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The best photographs of 2021

December 27, 2021

The AP Team, core AP Contributors and Picture Editors share their favourite photographs of 2021.


The AP Team’s favourite images

At AP we see thousands of images each year, so it takes something special to grab our attention. Here are our favourites from 2021 and the reasons why:

Nigel Atherton, Editor

Black Rambo by Gabriele Galimberti

Fujifilm GFX 50R, 32-64mm, 1/125sec at f/11, ISO 100

Black Rambo by Gabriele Galimberti

Black Rambo by Gabriele Galimberti

Ever since I saw Galimberti’s World Press Photo winning story The Ameriguns, from National Geographic, I can’t get it out of my head. Despite the growing influence of US culture around the world Galimberti’s project (now also a book) reminds us that there are some Americanisms that will probably never catch on elsewhere, and one of these is their gun culture.

We don’t even need to be told that the people in these pictures are Americans, we just know. But even by the standards of a nation where guns outnumber people, the subjects of Galimberti’s pictures are exceptional. They don’t just have a gun or two, they have arsenals, with enough weapons to start a war. To my British eyes The Ameriguns is simultaneously shocking, hilarious and often just plain bonkers – as this example shows.

Galimberti’s photos are all meticulously constructed and composed, but for me the flame throwers give this picture the edge. Tonally it is quite different to many of the others, whose diverse subjects are often expressionless or convey a deadly serious ‘don’t even think of messing with me’ vibe. This guy on the other hand is clearly having fun.

He’s ex-marine Torrell Jasper, aka ‘Black Rambo’, based in Louisiana, whose one million YouTube and 900k Instagram followers tune in to watch him playing with a variety of guns and living his best life.

The Ameriguns by Gabriele Galimberti is published by Dewi Lewis, price £35 (currently being re-printed)

Hollie Latham Hucker, Technique Editor

Waves Crashing by Rachel McNulty

Olympus E-M1 Mk II, 60mm, 1/8sec at f/4, ISO 200

Waves Crashing by Rachel McNulty

Waves Crashing by Rachel McNulty

This unusual seascape scene won the Manmade category in this year’s Close-up Photographer of the Year competition. It caught my attention when I was proofing the feature layout before the issue went to press. I’m rather partial to a colourful and abstract image and in particular landscapes with a painterly appearance.

What I initially thought was a well-executed ICM expanse of waves crashing on a beach, turned out to be something quite unexpected. It suddenly occurred to me that this scene had won the Manmade category in a Close-up contest, so it couldn’t possibly be what I first thought.

I read the provided caption and was surprised to find out it was actually the view captured from looking through a glass bottle using a macro lens. A simple setup making use of daylight and the natural shadows, highlights and reflections cast within a turquoise-coloured bottle, with the aid of a small foil reflector, genius! It just goes to show how creative you can be when it comes to studying ordinary objects in a new light and that you don’t need lots of fancy gear. I studied the image again and still really believed I was looking at a seascape.

The photographer, Rachel, explains, ‘No two images will ever be the same, the light changes, the position of the bottle moves, the reflections shift just like a real seascape constantly alters.’ I’d love to see what other results she captured. What a fantastic project and a well-deserved win in this year’s CUPOTY competition.

Jessica Miller, Deputy Online Editor

Grounded by Mike Martin

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 40-150mm, 1/250sec at f/5.6, ISO 200

Grounded by Mike Martin APOY 2021

Grounded by Mike Martin

Whether the timing was down to meticulous planning and skill or pure luck, you can see why this image took a well-deserved spot within the top ten of the Movement round of APOY.

This shot captures not only movement, but also strength. The fact the model has simultaneously positioned his body, thrown powder into the air and then for a moment held the pose on his big toe is very impressive.

What’s also impressive is the fact Mike has managed to get this perfectly timed to capture all these elements at the peak of the movement. Through the image I get a sense of the physical movement, balance and coordination that was required to get all of this into place.

I first saw this image back in August, but for me it is very memorable and I love everything about it – from the lighting to the composition, and chiaroscuro created between the background, model, and the powder. This is something that would be difficult to even attempt to recreate in the same way.

