From the migration crisis in Europe to hippos on the loose in Tbilisi and rioters attacking a policewoman in Burundi, Reuters photographers tell the story behind some of the most iconic pictures of the year.
Alkis Konstantinidis: Another inflatable boat packed with dozens of migrants and refugees heading towards the shore. That’s what I noticed in the distance.
The sea was calm and they were cheering on the dinghy. Suddenly, some 200 metres away, the rear of the boat deflated for no obvious reason, and people started falling into the sea.
Screams replaced the cheers as they frantically tried to stay afloat on life tubes, or by clinging on to the boat. Those who could swim tried to help those who couldn’t.
As this dramatic scene unfolded and people drifted away from each other, the biggest challenge was to capture as many of the different scenes as I could.
There were people falling overboard; two men trying to keep their friend afloat; a man still on the boat lifting his child in the air; another man, nearing collapse from exhaustion, swimming towards the shore; and volunteers rushing towards the boat.
In this hectic moment, one man, yelling really loud and full of tension, caught my eye so I shot some frames. Later, when he was trying to catch his breath on the beach, I asked him where he was from. “Syria,” he told me before heading towards a volunteer holding a baby.
The distance of the shot hadn’t allowed me to see the details of the picture clearly. It was only when I began editing my pictures that I could make out the tiny head of a baby in a life tube, and the screaming man trying to keep himself and the baby above water.
Everything I cover, from riots to politics and sports, trains me to always be on the alert and try to get the best from what I am shooting.
I learned from this experience that disaster can occur even in what appears to be the calmest of situations.
Looking back on that day, the most memorable moment was when I opened the picture on my laptop screen and saw the baby, who looked fast asleep. I flinched. It gave the impression of being asleep in a cradle, dreaming or listening to a lullaby.
Soe Zeya Tun: This shot is of a group of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants from a boat carrying 734 people rescued off Myanmar’s southern coast. Those on board had been at sea for more than two months, at the end with little food or water.
The men in this photo were part of a group of about 400 crammed into a warehouse by Myanmar police. They had arrived the day before, but while the women, children and some men had already been moved, these men were left behind.
There was no sign of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR or foreign aid agencies.
Just moments before this shot, the sky opened and the monsoon rains started coming down. The men were jostling with each other for space to catch water in their bottles and plates.
The authorities were hesitant to grant us access at first, but as the morning wore on and the rains started, we were able to enter the area around the warehouse and started photographing and speaking to migrants.
Just after taking this photo, the men were loaded into buses and trucks and driven to a camp where international aid agencies were waiting.
I have worked on long and difficult assignments where I have gone days without a proper shower. But for these people it has been months without enough water.
Everyone was dirty and had likely washed little while at sea.
I could see just how meaningful it was for them to suddenly have a chance to drink and clean themselves with whatever small amount of water they could capture.
Beso Gulashvili: The flood killed at least 12 people and partly destroyed Tbilisi Zoo, killing dozens of animals, while more than 30 more including tigers, lions and bears managed to escape from their cages.
On that night in June, the capital of Georgia was as I’d never seen it.
Among the escapees roaming the streets were a rare breed of white lion cub and six wolves, which roamed through the grounds of a children’s hospital.
The zoo is right in the centre of the city, between the national broadcaster and Tbilisi State University.
Heavy rains had turned the Vere river that flows near the zoo and through Tbilisi into a torrent that washed away buildings, roads and cars.
The enormous amount of mud and debris under my feet meant that making even a small movement was very difficult while shooting photos.
I was there from 11:30 PM. This photo was shot at 6:00 AM the next morning; my memory card was almost full so I had only a couple of shots left.
This situation was totally different from any I’d experienced before as a photographer. In the past all my reporting experience has been negotiating with people; this was the first time I worked with animals.
I was smiling at the moment I took this photo of Begi, as I discovered this hippopotamus was called.
I had bought a watch for my 14-year-old daughter in that shop just two days before the flood. And here was a hippo in front of it.
There was only one complicated escape route available to me in case Begi decided to attack me. There were very few people around, as police had shut down the area.
The distance between the hippo and me was about 25 metres. I realised that even for an animal as powerful as this one it was also quite difficult to move forward in such mud.
I was also reassured that armed police would protect me in case of attack.
Today, Begi is arguably the world’s most famous hippo.
