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Whether it’s years of practice as a professional photographer or dumb luck, fractions of a second can make the difference between an iconic photo and a blurry outtake.
These pictures were timed perfectly with fascinating and often poignant results.
Keep scrolling to see 24 photos that were taken at exactly the right moment.
This photo of Usain Bolt smiling as he raced ahead to win the Men’s 100-Metre Semifinals at the 2016 Rio Olympics became one of Reuters’ most-liked Instagram photos of the year.
Photographer Kai Pfaffenbach explained how he got the incredible shot.
“When Usain Bolt prepared for his 100m semi-final I decided to play with slow shutter speed for that race,” he told Reuters. “I set my camera (shutter speed) to a 50th of a second and was waiting for the moment when he passed my position. At the very right moment he looked to his left with the proud smile and my first thought was: ‘hopefully I got this sharp.’ Well, I’ve been a lucky bunny in this case but I still would not have imagined at this moment that this picture would go viral and get worldwide recognition.”
You can see more of Reuters’ most-liked Instagram photos from 2016 here.
There were only a few precious minutes to photograph the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.
A solar eclipse is when the moon crosses between the Earth and the sun and blocks out the sun’s light.
The total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017 was the first time in 99 years that a solar eclipse crossed the US from coast to coast. It lasted just an hour and 33 minutes, beginning in Oregon and ending in South Carolina. That left photographers in the path of totality with mere minutes to capture the moon blocking the sun’s light completely.
Rick Wilking managed to photograph both the total eclipse and a passing jet in Guernsey, Wyoming.
Former White House photographer and author of “Obama: An Intimate Portrait” Pete Souza captured this iconic shot of a young African American boy seeing himself in the first black president.
When Jacob, the young son of a White House staffer, entered the Oval Office in 2009, he told then-President Obama, “My friends tell me that my hair is just like yours.” Obama decided to let Jacob see for himself.
“And at that moment President Obama bent over and Jacob touched his head. The president said, ‘Go ahead and touch it.’ And I snapped that one picture,” photographer Pete Souza told NPR. “I have one picture of this brief moment, and it kind of took on somewhat of an iconic status in years to follow.”
Photographer Samir Hussein captured this “one in a million” shot of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry smiling at each other under a shared umbrella.
The couple attended the Endeavour Fund Awards in March – their first joint public appearance after announcing that they would be stepping back from royal duties and giving up their official royal titles. Hussein’s photo of the couple smiling together in a dramatically lit rainstorm quickly became an iconic symbol of their new chapter.
“It was pouring down with rain, which can be very tricky when shooting flash photography and also meant Harry and Meghan would be under an umbrella, which usually means it’s hard to get clean photos of the couple,” Hussein shared a statement with British GQ magazine. “Little did I know these elements would come together so spectacularly to produce a timeless image of the couple.”
Getty Image’s Streeter Lecka captured an incredible photo of Tom Brady’s daughter holding the Lombardi Trophy after the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl.
Brady’s daughter, Vivian Lake, held the trophy above her head after the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory. The camera angle caught the reflection of her ear-to-ear smile in the trophy’s shiny surface.
This perfectly placed ping pong ball was caught on camera mid-play at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.
Reuters photographer Beawiharta photographed Soo Wai Yam Min of Hong Kong mid-play at the Women’s Team Semifinals of the 2018 Asian Games. The shot perfectly frames Min’s face as she watches the ball’s descent with intense concentration.
Lightning strikes require split-second timing to capture in a photo.
An average lightning strike lasts about 30 microseconds. Reuters photographer Stefan Wermuth managed to snap a photo of a bolt of lightning illuminating the Swiss Federal Palace in Bern, Switzerland.
A statue on the roof of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris looks like it’s reaching out to touch the supermoon.
The moon’s orbit around the Earth isn’t a perfect circle – it’s an ellipse, which means its distance from the Earth varies. A supermoon happens once or twice a year when the moon’s orbit brings it closest to the Earth.
Photographing a supermoon properly can take years of planning, and on December 14, 2016, Reuters photographer Christian Hartmann angled his shot perfectly to show a statue atop the Notre-Dame in Paris appearing to touch the large, looming orb.
In a photo worthy of a gold medal, the full moon rose through the Olympic Rings hanging beneath Tower Bridge during the London 2012 Olympics.
This photo of the moon creating a sixth ring in the Olympic logo went viral during the 2012 Olympic Games in London, garnering thousands of retweets. Many also joked about the International Olympic Committee’s strict policies about protecting the Olympic logo.
“Moon taken to court by IOC for violating Olympic brand ban,” Twitter user Jon Holmes wrote.
The water splashing in the air onto the elephant looks exactly like an elephant head.
These tourists at an elephant sanctuary were helping an elephant cool off by splashing water on it. Little did they know that the splash took the shape of the elephant’s head.
Reddit user RailTieYardGame posted the photo, which went viral.
The advertisement on the back of this truck lines up almost perfectly with its real-life surroundings.
An ad on the back of a camper van appears to show the same mountains and trees as the actual surroundings.
They are, in fact, two different places, but they look incredibly similar. The image on the van is of Moraine Lake, and the location of the photo is Icefields Parkway (both in Canada), according to Reddit user tomboski who posted the photo. They also posted a few failed attempts to capture the matching scenery in order to prove that the photo is authentic when some claimed it was Photoshopped.
