• December 25, 2014

Pictures We Love: Celebrating Life, From Start to Finish

Proof Staff

At National Geographic, photography is what holds our stories together and what makes them shine. It’s what we do the best and love the most. Our photo editors work with thousands of images every year (if not every day) and so we asked each of them—editors from National Geographic Magazine, News, Traveler, Your Shot, and Proof—to share one picture that stood out for them in 2014. We didn’t ask them to talk about the “best” photo, but the one that resonated with them the most. Over the coming days, we’ll bring you their personal reflections and share the heart of what we’ve been up to this year.

Four-year-old Andy Anderson helps his parents with a cow who is having trouble birthing a calf.
Four-year-old Andy Anderson helps his parents with a cow who is having trouble birthing a calf.
Growing Up in Big Sky Country
Photograph by Ami Vitale
Nicole Werbeck, Senior Photo Editor, News

As I considered all the images that ran in National Geographic magazine and online, I kept coming back to this one.

I was working on a story with Ami Vitale about the effects of the oil boom in Bakken, Montana. My colleague Alexa Keefe and I were discussing ideas with her, when she mentioned that she had been working on a story near her home about ranch kids in Montana.

There are so many elements that drew me into this image. The light of the midnight sky, the excitement on Andy Anderson’s face, and the looks exchanged between him and his father. It reminds me of a photo I have of my grandfather being pulled in a wagon by his goat around 1920.

It’s one of those images that no matter how many times you come back to it, you just have to smile.

Preparations for the Christmas day Kolyadki are taking place in the home of 72-year-old Babushka Katya Alekseyevna Panchenya. She is a mainstay of local traditions in her village.
Preparations for the Christmas day Kolyadki are taking place in the home of 72-year-old Babushka Katya Alekseyevna Panchenya. She is a mainstay of local traditions in her village.
Photograph by Jonas Bendiksen
Elizabeth Krist, Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

Here is a picture you have never seen; until now, almost no one has. Shot by Jonas Bendiksen in Belarus for a story in our food series, the image was never published. Every year there are countless frames that never make it to page or screen, and among them always a few beloved castaways I mourn, stranded before they ever leave the editing room.

Here I see a moment of rest, after all the preparation, the long hours of shopping and cooking—that millisecond of quiet readiness before welcome visitors burst through the door and invade the house to share in the plenty. We’re overwhelmed by the abundance of life, from the table laden with sustenance for the body, to the lush jungle of plants exhaling oxygen, to the imagery and icons that nourish the spirit. All waiting, surrounding the oblivious napper who has escaped the kitchen.

As one who never cooks, I identify. For me, editing a story is like finding the most delicious morsels from the feast. I’d much rather eat than cook.

''Unfortunately, I had to make a new photo about my grandparents... ''
“Unfortunately, I had to make a new photo about my grandparents…”
Photograph by Sarvady Matyas, National Geographic Your Shot
Jeanne Modderman, Photography Producer, Your Shot

This is one of those rare photos where I don’t need to read the caption. I know the story. It’s clear to me as my eyes move across the frame from the scattered petals to the empty shoes. Some critics might say it’s too simple or too set-up and there’s no mystery left to the frame, but there’s also great power in its ability to connect with almost instantly. What captivated me was photographer Sarvady Matyas’s ability to create an image with so much emotion and depth, but with so few elements. It also wasn’t the typical widow photo that we see so often, where the grieving sits with a photo of their loved one in their hands and while its sad and beautiful, you can’t keep it up for too long as the sadness usually overtakes the beauty; before long you’ve moved on.

This photo will stay with me. It will stay with me because it’s whimsical and unpredictable and beautiful in its own way. It will stay with me because I want to remember how this photographer chose to express his own feeling of loss and decided he would take a “new photo of his grandparents.” It will stay with me because it embraces the visual power of the photograph and its ability to create memory. And it will stay with me because it reminds me that life is meant to be lived in the company of others.

Performers show off a traditional sword dance at Tbilisi Restaurant Phaetoni.
Performers show off a traditional sword dance at Tbilisi Restaurant Phaetoni.
A Toast to Georgia
Photograph by Massimo Bassano
Carol Enquist, Senior Photo Editor, Traveler

A favorite photo of mine was taken by Italian photographer Massimo Bassano in Tbilisi, the capital of the Republic of Georgia. He had recently arrived in the city to begin an assignment for Traveler magazine when he decided to check out Phaetoni, a restaurant popular with locals. That evening it was packed with people celebrating a birthday and, as is traditional in Georgia, the congratulatory toasts accompanied by red wine were plentiful. Suddenly two men dressed in vivid red tunics began to perform a traditional folk dance. Wheeling rapidly and twirling swords even more quickly, the dancers moved into the center of the restaurant. As Massimo explained “I jumped onto a nearby stage to get as close as possible to the action, kneeling down to avoid the swords whirling over my head.”

