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Photographic Memories: Images That Defined Our Year (2020 Edition)

2020 has certainly been a rollercoaster of a year, and there’s no doubt that the power of the photograph has been in full effect on a daily basis, bringing us evocative, unforgettable images from all over the world.

Here at SIGMA America, we thought it might be nice to turn inward a bit, and take a look the images that meant the most to us on a personal level. We asked our Ambassador team — who, like most photographers, have done their best to persevere this year — to choose just one photograph from 2020 that meant the most to them.

Michelle Harris

The family gathers together with a new addition.
SIGMA 35mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art on Canon EOS 5D Mark III. Natural light plus on-camera flash.

My life has come full circle now that I follow in my adoptive mother’s footsteps. I am in the process of adopting my own nephew, right as 2020 comes to a close. What had brought about this situation is shocking and unfortunate, and yet it is also a story of hope and resilience. When I was three days old, my mother — who had three other children at the time — decided that she would not be able to provide for me, so my aunt came up to Pittsburgh, PA, to adopt me, and she gave me the absolute best life before passing away far too soon last year.

In late October of this year, I was informed by my birth mother, with whom we have reconnected lovingly over the years, that my nephew was airlifted to the Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. Over the next few days, horrors would unfold about what had happened to my nephew. Right then and there, I knew I had to save him. I drove hundreds of miles between Virginia and Pittsburgh, hired a lawyer, and went to court on three different occasions to keep him out of the foster care system. I won. This family portrait is a testament to recovery, love and togetherness in one of the most challenging years we have ever endured.

Liam Doran

Comet NEOWISE over the Rocky Mountains
SIGMA 70-200mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | Sports + MC-11 on Sony A7 III. 15s, F3.5, ISO 1600.

Without a doubt, 2020 has been a huge challenge for nearly everyone on earth. I don’t think anyone has had it tougher than our healthcare professionals to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude. Our creative and freelance community has also been shaken to its core. That said, I was very grateful to be able to get outside and shoot some adventures around my hometown in the Colorado mountains. It was in nature’s vast freedom that my photographic life was born and, without pause, it remains where I find my comfort, my inspirations and my very soul. Teasing out a single shot that helps to overcome the morass of events this year is akin to choosing a favorite child. Impossible. But lucky for me there is no moral ambiguity in picking a favorite photo so here it is.

I captured this image of Comet NEOWISE hanging portentously above two fourteen-thousand foot peaks in the Colorado Rockies at 4:10 am on July 12, 2020. The last time it was visible on earth was 6,800 years ago, pre-dating even the very beginnings of modern civilization in the Fertile Crescent. The humans that bore witness to this cosmic splendor could have no inkling of the world we live in today as we can’t begin to fathom what humanity will look like 6,800 years from now. What our future holds is un-knowable, but in the meantime I’ll be out in the wilds doing my best to capture the world as it is today… and I hope to see you out there doing the same.

Jim Koepnick

Ready for another shift at the hospital in the early days of the pandemic.
SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN | Art on Sony A7R IV. 1/160s, F9, ISO 800.

After a few weeks of the Wisconsin “Safer at Home” effort to curb the COVID-19 pandemic in March, I knew I had to quit binging on old TV shows and do something photographically for my creative health. I started a project to document friends who were essential workers and immediately affected by the pandemic. One of those friends, Julie, worked at a hospital a few blocks from my house. Although I tried to photograph her inside the hospital, the protocols set up did not allow me access. So, I asked Julie if she could stop by on her way to work so I could photograph her. It was a dreary, rainy day, which set the mood for the photo. I switched to manual focus to be able to photograph her through the raindrops and reflections on her car window. The photos of Julie and my other friends were promoted by city social media pages to honor the essential workers in Oshkosh.

Meg Loeks

Meg Loeks prepares her son for the first day of school.
SIGMA 35mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art on Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. 1/200s, F3.2, ISO 1000

This year has been a big adjustment for everyone in our family, especially our children. What amazes me the most is how resilient children are. All the new protocols at school, which seemed like big hurdles to me, were small speedbumps to my children. They truly put things into perspective. This image was taken in our dining room just before school started back in September. I placed my camera and SIGMA 35mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art lens on a tripod and set the interval timer.

McKenzie Deakins

Just married and positively beaming under their coordinated masks.
SIGMA 50mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art on Nikon Z7. 1/1600s, F1.6, ISO 200

This year COVID disrupted the wedding industry. Most of my weddings were cancelled or morphed into much smaller, more intimate events. This wedding, however, was booked a year ago as an elopement in Moab, Utah. It was the only wedding this year that didn’t need to adjust any dates or coverage. I absolutely loved working with this couple and their adventurous attitude. They were married under the double arch monument in Arches National Monument. Aren’t they so cute in their darling bride and groom masks? I love this image because it reminds me of this wild ride we called 2020, and the adaptation of wearing masks. I’m hopeful for a healthy and happier new year!

Anabel DFlux

Faelen the wolfdog goes for a walk under a red sky following wildfires in the area.
SIGMA 35mm F1.2 DG DN | Art on Sony A7R IV. 1/3200s, F1.2, ISO 100

The beauty of a photograph is its ability to represent a moment in time in a powerful way. 2020 was a difficult year, from an unprecedented pandemic to a series of unfortunate natural disasters. Southern California, for one, was hit with massive fires that painted the sky red for weeks. Despite the feeling that the world had been turned upside down, some aspects of everyday life had to continue regardless.

One such routine was giving Faelen, the wolfdog, his needed daily exercise. While hiking a local mountain with his owner Moira, we stopped to look back at the red sun creeping under the landscape behind Faelen. This proved to be a once-in-a-lifetime image, encompassing what the world endeavored this year and the need to keep moving forward.

Marla Michele Must

A family poses with their new pup on a runway.
SIGMA 24-35mm F2 DG HSM | Art on Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. 1/3200s, F2.5, ISO 500

This family portrait was created at Oakland County International Airport in Michigan. The little co-pilot siting front and center had just joined his fur-ever family. One of the highlights in creating this image was taking the ride inside the airplane from the hanger onto the tarmac. My client, Dean Greenblatt, is the leader of Operation Good Cheer, an organization that uses general aviation aircraft to deliver tens of thousands of Christmas presents to children in the Michigan foster care system every year. While the pilots weren’t able to fly this year, thousands of gifts were still delivered by ground, making the best out of this difficult year.

Adam Elmakias

Plants, plants, and yet more plants.

I love plants. Originally I had planned to fly across the country to photography, to my good friend Colin’s wedding. However, due to COVID, flights became too risky. So I drove cross-country. I made a few weeks stop to see my best friends I grew up hanging with in Wisconsin. While I was there, I took my girlfriend to the garden I loved. I think I’ve spent more time in front of my computer in 2020 than any year prior. This is saying a lot, cause I love some computer time. So plants have become even more special. However, I think I have like 35 house plants right now. We brought the garden in. Does anyone know how to get rid of gnats? These things are everywhere.

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