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Pictures We Love: Elements of Surprise

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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.

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.

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Rain Forest for Sale, January 2013

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.

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Now You See It, October 2013.

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.

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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.

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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.

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