This photographer got the timing just right to capture celebrations of Holi, the Festival of Colours, in India.
Holi is a Hindu celebration of colours that takes place every spring. It’s celebrated in India and around the world. People throw paint in powder and liquid form and cover themselves in vibrant colours from head to toe.
This photo by Shailesh Andrade was one of Reuters’ most beautiful photos of 2017.
An aerial photo of Queen Elizabeth walking diagonally on a checkered floor is reminiscent of how the queen game piece moves in chess.
The photo was taken by Toby Melville in 2016 at a service for Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday. The checkered floor in St Paul’s Cathedral made for an amusing photo when the Queen walked diagonally across its black squares the way a queen moves in chess.
In Spain, revelers are covered from head to toe in tomatoes at La Tomatina festival.
The crowds filling the streets of Bunol, Spain, for the annual La Tomatina festival are hungry for tomatoes. Not to eat them, but to toss them at each other in an epic food fight that takes a squad of fire trucks to clean up.
This past year, around 22,000 people gathered in the town square to throw tomatoes at each other. The photos are pretty epic, but this one captured the moment an enormous bucket of tomatoes completely covered festival-goers.
A competitor in Scotland’s Tough Mudder race also made a splash.
The world-famous Tough Mudder is military-style endurance event with 10 to 12 miles of various obstacles designed by British Special Forces.
This participant in Edinburgh, Scotland, in August 2013 took a tumble into a pool of sludge, and photographer Jeff J. Mitchell caught the moment just before he was covered in muck.
Every year, there are two days where the sunset aligns perfectly with Manhattan’s east-west grid in a phenomenon known as “Manhattanhenge.”
The name comes from Stonehenge, stone sculptures in the Salisbury Plain of England in which the sun lines up perfectly during the summer solstice.
Reuters photographer Eduardo Munoz was in Times Square for Manhattanhenge 2019, and took this snapshot of the sun setting inside the city’s grid.
“A woman standing calmly, her long dress moving in the breeze, two police officers in full riot gear make their move,” Reuters photographer Jonathan Bachman said of capturing this shot from a 2016 Black Lives Matter demonstration in Baton Rouge.
Photographer Jonathan Bachman was in Baton Rouge covering the first protest of his career when he captured what many see as the defining image of Black Lives Matter rallies across America in 2016.
“She had no facial expression at all. She just stood there,” Bachman told Reuters of Ieshia Evans, the woman pictured being arrested. “I knew it was a good frame and it was something that would tell a story. When I came back to my car and I looked at that picture, I knew it would speak volumes about what was going on in that moment right there and over the past few days in Baton Rouge.”
He titled the photo “Taking a Stand in Baton Rouge.”
Obama also appeared to be holding a glowing orb on a campaign stop in 2012 (it was just a stage light).
On a three-day campaign bus tour during the 2012 presidential race, Obama spoke at Bayliss Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa. AP photographer Carolyn Kaster captured this photo of Obama at the perfect angle to make it look like he was grasping a ball of light.
Chinese diver Hu Jia competed at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney with a perfectly positioned dive.
Reuters photographer Yannis Behrakis focused on combining the right angle, moment, and background for this shot:
“I was interested to see the faces of the contestants while diving. This task turned out to be a very difficult one as I had to focus my long lens on thin air. I shot dozens of pictures hoping to freeze the action, have it in focus and also capture an interesting moment. I got lucky with one of the top athletes of the event – Chinese silver medalist Hu Jia.”
At the all-around rhythmic gymnastics final of the London Olympics, Marcelo Del Pozo captured this surreal moment mid-routine.
Del Pozo said covering an event as large as the Olympics makes it more difficult to take shots that will stand out. With this photo, he knew he got something good.
“It is one of those frames that I knew when I shot it, something strange had happened, something special,” said Del Pozo. “Covering an event where there are so many good photographers shooting from all angles means you need a little luck to get something different.”
Rhythmic gymnast Izzah Amzan of Malaysia also appears momentarily headless in this photo by William West.
Amzan was competing in the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in Queensland, Australia, in 2018.
This Saudi man looks like he’s balancing a car on his head.
Reuters photographer Mohamed Al Hwaity snapped the perfect shot of Saudi men performing a stunt known as “sidewall skiing” (driving on two wheels) in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, in 2018. The man’s selfie probably turned out pretty well, too.
People thought this perfectly timed shot of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on their wedding day was taken by a drone, but it was photographer Yui Mok.
Mok was on the roof of the George IV Gateway of Windsor Castle when the newly married Prince Harry and Meghan Markle passed directly beneath him.
“I had less than a one-second window to take that particular shot – whilst having to focus through a metal grill I was standing over – so was happy to get anything really!” Mok wrote on Twitter.
These flamingos formed a heart with the curves of their long necks.
At the Madrid Zoo, Reuters photographer Paul Hanna took a photo of two flamingos in an embrace that happened to form a heart shape.
- Read more:
- 50 mind-boggling pictures from 2018 that will make you look twice
- Close-up photos of everyday objects make them almost impossible to recognise – can you guess what they are?
- 30 viral pictures that captured hilarious coincidences in real life
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