The best photos of a challenging time

This is part of our daily newsletter series. Want this in your inbox? Subscribe here.

By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences

Masks. Protests. Wonder.

All sprouted this spring as we picked the top Nat Geo photography of the quarter.

Sometimes they all combined, as when Jerry Lovett released this dove (above). Photographer Danny Wilcox Frazier captured the moment after the funeral service for Lovett’s brother in Detroit. Family members sought to transcend the tragedy of COVID-19, which struck down Chester Lovett, a father of 10, as it has disproportionately ravaged communities of color throughout the United States.

But there have been few geographic bounds for the coronavirus, as Jun Michael Park illustrates in his image (below) of a “walk-in” clinic in Seoul, South Korea.

View Images

A sneaky virus: South Korea worked aggressively to halt a coronavirus outbreak earlier this year, but even its highly praised effort couldn’t stop flare-ups. Testing areas in the nation are set up like phone booths (above) to prevent contact between patients and medical workers. Testing consists of nose and mouth swabs and collecting sputum, and takes less than a minute.

View Images

Listen to us! In a protest against police brutality in Washington, D.C., photographer Delphine Diallo traces the moment a protest speaker raises an arm upward. After the police killing of George Floyd and so many others, Philomena Wankenge told the crowd that taking away a part of the police budget would be a step toward better addressing problems for which the police have not done well protecting or serving the people. “Don’t underestimate the youth," Wankenge tells demonstrators at the Lincoln Memorial, ”because we are a force to be reckoned with."

View Images

After the deluge: On this night, a hard rain in Amarillo, Texas, enhanced the already dramatic display of classic cars at the Cadillac Ranch RV Park. Photographer David Guttenfelder shot this image on a coast-to-coast ride in an electric vehicle. Then he ended up traveling throughout the Midwest to trace rural COVID-19 consequences, and then to Minneapolis for the protests following the Floyd killing.

I encourage you to see our other top photographs, which include a launching SpaceX rocket and two emperor penguins journeying together on the vast edge of Antarctica. These images remind us that grace and wonder persist, even during the most challenging of times.

Do you get this newsletter daily? If not, sign up here or forward to a friend.

Today in a minute

Dress for survival: Photographers covering COVID-19 are learning new tricks, the Los Angeles Times reports. “I am wearing an N95 mask and nitrile gloves while standing across the street with a Canon 200-400mm lens,” writes photographer Gina Ferazzi of her assignment watching a transfer of patients from a compromised nursing home. “Prior to transmitting photos from my laptop in the car, I dispose of the gloves, wipe down my camera gear with disinfectant wipes, spray my shoes with disinfectant, remove my N95 and place it on my dash and clean my hands with sanitizer. I repeat these steps after shooting each time. When I get home at the end of the day, all my clothes go into a plastic bag and into the laundry. My shoes stay outside. And then I shower.”

With the sea lions: Over the years, photographer Benjamin Lowy and his family have spent serious time with the “dogs of the sea” on a tiny island off the Baja California coast. At the end of his New York Times photo essay with the playful mammals, Lowy fesses up: “I have yet to find a photographic subject that has brought me more peace and tranquillity,” he writes, “than swimming with the sea lions of Los Islotes.”

Last-minute photo inspiration: What drives photographers to cover the stories of our time? Nat Geo Explorers and photographers David Guttenfelder and Rosem Morten will be live on our You Tube channel today at 2 p.m. ET (and a recorded version will be at this same link afterward). Here’s how David covered the Floyd protests in Minneapolis and how Rosem covered COVID-19 from her Baltimore hospital.

Recognition, a century in coming: Like the brutal white mob massacres of African Americans in Chicago, Tulsa and elsewhere a century ago, few Americans had heard of the photographers who risked their lives to capture an ugly chapter in U.S. history. In Chicago, one of those people was photographer Jun Fujita, Block Club Chicago reports. The photographer not only captured one man beaten in the riots, he took the man to the hospital, where he died. Only then, says biographer Graham Lee, did Fujita rush back to the newspaper offices with film of the killing. Fujita’s work has been rediscovered, and in 2017, an exhibition was displayed. It was called Oblivion.

Your Instagram of the day

View Images

The world stopped, but the bees didn’t: That’s the mantra of Boby, a neighbor of photographer Luisa Dörr in the Atlantic Forest region of Bahia, Brazil. For the past two decades, Boby has been caring for several hives, and his intensive work prevents the hives from collapsing. “Beekeeping in this area was the perfect choice for him,” Luisa says. “He's able to be in contact with nature, self-employed, and surf whenever he feels like it.”

Are you among our 139 million Instagram followers? (Why not follow us now?)

The big takeaway

To the air: Photographer Stephen Wilkes used a helicopter to capture the startling stillness of New York City under lockdown. Left, an uncharacteristically uncrowded Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village on a spring day. On the right, the open sidewalks outside the usually bustling Flatiron neighborhood. The skinny triangular pioneering skyscraper is the Flatiron Building.

Subscriber exclusive: He took to the skies to show an ‘empty’ city

In a few words

Did a friend forward this to you?

On Mondays, Debra Adams Simmons covers the latest in history. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Victoria Jaggard on science, George Stone on travel, and Rachael Bale on animal and wildlife news.

The last glimpse

View Images

Stretching: Photographer Sisse Brimberg captured these ballet exercises in St. Petersburg, Russia. Sisse took this image while on assignment for a 1998 National Geographic article on Catherine the Great (who is suddenly popular again with a new streaming series about her life). “I love the perpendicular lines the bar and the dancer create,” Sara Manco, our senior digital archivist, says of the image. “Combined with the dancer’s flexibility and focused gaze, the tension is almost palpable.”

Subscriber exclusive: Here's how the idealistic, tough Catherine the Great tried to modernize Russia

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse selected the photographs. Have an idea or a link for us? We’d love to hear from you at . Thanks for reading, and have a good weekend!