I like this photo for many reasons…the painting and Cyrillic writing on the wall as well as the colorful costumes gives the viewer a sense of place. The photo is nicely composed to include a table of guests and flickering lights and candles. Most importantly, though, his decision to get in close to the action and shoot from a low angle at a slow shutter speed conveys a sense of the dancers’ movements and adds to the drama of the scene. Massimo later told me that it was a little scary being so close to those swords flying around, but he got a baptism in authentic Georgian culture, the photo he was hoping for, and a great beginning to his assignment.

Descendents of Augustin Metoyer visit a grave at Saint Augustine Catholic Church of Ile Brevelle in Louisiana.
Descendents of Augustin Metoyer visit a grave at Saint Augustine Catholic Church of Ile Brevelle in Louisiana.
Louisiana Three Ways, Creole Country,” October 2014
Photograph by Kris Davidson
Dan Westergren, Director of Photography, Traveler

For a story in the October issue of Traveler magazine titled “The Weirdest Country in America,” Kris Davidson traveled to the heart of Louisiana’s Creole country. In that part of the state “Creole” is a term used to describe a person whose descendants are a mix of French and Spanish settlers, Africans, and Native Americans.

Isle Brevelle, Louisiana is a quiet place. Kris was hoping that by attending Cane River patriarch Augustin Metoyer’s birthday celebration, she could get a picture containing the personality of the “Cane River Creole.” Looking through her photos of the event, I started to feel the pain she must have felt. I couldn’t imagine what kind of picture she would get at this church basement potluck. True, this church that has been standing since the 1800s, but the look of the place is best described by the word “ordinary.”

Then, as Kris took me out of the church through her pictures, I could see the situation turning around. Here was the great afternoon light. And the graves. Finally, the moment when Betty Metoyer Roque and her husband Charles Roque stopped at their great, great, great grandfather’s grave. Charles tipped his hat, then past and present collided.

Browse more of our favorite images from 2014 in these related “Pictures We Love” posts:

There are 55 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Dr. Ike
    February 5, 2015

    I love those pictures of nature, animal communities, underwater life, and physical feature that I could never visit even if I had the money

  2. Lucino Cali Soriano
    January 30, 2015

    The world’s best photographs are found on every copy (or online page) of the National Geographic. Aside from their remarkable technical quality, the pictures elicit diverse emotions – from happiness or its opposite, wonder, etc. and move those who have seen them to think and thank God for this awe-inspiring Earth. Some pictures also make us realize the importance of peace and solidarity, for this world to be safe to live for every one.

  3. Lino C. Soriano
    January 30, 2015

    Each picture tells a story. Some on how important life is, other pictures inspire, make us laugh, giggle or wonder, or help us to realize the primordial importance of solidarity and peace in every part of the world. Here in the Philippines, a gunless society – for people who are not in uniform – will forever be a dream!

  4. osaremen
    January 14, 2015

    It depicts beauty in all of its totality…I hope to become an awesome photographer someday and yeah just a lil envy…lol

  5. Dr.J.Dusan Belacik
    January 14, 2015

    UNITY IN DIVERSITY-All is natural ,normal and real ,weather we like it ,or not .

  6. Elitsa Trayanova
    January 13, 2015

    Thank You for the amazing pictures. You satisfy all my curiosity about the world and nature. And get an idea of how interesting, varied and unusual may be our planet. I am Your fan. You are great!

  7. jasha
    January 13, 2015

    Discovering the extra-ordinary in the ordinary, the unmistakable NG hallmark in all the photos.

  8. Carlos Rueda
    January 12, 2015


  9. Tiberman Sajiwan Ramyead
    January 12, 2015

    Growing Up in Big Sky Country – by Ami Vitale – this shot charges me with emotion! I have a grandson around the same age and I take shots of him nearly every day. This is an award-winning category shot.
    Warm Regards from Mauritius.

  10. Connie Swanson
    January 12, 2015

    We as a nation are so blessed to have Nat Geo photographers doing what they do best!!! Bless each and every one of you!!! Your pictures are fabulous!!!

    • Tiberman Sajiwan Ramyead
      January 12, 2015

      Connie Swanson – I am sure you mean ‘We as nations…’. My fascination for Nat Geo and its photographs started during my college days; they haunted me later on at University; they still do. I am 72. I still buy the magazine off and on, out here in Mauritius.

  11. s.v.ramana murthy
    January 12, 2015

    extraordinary and splendid indeed. Grand parents photo is very special.

  12. PLGomes
    January 12, 2015

    I m a novice photographer of Ti Plants in Hawaii (a hobby) so to learn and understand y other photographers do what they do helps me to better understand myself, thank you.

  13. Ralph Davis
    January 11, 2015

    As the father of a son, i can relate to the “… Big Sky Country” picture. The expression on the little boy’s face as he might be experiencing something for the first time, and the connection between he and his father, priceless.

  14. Harriet Novakovich
    January 11, 2015

    For me the pictures evoked the emotions of joy, love, sadness. Life! Thank you.

  15. Irma
    January 11, 2015

    The grandparents, very poignant,very sad. Very happy little boy helping his dad on the farm.

  16. Judy Rose
    January 11, 2015

    Wonderful, evocative pix. The Christmas Day preparations was my favourite!

  17. Jackie
    January 11, 2015

    Who would ask their grandmother to lie down in the dirt to create what the photographer would call an artistic picture?

