American Photo: 2010 Images of the Year

Photographs that will amaze you with artistry and astound you with originality.

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Last year's Images of the Year had an overriding violence to them—scenes of raging fire and engulfing water. That common feeling reflected the events of 2009, to be sure, but wasn't 2010 just as tumultuous? Maybe that's precisely why this year's winning photographers seem to have turned inward. They explore photography's more traditional virtues: the drama of light, the beauty of lines drawn by a meandering river or a nude's creased flesh, and the hope embodied by children's dreams and needs. This image was made by Howard Schatz and was a runner-up in the Personal Project category. Schatz's photographed Mike Tyson for his book At the Fights: Inside the World of Professional Boxing.Howard Schatz
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Commercial Photography Winner: Scott Serfas This image was created for Transworld SNOWboarding magazine, where it landed on the cover. "I shot these components at 10 frames per second," photographer Scott Serfas says, "and merged them into one in photoshop." Serfas gives credit for the graceful arc to his model, professional snowboarder Devun Walsh. “He’s doing a switchstance backside 540,” Serfas says. “That means he takes off going backwards and rotates one and a half times. What’s special about this image is Devun’s style: he barely moves in each of the frames. Being smooth like that is the hardest part for the rider.” Serfas, who has done commercial and editorial photography throughout the world for 18 years, has made a specialty of snow-, surf- and skateboard pictures near his hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia. “I learned the hard way,” he says, “trial and error while shooting film.” >In recent years he’s gone digital: he shot this photo with a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV and a 200mm lens. But for the shoot itself he still takes an old-fashioned approach. “It was made just outside of Whistler, British Columbia, in the back country,” he says. “We drove to this spot on snowmobiles. I doubled Devun up to the top on my sled and then drove back down to the angle I wanted to shoot from. The first time he tried this he didn’t quite land properly, so we shuttled back up and he tried again. It took about an hour to build in the run and shoot both attempts.” The second one was, as they say, “a wrap.”Scott Serfa
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Commercial Photography Runner-up: Catherine Ledner Ledner photographed this pair of bodacious borzois for Brides magazine. "The story was based on my book, Glamour Dogs," she says. "We added jewelry and fine things to adorn the dogs as if they were attending a wedding." The photographer, who lives in the Los Angeles suburb of Altadena, shot the pooches in a studio in nearby Culver City. "I was awestruck," she says. "They were so graceful and easy on the eye."Catherine Ledner
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Architecture Photography Winner: Jim Shoemaker People often assume Jim Shoemaker is a professional photographer. “Last year, I was disqualified from an amateur contest when the judges decided I was a pro based on the quality of the work on my website,” he says. The distinction may no longer matter to the 39-year-old graphic designer from Oak Park, California, who bought his first DSLR, a Canon EOS 10D, just six years ago and has since crafted a signature style. Shoemaker shot this picture at the visitors’ center at Arizona’s Saguaro National Park. “I was out shooting landscapes and finished for the morning about an hour after sunrise,” he recalls. “When I saw the shadows on the patio and building, I had to run back to my car for my camera.” Shoemaker hand-held his Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a 16-35mm f/2.8L lens set at the widest focal length. “This was originally in color, and I moved it to black and white in Photoshop, then converted it to a quadtone.” but, he says, the effect was achieved by the interplay between light and shadows: “For architecture, sometimes the sun has to be high to render shape and texture.”Jim Shoemaker
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Architecture Photography Runner-up: Ian Lee Ian Lee was drawn to the “Singapore Flyer” Ferris Wheel while traveling in Asia. “Singapore is a small but economically powerful country, built on shipping and technology by visionary leaders,” he says. “The picture contains the triad of these elements—ships in the harbor, elegant technology manifested in the Flyer, and riders in the capsule representing Singapore’s leaders.” He shot the wheel from his hotel hallway: “We did not go on it because my wife is terrified of heights.”Ian Lee
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Architecture Photography Runner-up: Douglas Ljungkvist Douglas Ljungkvis took this image as part of a series from his project:_ Ocean Beach._ The images were all taken of houses in Ocean Beach, NJ with a Nikon D300 and a 14-24mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens.Douglas Ljungkvist
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Student Photography Winner: Rebecca Poggiali A senior at New Jersey’s Bayonne High School, Rebecca Poggiali knew she wanted to do something different for her portfolio, so she “did some research to get that extra push,” she says. “I watched multiple silent films and noticed how vital shadows were in film noir.” She set up flash and flood lights in her basement studio and cast her sister as her model. “She was thrilled!” Poggiali says. Poggiali began studying photography in high school four years ago and hopes to major in photography in college. She acknowledges one of her teachers, Thomas Hart, for inspiring her about the storytelling possibilities of film. “I try my best to share a story,” she says, “without saying a word.” She made this image with a Nikon D3000 and a Lowel Pro-Light, working in color and switching to black and white in Photoshop. “I took hundreds of shots, but this one stood out,” she says. “I think it has a sense of reality. You see the girl’s uneasiness.”Rebecca Poggiali