Amy Davies, Features Editor

Mirror Mirror on the Locker Wall by Hardijanto Budiman

Exposure details unknown

Mirror Mirror on the Locker Wall by Hardijanto Budiman 2021

Mirror Mirror on the Locker Wall by Hardijanto Budiman, Indonesia, Open, Creative, Sony World Photography Awards 2022

Over the course of a year it’s easy to become dizzied by the array of photographs we see. Some of them however stand out just that little bit more than others – and it’s this one, which admittedly I saw fairly recently to the time of writing this – that has particularly stood out for me.

I love the bold use of colours, the surreal subect matter, the strong lines and the square crop. It was released by the Sony World Photography Awards as one of the entries that has been made in to its 2022 competition. I hope it goes on to do well. Don’t forget there’s still time to enter the awards yourself – the deadline for submissions to the Open competition is 7 January, 2022. See worldphoto.org.

Geoff Harris, Deputy Editor

Creation by Laurent Ballesta

Nikon D5, 17-35mm, 1/200sec at f/11, ISO 1600

Creation by Laurent Ballesta wildlife photographer of the year 2021

Creation by Laurent Ballesta, Winner, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021

Confession time: wildlife photography is not my favourite genre, even though I can totally appreciate the artistry, skill and sheer blood, sweat and tears required to get the best images. I also really admire the efforts that wildlife photographers exert to record endangered species and bring public attention to their plight.

‘Creation’, the winning image from the latest Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, is something else, though. Some newspapers trivialised and cheapened the image by describing it ‘fish sex’, which reflects the dumbed-down age we live in: yes, it does capture a decisive moment in underwater reproduction, but there is also an epic, biblical quality to this picture. It captures the moment of a creation itself and resounds with a timeless drama.

Technically the image is perfect, which is no mean feat considering the shy subjects and the demands of shooting underwater. On another level, however, it transcends time, space and the particular behaviours of a type of fish rather than just a scientific record shot; we’re witnessing the same kind of energy here that you get when planets and stars are born and die.

There is a mystical quality to this picture, which is fitting, because you know what, the forces of nature are mysterious and awe-inspiring. We don’t know everything about the universe, and sorry Brian Cox, we probably never will. Laurent Ballesta’s picture was even more impressive when exhibited at the Natural History Museum along with all the other fantastic winners from this year’s contest. I strongly urge all readers to check out the winners as soon as you can.

Joshua Waller, Online Editor

From the series Citizens of Tomorrow by Dolores Laboureau

Sony A77 II, 16-50mm, 1/640sec at f/4, ISO 200

From the series Citizens of Tomorrow by Dolores Laboureau

From the series Citizens of Tomorrow by Dolores Laboureau, Argentina, Finalist, Professional-competition, Portfolio, Sony World Photography Awards 2021

There’s a futuristic, yet sci-fi look to this image, which is part of a series, that places us as though we are in a sci-fi film made in the 1970s, but predicting the future, perhaps even now in 2021, when air quality and diseases and pollution means we all must wear air bubbles just to survive.

The bright colours stand out and the grain gives an appearance of a film photo. The different colours used also give the impression that something terrible has happened in the process of making the image. It’s a stark reminder of how vital air is to humans, but also gives us cause for concern, as we so easily ignore it in everyday life, and simply take it for granted that we (mostly) have clean air to breathe.

Andy Westlake, Technical Editor

Insect Diversity by Pål Hermansen

Hasselblad H3D-39, 120mm f/4 macro, 8 secs at f/25, ISO 50

Insect Diversity by Pål Hermansen cupoty 2021 winner

Insect Diversity by Pål Hermansen, Winner CUPOTY 2021

Close-up Photographer of the Year may only just be in its third edition, but it’s already turned into one of the highlights of the year due to the impressively high calibre of entries. It’s not merely a showcase for arresting imagery, either, as it also encourages you to think about the world from a different and more intimate perspective.

This year’s winner, entitled ‘Insect Diversity’ by Norwegian photographer Pål Hermansen, is on the surface a perfectly constructed still-life flat lay, that invites us to consider the readily overlooked beauty and variety of some of the smaller animals with which we share the planet. The artist has worked wonders in extracting order from chaos, with the carefully constructed composition complemented by a subtle colour palette of yellows and ochres.