Bassam Khabieh: I was covering the Syrian Red Crescent convoy’s visit to the Eastern Ghouta of Damascus. The convoy was carrying medical aid and supplies used for activities to give psychological support to children affected by the war.
Every time the aid convoy entered the Eastern Ghouta, children would gather around it, happy that they were going to be supplied with food and medicine. While I was there, the children asked me to take their pictures so they could see them on the camera’s screen.
Before the shell dropped on the convoy I was resting on the edge of the pavement to relax a little; the children gathered around me so I could photograph them.
First I took a photo of Ghazal; she seemed happy after seeing her on-screen image. Ghazal’s sister Judy was near her carrying a baby called Suhair. Judy asked me to take a picture of her kissing the baby.
While I was taking these photos, a shell landed on the area containing the Red Crescent convoy. The children started to scream and cry amid the dust and blood around them. The shell killed a female volunteer from the Red Crescent. It also wounded many people and volunteers nearby.
The children were terrified and began to scream and cry, especially when they saw one of the female volunteers covered with blood after she suffered a head injury.
The challenge to portray this image was just like the challenges we face daily in time of war. I knew that there might be another shell falling within a matter of seconds; then one did exactly that a little further away.
Do you want to protect yourself, like everyone else, by walking into a shop or home? Help carry the injured or be satisfied to take photos while others transfer them to ambulances? Do you want to calm screaming children? Or do you just want to cry because of what’s happened?
All these questions need answers in a matter of seconds before you can capture such an image.
In this particular photograph, it was the first time I had seen how children’s innocent laughter could turn into screams, fear and tears.
Seconds before the strike, the children were looking at me happily, getting ready for a picture. It was a very sad moment when I put my eye to the viewfinder to take pictures of laughing children; then when I looked back after taking the picture, I saw the same children crying, distraught.
It takes only a few seconds for life to turn to ashes and blood.
Mohamed Torokman: It was about an hour after the start of a weekly protest against Jewish settlements in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah.
Palestinians were scuffling with an Israeli soldier as they tried to prevent him from detaining a boy.
The incident happened all of a sudden so I had to rush with my camera to capture this picture.
The main challenge confronting me was that I should not miss any strong pictures from the scene.
I was totally focusing on how to get this picture, without allowing myself to get distracted by anything else.
As a photographer you have to be patient until you can capture the strongest image. On any assignment an hour, or even several hours, might go by without an opportunity to get a good picture but then a strong image can emerge all of a sudden.
You have to be ready for the opportunity and be able to spot it – to capture the moment that best tells the story in front of you.
Goran Tomasevic: I travelled to Burundi to cover demonstrations against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in elections the following month.
The incident in the photos happened in Buterere, one of the suburbs of the capital Bujumbura where there had been frequent rallies. Protesters started throwing stones at a group of police, who then started to run away.
The policewoman in the photo, Medikintos Inabeza, 33, got left behind and then some protesters started to push her, saying that she had shot a female protestor in the stomach with an AK47 rifle. I didn’t see anything of that.
There were five or 10 protesters pushing the policewoman at first, then others came and joined in. Up to 20 or 30 protesters were surrounding her at one point. The protesters kicked and beat her very badly; I also saw a couple of knives. I thought they were going to kill her. The people attacking her were really aggressive.
What was really surprising to me was that the other police abandoned her when the stones were thrown. Maybe some were initially too scared to help, other than the two policemen who were doing what they could to rescue her. There was even one protester who tried to protect the policewoman.
The whole thing lasted 20 or 30 minutes. It ended when, for some reason that was hard to figure out, the protestors let the policewoman go, handing her over to another group of police further on.
I was the only photographer there when this incident happened. Up to then the protesters and police had been friendly towards me. It was a volatile situation.
I had been in situations with angry crowds before but I had never seen something like this. Pictures sometimes tell a bigger story than words. This was one of those occasions.
Mussa Qawasma: I have seen people getting shot and killed. This was especially terrifying because it was so violent.
A Palestinian vehicle ran over and killed an Israeli motorist. The driver had been using a club to hit Palestinian protesters and cars on a roadside in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israeli police said the man had stopped his car after stones were thrown at it.
The driver of the Palestinian vehicle, which the Israeli had hit with his club, later turned himself in to Palestinian police, which had no comment on the event. Israeli police said it was not clear if the Israeli had been run over deliberately.