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Student Photography Runner-up: Sean Dufrene Sean Dufrene shot this picture in Santa Rosa, California, as part of a student project at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. “I collaborated with a friend,” he says. “The image was part of a larger project toward her thesis for her master’s degree in graphic design. This particular project concept was sustainable fashion and farming.”Sean Dufrene
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Student Photography Runner-up: Claude LeTien Claude LeTien created this photo from three separate images shot in Puerto Vallerta with his Nikon D50.Claude LeTien
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Landscape Photography Winner: Cameron Davidson Cameron Davidson, a commercial and editorial photographer for more than 30 years, started shooting aerials while photographing great blue herons on his first National Geographic assignment, in 1979. The Alexandria, Virginia–based shooter has worked as an aerial specialist ever since, leaning out of the backseat of one helicopter after another. He made this image on assignment for a corporate client in Iowa. “I love being above it all,” he says. “I’m fascinated by the graphic, abstract patterns [made when] the earth is touched by humankind.” Davidson shot with a Nikon D3X and a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, but he says a crucial tool for his airborne work is Kenyon Laboratories’ KS-6 gyro stabilizer, a hand-held attachment that helps minimize image-blurring vibration. “A helicopter is a thousand pieces of metal trying to shake itself apart,” he says. “The gyro’s essential for the low-light aerials I like to shoot around dusk.”Cameron Davidson
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Landscape Photography Runner-up: Aaron Fuller Aaron Fuller took this image in Brooklyn, NY using his Canon 5D Mark II and a 24-105mm lens.Aaron Fuller
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Extreme Photography Winner: Paul Nicklen Yukon-based National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen made this picture in unfamiliar surroundings. "I was working in warm water for once," he says. "It felt great." The 42-year-old typically shoots closer to the North Pole than most photographers care to go; he welcomed an assignment in the Yucatán on an expedition for the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP). In November 2009 Nicklen spent two weeks documenting an underground river system 100 miles south of Cancún with his Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III in a Seacam housing with an Ikelite strobe and an EF 16-35mm f/2.8 lens. The diver in the shot is ILCP President Cristina Mittermeier, whom Nicklen asked to model “when she stopped by to see how the work was progressing.” The variegated color occurred as sunlight filtered through underwater foliage. “I don’t do much post-processing,” Nicklen says, “mainly adjusting the contrast in Photoshop and that is about it.” Nicklen says that whether he's shooting for National Geographic or the ILCP, "it's all about getting the story out there and protecting habitats and ecosystems." But, he adds, this scenic shot is unusual. "This particular image doesn't fit into my other work," he says. "That's what's fun about it."Paul Nicklen
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Extreme Photography Runner-up: Brian Bielmann Brian Bielmann shot Donavan Frankenreiter surfing in the Mentawai islands of Indonesia as part of a music video for the singer-songwriter’s single “Glow.” “We made more than 2,000 still images to create a moving effect with sequences,” Bielmann says. “Whenever the water is clear I try to shoot from under the surface—it’s a whole other world down there.” But, he adds, “Donavan almost hit me.”Brian Bielmann
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Extreme Photography Runner-up: Andy WrightAndy Wright
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Portrait Photography Winner: Chris Crisman A professional photographer who lives in Philadelphia and works “everywhere,” Chris Crisman often incorporates elements of fantasy in his work. His images evoke a feeling of bright darkness, with deeply saturated color work and figures that pop from the frame like flowers on a misty day. While most of this effect is realized through lighting, Crisman also works with his full-time digital artist to complete the picture. “Collaboration is fundamental to my process,” he says, “from concept to final image.” For this portrait, Crisman gives full credit to his team, which included stylists, assistants and a digital technician. “It’s a composite,” he says. The boy was shot in-studio; his suit was in part the work of a wardrobe stylist. An industrial designer built the model rocket. “The size of the team varies depending on the project,” Crisman says, adding that on most shoots, the group numbers four or five. He shot with a Hasselblad H1 with a Phase One P45+ digital back and an HC50-110mm lens.Chris Crisman
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Personal Project Winner: Howard Schatz Photographer Howard Schatz often experiments with elaborate patterns, colors and textures in his images, but in a recent series he opted for simpler fare. “I have been working on the exploration of lines and curves made by the body,” he says. “Initially I studied such lines made by one body, later the juxtaposition of two bodies, and then this series of lines and curves made by three people.” Schatz shoots for commercial and editorial clients and has published 17 photo books. But this work, called "White folds," is personal. "I make photos to surprise and delight myself," he says. He acknowledges a debt to Pablo Picasso's minimalist line drawings of nude backsides. "I lit the bodies to blow out the skin detail and retain the lines." In other projects, Schatz has studied the refined bodies of world-class athletes, Cirque du Soleil performers and muscle-bound boxers. For this work he chose three dancers. “They could not see what they were doing and simply followed direction— ‘move here, put your leg there, twist this way, tuck more,’” he says. “You can imagine what they said when they saw the images on-screen.”Howard Schatz
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F-16 fighter pilots