  18. burton katz
    January 11, 2015

    the grandmother’s consent to pose for this pic. illuminates the existence of great love and affection for each other

  19. Jackie Helms
    January 11, 2015

    Great pictures. Best was the picture
    Of grandparents.

  20. Olivia Statom
    January 11, 2015

    Really like the pictures

  21. Harry Mertin
    January 11, 2015

    It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. The captions included, a few words only, made the pictures a thousand times better. How very special. Thank you for the great feelings.

  22. J. J.
    January 11, 2015

    The lighting on the boy in “Big Sky” is excellent. The one of the dancer gives a great sense of motion, wish the one in the cemetery wasn’t quite so washed out particularly the sky.

  23. Richard N. Bailey
    January 11, 2015

    Touching, inspiring, beautiful…and a little envy!

  24. Verna Browning
    January 11, 2015

    lovely, spectacular, awesome, and any other adjectives that demonstrate approval

  25. Paul
    January 11, 2015

    Too bad there wasn’t a copy editor available for the txt blocks.

  26. Oxyman
    January 11, 2015

    I need to start adding my pics.

  27. Mary Ann
    January 11, 2015

    The heavy equipment vehicle tracks above the grandparents looks like a skull, all the more drama to add to the scene. Heartbreaking.

  28. Iva Parker
    January 11, 2015

    I love when you share these photos. They are always interesting.

  29. Donald Ackermann
    January 11, 2015

    To me it portrays love and how we are connected with those we love not just in body but in soul.

  30. Rajkumar Oberoi
    January 11, 2015

    Admire selected choices of expirts. All are worth viewing repeatedly.

  31. Nancy
    January 11, 2015

    My favorite is the preparation for Christmas dinner. The photo is brimming over visually, and that makes you almost be able to smell the food, almost be able to see the dinner guests crammed around the table and hear their many conversations swirling, moving in waves from one end of the table to the other, the laughter. The sounds I imagine spring from the raucousness of the sights I see. To me this photo represents a thirst for Life and a desire to drink it all in at once.

  32. kristine
    January 11, 2015

    I also kept being pulled back to the “Grandparents”. …the tracks ending at placement of Grandparents; a road traveled together…Great picture!

  33. mike johnson
    January 11, 2015

    Sherry Brukbacher and I see war and it’s atrocities differently.

  34. Jaleh Sahandy
    January 11, 2015

    Fantastic pictures

  35. Claudia Eastman
    January 11, 2015

    Intriguing images. Inspires my work.

  36. Ann Braun
    January 11, 2015

    Love the Georgian one by Massimo, here’s a kindred image: http://skyriani.aminus3.com/image/2011-01-30.html

  37. Jenn Mok
    January 11, 2015

    The grandparents photo really touched me – very poignant

  38. Louise
    January 11, 2015

    That first photo of preparations for Christmas Day says it all.
    Prepare for the “maker of heaven and earth and all things visible and invisible”.
    A little rest is good.

  39. Becki Rella
    January 11, 2015

    I currently live in NC and my passion is behind the lends. I am looking to get a job as either s photographer or working in a shop dealing with photography. Does anyone know of anything available full time?

  40. mike hays
    January 11, 2015

    Each one in its own was great

  41. Richard A. Freeman
    January 11, 2015

    If these are the photos that resonated the most among the editors of NatGeo, out of the thousands of photos that they see every year, it makes me wonder how NG chooses its photo editors. While beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, great photography is an amalgamation of light, composition, subject, the decisive moment, artistry, and technical mastery. These photos are rather prosaic compared to many that appear in NatGeo publications. I’m underwhelmed at the selection.

  42. Patrick May
    December 29, 2014

    Looking at these photos just inspires me to try harder and to have more insight into what I shoot.

  43. Ronell Spera
    December 29, 2014

    awesome … especially the Grandparents. Thank you Nat Geo, excellent, as always ………

  44. Gary
    December 28, 2014

    enjoyed the commentary specific to the photograph; it seems more personal than the articles (not saying I don’t like the articles, because I love them, too).

  45. cindy de goede
    December 28, 2014

    Beautiful pictures! The grandparents picture is amazing! It touched me….

  46. Corinne
    December 28, 2014

    Grandparents expresses, to me, the loss, the longing and the emptiness of it all in such a profound manner where words cannot express..
    Your flesh is interned with the soil and I am with you. Your soul soars without limit and I am with you.

  47. Jeremy Ruman
    December 28, 2014

    National Geographic never disappoints. Wonderful pictures – especially the “grandparents”…thanks for sharing.

  48. Nandini
    December 28, 2014


  49. Barış Yalçın
    December 28, 2014

    I was very impressed all of them, but much more from photograph by Sarvady Matyas about Grandparents, Thanks for your all..

  50. Jazzy
    December 28, 2014

    just lovely

  51. fran
    December 27, 2014

    My favorite was the grandparents. .I just lost my love and that picture says it all..I love it…♡

  52. Jacklin Dugan
    December 27, 2014

    N G is fantastic!

  53. asyraf bakti
    December 27, 2014


  54. sunitsa
    December 26, 2014


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