the survival of humanity and the earth… that we will survive if we persevere. I bow to you in gratitude.

  25. Kristine
    January 5, 2014

    I didn’t think the man was going to eat the song bird. The image to me was not violent but one of compassion. His lips are set in a caring fashion.

  26. Robert H. St. Julian
    January 4, 2014

    I love that — you took the time & wrote & posted these wonderful gifts for us…<3 Robert

  27. yulia
    January 4, 2014


  28. Tamer
    January 4, 2014


  29. Elizabeth. Kelly
    January 3, 2014

    Very imformative. Have enjoyed articles and the superb photography for practically my whole life.
    Impeccable and noble journalism.

  30. Hirani
    January 3, 2014

    I felt sorry after reading the Migrating Birds story and also the ‘ rain forest for sale’ story.

  31. harun
    January 3, 2014


  32. ram
    January 3, 2014

    wonderful pictures

  33. Saeed
    January 3, 2014

    i like this

  34. Sailaja
    January 3, 2014

    Thank you for highlighting these pictures. This really gives all a new perspective towards photographing in a great way

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