Personal Project Runner-up: Tyler Stableford Tyler Stableford shot this image of an F-16 fighter pilot flying above two other F-16's during a training flight in Colorado. The image was made using a Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera and a EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens.Tyler Stableford
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Photojournalism Winner: Jen Judge Shooting portraits of victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Jen judge decided to use a white seamless backdrop. “So much press had been focused on the physical destruction, individual tragedies were being overshadowed,” she says. “People had lost their homes and families. The empty background seemed symbolic of everything that had been stripped away from them.” Based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Judge and her husband, writer Aaron Gulley, went to Haiti after gulley's father was rescued from the rubble of a hotel that collapsed in the quake. Some of Judge's photos accompanied a story Aaron Gulley wrote for Outside Magazine. Judge was especially drawn to the image of the boy and a nurse—Julie “jitterbug” Pearce of Duluth, Minnesota—who cared for him at CDTI hospital in Port-Au-Prince. “He has cerebral palsy, and he landed at the hospital after his mother abandoned him in the wake of the earthquake,” Judge says. “She was so moved by the disaster that she quit a steady job to go to Haiti. It was clear that she’d made a real connection with him, and his joy was overwhelming.”Jen Judge
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Haiti

Photojournalism Winner: Jen JudgeJen Judge
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Haiti

Photojournalism Winner: Jen JudgeJen Judge
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Haiti

Photojournalism Winner: Jen JudgeJen Judge
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Haiti

Photojournalism Winner: Jen JudgeJen Judge
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Haiti

Photojournalism Winner: Jen JudgeJen Judge
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Haiti

Photojournalism Winner: Jen JudgeJen Judge
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120th fighter squadron, 140th wing, Air Force/Air National Guard at Buckley Air Force Base, Aurora/Denver, Colorado. Homecoming of 250 airmen from Iraq.

Photojournalism Runner-up: Tyler Stableford Staff Sergeant Joseph Imeraj (foreground) and Technical Sergeant Daniel Bateman of Colorado's Air National Guard 120th Fighter Squadron return from a tour in Iraq to Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado, on July 25, 2009. Tyler Stableford shot this image as a feature on Denver's citizen-soldiers of the Air National Guard for 5280 Magazine. The image was made using a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III camera and a EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens.Tyler Stableford