But a deeper level of meaning is added by the revelation that all of these insects were trapped in a lamp at his home. It’s a timely reminder for us all to take a step back and contemplate the impacts our lives and habits might have on the natural world, inadvertent as well as deliberate, and to consider what we might do better in future.


Pictures of the year 2021 contributors’ choices

Some of AP’s core contributors pick the key images that caught their attention during 2021

Peter Dench, photographer and writer

‘Cross Border Love’ by Roland Schmid

‘Cross Border Love’ by Roland Schmid 2021

© Roland Schmid/World Press Photo

This image is from the series Cross Border Love, which won 2nd Prize, General News at the 2021 World Press Photo contest. It’s far away from the award-winning images of the Covid-19 pandemic taken in hospitals and graveyards, of suffering and death. It’s a defining image of separation and a reminder of how daily life prevailed during an extraordinary passage of history.

On one side lies Sabrina from Basel, Switzerland; on the other Davor, from Wiesbaden, Germany, who had driven three hours to see her. They even marked the border on their blanket.

Tracy Calder, writer and co-founder Close-up Photographer of the Year

‘Single Dad’ by Harry Borden

‘Single Dad’ by Harry Borden

© Harry Borden

I could have chosen literally any photograph from Harry Borden’s glorious book Single Dad (Hoxton Mini Press), but this image of Neil Young and his children really speaks to me. It’s the tender but protective way their arms form an unbreakable circuit, the resilience on the little girl’s face as she clutches her soft toy – a reminder that she has been through monumental change, but still has the fragility of
a child.

The light brings a softness to the scene; a hopefulness. Finally, it’s Neil’s face, turned away from the camera – not distracted by anything other than the direct needs of his children… heartbreaking and beautiful.

Damien Demolder, photographer and AP columnist

‘One Year Anniversary of Beirut Explosion’, by Marcus Yam

2021 ‘One Year Anniversary of Beirut Explosion’, by Marcus Yam

© Marcus Yam/Getty Images/Los Angeles Times

My favourite picture of the year isn’t actually a picture so much as a collection of pictures – in fact, pretty much every shot taken by Getty and Los Angeles Times photographer Marcus Yam. The world is full of news stories and news photographers, but so much of what goes on is reported in such a bland, factual way that suggests there is no room for art in press photography. Marcus Yam uses masses of colour in his images, and by creating truly eye-catching photographs draws far more attention to the issues he covers than they would otherwise get.

Angela Nicholson, writer, co-founder Camera Jabber, founder SheClicks

‘Self-portrait’ by Aleksandra Wilk

‘Self-portrait’ by Aleksandra Wilk

© Aleksandra Wilk

Every month, SheClicks has a challenge on Photocrowd and for March 2021, as part of the celebrations for International Women’s Day, the theme was self-portrait. There were lots of fantastic images but this shot by Aleksandra Wilk caught my attention and made me smile. I love her expression, the quirky shooting angle and the crazy glasses. It’s a nice reminder that photography doesn’t have to be serious.

www.sheclicks.net

Jeremy Walker, photographer and writer

‘Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye, Scotland’ by John Lawrence

‘Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye, Scotland’ by John Lawrence 2021

© John Lawrence

I love moody and dramatic landscape images, but particularly black & white ones, and this image by John Lawrence is certainly full of mood and drama. The image has an elemental and raw feel to it – brooding clouds and menacing rock formations show the landscape at its most stark, bleak and formidable self.

A single frame of spectacular Skye, captured on Ilford HP5 pushed to 3200 and shot on a Hasselblad 500CM. No histogram, no pixels, no bracketing. An observer of nature and time, one frame and move on… masterful.


Pictures of the year 2021 picture editors’ choices

We asked some of the UK’s top picture editors to choose the most striking images that came across their desks during an eventful 2021

Helen Healy, Head of Pictures, Financial Times

‘Greece wildfire’ by Konstantinos Tsakalidis

‘Greece wildfire’ by Konstantinos Tsakalidis 2021

An elderly resident reacts as a wildfire approaches her house in the village of Gouves, on the island of Evia, Greece, on 8 August 2021. Thousands of residents were evacuated from the Greek island of Evia by boat after wildfires hit Greece’s second biggest island

Climate change reached the top of the news agenda in 2021. Major weather events occurred with unprecedented flooding in Germany, China and elsewhere, while wildfires raged in California and Greece. Later in the year, COP26 was held in Glasgow, where world leaders gathered to discuss strategies and make commitments to deal with this catastrophe.

The photo I have chosen is a moving portrait of a resident of Evia, a Greek island near Athens. She is terror-stricken as fire approaches her house in the village of Gouves in August. It was one of the largest fires ever to happen in Greece and left the island devastated. In graphic terms, it speaks to the human cost of global warming.

www.bloomberg.com

Olivia Harris, Picture Editor, Saturday, The Times

‘Cricket’, by Chris Strickland

‘Cricket’, by Chris Strickland

Players of Wooler Cricket Club look for a lost ball in a hay field after a six was hit, Wooler, Northumberland, 5 June 2021

When I was asked what my favourite photo of the year was, this image instantly came to mind. Beautifully balanced, it captures a wholesome and quintessentially English moment. It’s one of those photos that could just as easily be the work of a painter. Life on the news desk can be rather gloomy during these troubled times, and I find it’s important to take joy from something a little lighter. Quite simply, Chris Strickland’s picture makes me smile.

www.alamy.com

Olivia Harris, Picture Editor, Saturday, The Times

‘Sarah Everard Vigil Arrest’, by Hannah McKay

2021 ‘Sarah Everard Vigil Arrest’, by Hannah McKay

Police detain a woman as people gather at a memorial site in Clapham Common Bandstand, following the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard in London, 13 March 2021

I found it impossible to pick just one picture, so I chose two – one news image and one offbeat. 2021 has been a year of turbulent news stories, but I found the Sarah Everard case particularly affecting. As a young woman living in London, I have sent countless ‘text me when you’re home’ messages to my friends, or shared my location when walking down a dimly lit street.

The images from the Clapham Common protests were all strong in their own right, but there is something about Hannah’s photo that encapsulates not only the outrage, but also the outright fear I think a lot of us were feeling. It is poignant, powerful and perfectly shot.

www.reutersagency.com

Jim Powell, Picture Editor, The Observer

‘Myanmar Protest’, by Reuters ‘stringer’ photographer

‘Myanmar Protest’, by Reuters ‘stringer’ photographer

Protesters lie on the ground after police open fire to disperse an anti-coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar, 3 March 2021

I saw many examples of outstanding photojournalism in 2021 – the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, wildfires around the world, migrants crossing borders and, of course, the storming of the US Capitol in January. However, the image that stayed with me was this one of protestors taking cover from security forces who had opened fire in Mandalay, Myanmar, on 3 March.

At least 38 people were killed in Myanmar on that day, as the police and military intensified their crackdown on peaceful protests following the coup that saw elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi detained on 1 February. Among those who died in this protest was 19-year-old Kyal Sin, who became an icon of the protest movement.

Photographs shared on social media showed her wearing a black T-shirt printed with the words ‘Everything will be OK’. There is so much to look at in the frame, such as the protestor hiding behind a bucket. Although the image doesn’t have a classic composition, it portrays the urgency of the moment, and the courage of those who protested against the military, as well as the courage of the photojournalists who captured them.

www.reutersagency.com

Sophie Batterbury, Picture Editor, i newspaper

‘Prince Philip funeral’, by Danny Lawson

‘Prince Philip funeral’, by Danny Lawson best images 2021

The coffin of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, accompanied by members of the Royal family, is carried by pallbearers into his funeral service at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on 17 April 2021 in Windsor, England. Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was born 10 June 1921, in Greece. His funeral took place at Windsor Castle with only 30 guests invited due to Coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

This image, by Danny Lawson from PA, showing the Duke of Edinburgh’s coffin entering the deserted nave of St George’s Chapel, is very emblematic of this year for me. The emptiness where there should be people, while allowing us to appreciate the glorious structure of the chapel, also highlights the incredible loneliness of his final journey.

www.gettyimages.com


Further reading

Best cameras and lenses of 2021

Best photography books of 2021

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