Amid the tension, fear and danger, I remember breathing slowly to control my nerves.
I was taking photos of everything – the stone throwing at the Israeli cars, the reaction of the settler with his club, especially when the truck ran him over. I did not think about stopping even if what was happening was unbelievable and shocking.
As a photographer I never expected to take a picture of someone being dragged and crushed under a truck’s wheels. What happened was so unnerving because the settler was killed in this way.
Capturing a moment that will never happen again is the hard core of photojournalism. Despite the shocking moment I was lucky to keep control of my mind and do my job as a photographer: to tell the story.
What I had learnt from previous experience served me well that day. Firstly don’t think about what is happening in front of you. Secondly don’t hesitate, point your camera and do your job. You will have all the time to think about it afterwards.
That day reminded me that as a photographer, anything can happen. I never thought the Israeli settler would be killed.
I never expected to take such a picture.
Gleb Garanich: I was with the Reuters TV crew and we were coming back from frontline in the vicinity of Debaltseve when a crew member saw a tweet saying the town of Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine was being shelled, so we headed there.
We got to the site of the shelling in less than an hour after the explosion, which killed three and wounded 15 people. The first thing we saw was a dead woman’s body lying on the ground; she had been like that for at least half an hour. By shooting this picture I wanted to convey the banality of the horror happening here.
The locals were just walking by, rarely reacting to what was going on. Someone later came by and brought a cloth to cover her body.
Her husband then showed up. He had been looking for her, calling home, but he could not find her. He went home and did not find her there either; that is when he made his way to where we were and saw her on the ground.
He was looking for an ambulance, a police car, anybody who would be able to take her body. I don’t know what happened later as we had to leave to shoot other damaged spots and more casualties.
We were there for 45 minutes and for the first half hour we experienced no trouble at all from either locals or officials but later it became challenging. The people there can be aggressive towards journalists. This happens practically everywhere; especially where there is shelling or shooting. Wherever people are underground, without food, they get angry.
They are always giving instructions. “Don’t photograph here, photograph there.” “Where were you when they were shooting at us?” they ask.
I find it challenging to cover a war in my own country. I was born in Russia; my wife is from western Ukraine. My children speak both languages. I would have never imagined that one day there would be a war here.
Stephane Mahe: I covered the arrival of the heads of state at the start of the solidarity march. I then made my way through the streets, which were packed with people holding “Je suis Charlie” banners, to the Place de la Nation.
It was the end of the day, the light was soft as I walked around the statue, “The Triumph of the Republic,” looking for a picture with the French flag and a pencil.
I was fortunate that everything fell into my frame and I was able to combine dramatic light, a dynamic gesture with the giant pencil, and an interesting group around the statue.
Online people have called it “The Pencil Guiding the People”, in reference to the famous painting by Eugene Delacroix, “Liberty Guiding the People”. I find the comparison really interesting and it was a historic march, but I am surprised that my photograph has become so symbolic of the day.
Carlos Barria: For more than a decade the United States and other world powers have participated in the Iran Talks to reach an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.
They and Iran have spent thousands of hours around a table seeking a solution to what the West sees as a threat to global stability if Iran gains the capability to make a nuclear bomb.
The last chapter was in Vienna, where I travelled with Secretary of State John Kerry. The media had virtually no access to the meetings, but could register for photo sprays of a minute or two per day.
For 19 days I sat in a media tent near the hotel where the meetings were held, waiting.
The biggest challenge in such tightly controlled environments is to capture a different picture every day. Not least as it was exactly the same situation each time: people sitting around a table talking.
I always planned ahead for the next time to capture something new.
On July 14, foreign ministers of the Unites States, Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union walked on stage to tell the world about a historical agreement. Hundreds of journalists from every corner of the planet gathered at the United Nations building for the group photo and press conference.
As the ceremony ended and media colleagues rushed to file their images and stories, I decided to stay on. A few seconds after the country representatives left the stage, a staff member showed up to remove the countries’ flags.
I ran to the front of the now empty room and waited for the last two flags to be removed. The man took hold of the Iranian flag and walked past the U.S. flag.
That was what I had been waiting for: beyond the spotlight, unscripted. When I realised that I was alone, I also knew I had an important picture that no one else had.
The lesson: be the first to arrive and the last to leave.
Copyright Reuters 2015
Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Please visit our Subscribe page to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.