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Pictures We Love: Eerie, Overlooked, and Unexpected

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''I was searching the waterfront piers when I spotted the edge of a floating wharf that had some interesting artwork provided by the tide.''

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 MagazineNational 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.

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Moussa Macher, a Tuareg guide, rests at the summit of Tin-Merzouga, the largest dune (or erg) in the Tadrat region of the Sahara desert in southern Algeria, while waiting for the group he is guiding to finish their climb to the top. Traveler Photo Contest 2014 Photograph by Evan Cole

Tyler Metcalfe, Associate Photography Producer, Travel

I find this image to be extremely enticing. Submitted to the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest, this photograph by Evan Cole stirs my curiosity and allows me to wonder. Is the subject experiencing complete exhaustion? Intense suffering? Or is he experiencing a dreamlike state of comfort? My eyes are drawn first to the subject in the foreground, and then to the landscape beyond, which arouses my desire to explore. I love the soft light falling across a landscape where hard rock and soft sand collide, and I feel invited to investigate this mysterious place.

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The house cricket, Acheta domesticus, loses its will—and its life—to the horsehair worm, Paragordius varius. “Mindsuckers,” November 2014 Photograph by Anand Varma; Ben Hanelt, University of New Mexico

I struggled to narrow my final vote this year, pulled emotionally towards my favorite images from stories that I edited (Sherpas, Franz Josef Land, China’s Karst, to name a few) and towards others that I had nothing to do with but that stick with me because of their power and perfection. But ultimately, I have to give the biggest nod to the brilliant Anand Varma who blew me away with his November cover story on Parasites. Through creative vision and lighting he has taken a highly challenging and, at least to the most of us, unappealing subject and made it dramatically sexy. How many photographers would have jumped at the chance to do a parasites story for us? Not many! But Anand proposed it and has made a series of pictures that are graphically strong, stylistically consistent, occasionally ominous, always surprising and completely inspired. He has elevated these creatures to pieces of art.

Mr. Cricket, with his strong silo and yellow worm “tail,” sitting in his silvery pool of water is my favorite. It’s a simple photograph, though I imagine not in the least bit simple to dramatically light or position. The surrounding droplets with their deep shadows and rim lighting and the black background are the perfect finishing touches. Mr. Cricket owns every inch of his two-page-spread. It’s not easy make surprising insect pictures, but Anand breaks new ground. So for that reason, I give this picture my vote.

[It’s worth noting that the stories behind each of these complex parasitic relationships are riveting and repelling all at once. And if you haven’t seen Anand’s related dubstep (or rather bugstep) video online it’s a must see.]

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A carnival dries after rain in Wills Point, Texas. “The Road to Wellville“ Photograph by Aaron Huey

Ben Fitch, Associate Photo Editor, Traveler

There are several elements to this photograph by Aaron Huey that make it especially interesting for me. The image, depicting a carnival along the Dixie Overland Highway in Wills Point, Texas, was made for a story in Travelerstory in Traveler about a writer retracing the route of a road trip made by his father and grandparents in the 1930s.

The setting itself is very nostalgic—the colorful carnival rides and the simple signage above the candy stands evoke a sense of timelessness and childhood wonder. Nothing in the frame particularly dates the image in a way that would reveal whether it was shot within the past year or even decade. The giant puddle dominating the lower half of the frame duplicates the vibrant colors of the top half, adding visual interest to what would otherwise be dead space in the composition.

Apart from the compositional element the puddle adds to the picture, the drying rain sets an almost melancholy tone to the scene that is especially fitting for the larger story. The Dixie Overland Highway, which in its prime was one of the most traveled roads for those crossing between the east and west coasts of the United States, now looks more barren, fraught with closed business and dilapidating motels. The moodiness of the rain illustrates that transition in an interesting way.

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As an editor for Your Shot, I look at 6,000 photos a day. I first saw this photo in early September and have thought about it ever since. When attempting to choose one of my favorite images of the million I’ve reviewed this year, I decided to not look through old edits or stories but to recall. Which images did I remember? Which images stayed with me?

It is a simple moment, something quiet and common. But the colors, the composition, the textures—they’ve been burned into my mind. Leaves and bubbles gracefully dance through the frame. Some days I see it as art, others a landscape. Sometimes I see it as otherworldly, a magnificent centerpiece being ushered along by an army of bubbles and two yellow body guards. It is an image I can live in over and over again.

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The wreckage of an Ilyushin-14T cargo plane testifies to hard times on Hayes Island, where an old Soviet weather-research outpost called Krenkel Station once harbored hundreds. A tiny crew staffs it now. “The Meaning of North,” August 2014 Photograph by Cory Richards

Elena Sheveiko, Photo Coordinator, National Geographic Magazine

This picture makes me understand that what we leave behind holds the most importance. If we are thoughtful about it when we are exiting a room, a job, a campsite, or life, the world becomes a much better place. What amazes me about this picture by Cory Richards from Franz Josef Land? It’s how, instead of repelling us, something dilapidated and seemingly ugly can become food for thought.

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

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