Photograph by Stefano Unterthiner
Read Caption
A red fox lies in wait, camouflaged in the autumn woods. Like all foxes, those in Gran Paradiso are adaptable opportunists; they’ll catch fish, hunt rabbits, or scavenge picnic scraps.
Photograph by Stefano Unterthiner

Pictures We Love: In Awe of Creatures Great and Small

As the year began to come to a close, we asked National Geographic staff who work closely with photography—through the magazine, Your Shot, News, Travel, and Proof—to choose a photo from 2015 that they just can’t stop thinking about. There’s no formula for what makes an image resonate—it can be a piercing gaze, the perfect light, or a tender moment that strikes a chord with our editors. Over the coming days, we’ll reveal the 2015 photographs they found most memorable and why.

View Images
A humpback whale and her calf draw the attention of divers around Roca Partida, one of the four islands in the Revillagigedo Archipelago, off the Pacific coast of Mexico. “It was a sort of ‘mammal party’ of whales and humans in a unique place,” says Mexican native Anuar Patjane, who took the photo on a dive trip. “This archipelago is full of pelagic life and deserves to be a World Heritage site to increase protection against illegal fishing. We see and care when a forest is gone because it’s visible to us, but we don’t see when we destroy life underwater. Maybe my photo will help.” 2015 Traveler Photo Contest Photograph by Anuar Patjane

Sarah Polger, Senior Photo Producer, Travel

Sometimes, you just know.

Nat Geo Travel holds an annual photo contest, and stunning photographs from around the globe stream into the office. As the prep for the final judging commenced, this image of humpback whales dancing beneath the ocean surface, drenched in angelic light, kept floating to the top. The photographer had submitted a number of strong images, but the specular light, grace, and emotion in this image nagged at me and made me pause to wonder if it was in the top ten and maybe the top three. Judging is a subjective and careful process, and winners tend to reveal themselves slowly. In the end, the judges selected what my gut had felt, and this moment featuring divers near Roca Partida in Mexico won first place. The picture-perfect elements had come together for the photographer—and judges. The scale and awe of nature reminds us of how grand the world truly is and of how we’re each but tiny elements in the larger puzzle. Sometimes one dazzling photo is all we need to remind us of that.

View Images
Dog musher Brent Sass prepares his dog team to leave Eagle, Alaska, about halfway through the thousand-mile Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race. Sass exchanged leads throughout the race with two-time defending champion Allen Moore before finally pulling away and winning the race. “Survival Is the Ultimate Goal in the World’s Toughest Sled Dog Race,” February 2015 Photograph by Katie Orlinsky

I think one of the reasons why this picture sticks with me so much is because it’s a very subtle frame that contains deep storytelling power. It’s a different level of visual storytelling. Katie Orlinsky photographed the 2015 Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race in February, arguably the most difficult and dangerous sled dog race in the world. This photo gracefully illustrates the symbiotic relationship between musher and dog. One cannot succeed without the other, and there’s an unwavering reliance on either party. One of the reasons I keep coming back to this picture is that I love how quiet this moment is against all of the chaos of the Quest. It stifles the action and intensity for a moment and draws you back to the real story—the reverent relationship between man and dog.

View Images
A red fox lies in wait, camouflaged in the autumn woods. Like all foxes, those in Gran Paradiso are adaptable opportunists; they’ll catch fish, hunt rabbits, or scavenge picnic scraps. “Paradise Found,” February 2015 Photograph by Stefano Unterthiner

I’ve seen many pictures of foxes, but few have captivated me like this one. I know I’m not alone in being mystified by these beautiful animals. My first reaction to this image was immediate elation. It feels like the fox is really looking at the viewer no matter where they are, similar to the way the Mona Lisa gazes at her admirers from any angle. You can tell that the photographer had an intimate connection with this magnificent animal.

Discover more of our favorite images from 2015 in these related “Pictures We Love” posts: