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Best Of 2020: Our Most Meaningful Photos Of The Year, Part 1

As we wrap up 2020, AlphaUniverse.com is taking a look back at an unforgettable year. We asked the Sony Artisans of Imagery and the Alpha Imaging Collective to share their most meaningful image of the year and every day until January 1st, 2021, we're counting down with a selection of photos and the story behind each one. In Part One below, Artisans of Imagery Paul Nicklen, Kesha Lambert, Gary Hart, Patrick Murphy-Racey, Scott Robert Lim, Caroline Jensen, Chris Orwig, Gene Lower, Matt Kloskowski and Bob Krist show their images from 2020 and what makes each one special to them.

We're counting down to 2021 with a look back at a comet, a Yosemite wedding, freediving with humpbacks, a senior portrait, a Maine sunset, an end zone Hail Mary & more.

Paul Nicklen


Photo by Paul Nicklen. Sony α7R III. Sony 28mm f/2. 1/500-sec., f/6.3, ISO 640

"When you free dive down to eye level with a mother humpback and her calf, there is a lot to consider. One of the most important things running through my mind is, 'How do I position myself in front of these whales with as little movement as possible, so they are not disturbed?' Easier said than done. We were with this mother and calf for over an hour before I dared attempt my first free dive down to her. It was only once I was 40 feet deep that I began inching closer, carefully monitoring her reaction. Humpbacks have exceptional buoyancy control and move their pectoral flukes to counter the current, the swell, or, in this case, the calf's movement as it repositioned itself under its mother's body. I wondered: was she moving her pectoral fluke now to compensate for one of these things, or was she adjusting her distance as I got too close? When it comes to wildlife, I always err on the side of caution – no picture is worth the disturbance of an animal. My lungs burned from the extended breath-hold dive, but I refused to rush to the surface and, instead, gently created distance before allowing myself to float up without a single kick. Shot in Tonga under Special Interaction Permit (Regulation 13) from the Ministry of Tonga."

"Even more than my art, I am perhaps most proud of the relationship I maintain with wildlife – I have spent a lifetime in their homes, and am always careful to be a respectful guest."

Kesha Lambert


Photo by Kesha Lambert. Sony α7R IV. Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/125-sec., f/4.5, ISO 800

“I made this photograph using the α7R IV and the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM. This was an editorial session for a long standing client and the vibe is always collaborative and synergistic when we work together. I find inspiration from the people and things in front of me in the moment. When our model entered the space and I saw her long braids and the astrology clock, I was inspired. I saw this photo in my head the moment I saw the model and the clock together. So asked for a couple sets of helping hands to twirl her braids and let them fly. This series in front of this clock is a personal favorite.”

“Amidst all of the challenges this year, this image is personally meaningful because this was the first time in a long time that I felt like myself again. Finding inspiration in that moment was a timely and much reminder of how much I love what I do.”

Gary Hart


Photo by Gary Hart. Sony α7R IV. Sony 24-105mm f/4 G. 10-secs., f/5.6, ISO 3200

“The most difficult thing about this image was getting into COVID-restricted Yosemite without a reservation. Fortunately, I learned that the permit that allows me to lead Yosemite photo workshops also enabled me to conduct “scouting” trips in the park—after explaining my plan to photograph Comet NEOWISE to my NPS ranger contact (and of course filling out a few forms), I got the thumbs up for a pre-dawn visit to Glacier Point. Staying just outside the park, my alarm went off at 2:45 a.m., and I was on the road before 3 a.m. As I approached Glacier Point I almost drove off the road when I saw that the comet was bright enough to be clearly visible through my windshield. Rushing from the parking lot to the vista, I was thrilled to have this normally crowded spot all to myself. With a nearly full moon to illuminate the scene, I enjoyed about 45 minutes of quality photography time before the comet disappeared into the brightening twilight. I was on the road for home before sunrise.”

“I’ve been chasing comets since I was 10, and photographing Yosemite my entire adult life, but the opportunity to capture both in a single image was a dream I never imagined I’d fulfill. Then out of nowhere this spring, while COVID was shutting everything down, came Comet NEOWISE, a previously unknown visitor from the outer reaches of the solar system. Originally not expected to put on much of a show, in early summer NEOWISE brightened suddenly, just as the world’s collective mood darkened. Daring to hope, I crossed my fingers and plotted the comet’s path, searching for an opportunity to photograph it from one of my favorite Yosemite views. Comets are notoriously fickle, but everything aligned for me at Glacier Point on one unforgettable July morning.”

Patrick Murphy-Racey


Photo by Patrick Murphy-Racey. Sony α7R IV. Sony 50mm f/1.4. 1/4000-sec., f/2.2, ISO 160

"I did a small project on local high school seniors would would ultimately be robbed of their senior year experience. Ashlyn is a shot-putter at Oak Ridge High School just like her dad was when he went to school there. She is posing just outside the fence that leads to the field where she would have competed as a senior, wearing her Dad's letterman jacket. I had a ton of work get canceled in March, April and May, but it didn't seem right just to sit at home and do nothing. Photojournalism is more than just my job, it's my passion, and their story needed to be told."

"There is a certain sadness that is bittersweet about all of the high school seniors that were wrenched out of their schools at the very moment when they had risen to the top. There were no senior proms, no senior skip days, no senior prank days, and the socially distanced graduations that followed were terrible for the kids. 'You can't step into the same river twice,' and it's no different for the 2020 seniors. COVID-19 stole their collective experience of victory, accomplishment and pride, from all our kids across the nation that were due to graduate in 2020."

Hear more from Murphy-Racey on his senior portrait project in this Alpha Universe podcast.

Scott Robert Lim


Photo by Scott Robert Lim. Sony α7R III. Sony 55mm f/1.8. 1/160-sec., f/4, ISO 640

“I captured this during a workshop at Portrait Masters Conference with Sue Bryce and some other Artisans. We were given only 30 minutes to create a set of images. I chose to challenge myself by using less than $100 in lighting equipment to create this even though I had access to tens of thousands of dollars in lighting.”

“I think it's important that our imagery should reflect the world we live in and unfortunately we are bombarded with images that, at times, reflect mostly one type of subject. It matters for me to show diversity in my portfolio.”

Caroline Jensen


Photo by Caroline Jensen. Sony α7R IV. Sony 135mm f/1.8 G Master. 1/640-sec., f/2, ISO 400

"I found this scene right next to my house in a flower bed. I created it for moments like these! My mission in life is helping others find peace in the garden and creating a vibrant world of flowers is easy!"

"This image encapsulates my love of finding peace through backyard garden photography. The stress-relieving benefits of slowing down and really observing with a great camera and lens cannot be underestimated! This image pulls back the veil on the hidden world of a busy bumble bee, revealed through a door of fallen petals. It brings me so much joy!"

Chris Orwig


Photo by Chris Orwig. Sony α7R IV. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master. 1/640-sec., f/13, ISO 1250

“This is a portrait of bride Claire at Glacier Point in Yosemite on Oct 24, 2020. While I'm not a wedding photographer, I was honored to photograph a small and intimate wedding for good family friends in Yosemite. The day of the wedding, I met the bride and groom before sunrise at Glacier point. As the sun began to rise the bride stood on this outcrop with so much dignity, beauty and strength. With all the difficult things going on in the world, it was a wonderful reminder to keep dreams, love and hope alive.”

Gene Lower


Photo by Gene Lower. Sony α9. Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G Master. 1/160-sec., f/5, ISO 100

"The new normal is now covering games from the first row of the stands. Realizing the game was on the line with one last play I positioned myself in the back of the end zone expecting a long pass. DeAndre Hopkins then worked his magic making the amazing catch while being covered by three defenders."

"This photo means so much to me for many reasons. I was able to get back to covering professional sports which is my passion and capture this game winning 'Hail Mary' catch for a Cardinals win."

Matt Kloskowski


Photo by Matt Kloskowski. Sony α7R IV. Sony 135mm f/1.8 G Master. 1/800-sec., f/3.2, ISO 640

“I had spent an entire morning walking around the beach trying to get interesting photos of Ospreys in flight or hunting fish. After a few hours I was fairly unlucky. Anyone who likes bird photography knows that it's as much about the thrill of the challenge as it is walking away with a great shot. After I had gone inside, I took a peak out of my porch and saw this Osprey on the beach almost right in front of me. So I grabbed my camera, ran outside and spent about 45 minutes in the blazing sun photographing it with it's fresh catch of the day and watching other birds try to come in and take it. Then, just as I was about to head back inside, the Osprey took off with it's fish and I was able to capture an ‘in-your-face’ angle along with some amazing teal/blue ocean that not many people have the opportunity to see.”

“I bet most people didn't expect a photo of a bird as my most "meaningful photo of 2020". If you had asked me this a year ago, I wouldn't have even suggested it! But here's why I chose this one. For me, 2020 was a year of practice, patience, and timing. I started my own online business almost 6 years ago, and since then I've been going at 1000 miles per minute trying to build it. I've got two sons in college and a slew of other things in life that keep me constantly focussed on income and providing for my family and future. But what I've never been able to focus on was practice and personal growth. But in 2020, that changed a bit. Sure, income and our future was still important, but at some point things were out of my hands. Travel (which was a big part of my life) was cancelled and I found myself with more time on my hands. This photo is a result of that time spent practicing and the patience that it requires to get great wildlife action shots like this. In the past, I'm not sure I would have sought out the locations and spent that amount of time needed. But 2020 allowed me to pull back from the craziness and spent a little time on things I was interested in too.”

Bob Krist


Photo by Bob Krist. Sony RX10 IV. 1/250-sec., f/2.4, ISO 500

“This shot was kind of emblematic of 2020 because it was taken from my porch in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. After being chased home by Covid in March, we more or less haven't left our little peninsula because of the pandemic. Two huge travel assignments were canceled and I was supposed to be in Uzbekistan on the day this photo was taken.”

“It kind of proved to me that you can find beauty anywhere you look and just because we couldn't travel, didn't mean we couldn't create images. I've since collected a whole slew of beautiful images shot right from my porch...I'm calling it The World from my Window.”


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