Smithsonian Magazine’s Most Powerful Photos of the Year

Our photography editors select their favorites from a year full of stunning photojournalism

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Elyse Butler got up close and personal to capture this fiery scene of lava flowing dramatically into the Pacific Ocean from Kilauea volcano. (Elyse Butler)

Preserved corpses in Denmark, a church built over the spilled blood of royals, a historic dying river in Iraq, and magical music from an American master. We sent our photographers around the world to capture compelling images that tell original, inspired and heart-breaking stories. In honor of 2017, here are the 17 images that delighted and captivated us the most this year.

A sub-adult grizzly bear
A sub-adult grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) rubs against a tree in the Khutzeymateen Provincial Park [a.k.a. K’tzim-a-deen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary], in British Columbia, Canada. Approximately 50 grizzlies live in the 171 square-mile sanctuary. (Photograph by Neil Ever Osborne)
Vodouisants in the trance
Deep within the caves of Saint Michel de l’Attalaye in Haiti, Vodouisants in the trance that accompanies spiritual possession are guided between the many altars set up in the caves. (Photograph by Troi Anderson)
Iraqi women push their way into the inner sanctum
Iraqi women push their way into the inner sanctum of the Imam Ali Mosque on June 26, 2017 in Najaf, Iraq. (Photograph by Alex Kay Potter)
A selection of bird skins
A selection of bird skins from the National Museum of Natural History collected by novelist and naturalist W.H. Hudson in Argentina for the Smithsonian. (Photograph by Greg Powers)
Clayton Phipps, the “Dino Cowboy,” with a section of the Nanotyrannus fossil
Clayton Phipps, the “Dino Cowboy,” with a section of the Nanotyrannus fossil–one of the two fossilized dinosaur specimens that was preserved together in mortal combat to construct Phipps’ “Dueling Dinosaurs” find back in 2006. (Photograph by Robert Clark)
The helicopter view approaching Cape Crozier on Ross Island, Antarctica.
The helicopter view approaching Cape Crozier on Ross Island, Antarctica. (Photograph by Shaun O’Boyle)
Tollund Man is the best-looking and best-known member of an elite club of preserved cadavers
Tollund Man is the best-looking and best-known member of an elite club of preserved cadavers that have come to be known as “bog bodies.” These men, women and children who were laid down long ago in the raised peat bogs of Northern Europe, which preserved the bodies. Tollund Man lived during the 4th century BC and was found in 1950 near Silkeborg, Denmark. He is currently on display at the Museum Silkeborg. (Photograph by Christian Als)
Isaiah embracing his guardian
Photographer Gabriela Bulisova captures an intimate moment of Isaiah embracing his guardian, Sandra Koger. This photograph is part of a larger project focused on the impact of incarceration on families. (Gabriela Bulisova)
1967 STP-Paxton Turbocar
The 1967 STP-Paxton Turbocar was the first turbine-powered car to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. With the idle set at 54 percent of full throttle, drivers could unleash the car by merely stepping off the break. This beautiful vehicle is part of the National Museum of American History collection, and was featured as the National Treasure spread in the June 2018 issue of Smithsonian. (Photograph by Mitch Feinberg)
Heniantang Pharmacy
Yan Cong traveled throughout Beijing to photograph local markets and shopping centers. In this photo Cong captured a worker sorting herbs at Heniantang Pharmacy. (Yan Cong)
Volcano-full
Elyse Butler got up close and personal to capture this fiery scene of lava flowing dramatically into the Pacific Ocean from Kilauea volcano. (Elyse Butler)
Murchison Falls
Murchison Falls is one of the world’s best places to see these Rothschild’s giraffes in the wild. (Photograph by Melissa Groo)
This C-3PO costume worn by Anthony Daniels
This C-3PO costume worn by Anthony Daniels in 1983’s Return of the Jedi is part of the National Museum of American History’s collection. It was featured as the National Treasure spread in the December 2017 issue of Smithsonian. (Photograph by Cade Martin / © & ™ Lucasfilm Ltd.)
Sonic Boom of the South
In this photograph, Zack Arias captures the energy of The Sonic Boom of the South, the marching band of Jackson State University. (Zack Arias)
Assyrian sculptures
In the Mosul museums, ISIS took sledgehammers and electric drills to Assyrian sculptures. “It was impossible to move large objects” to safety, laments archaeologist Layla Salih. (Alice Martins)
ominous sky over the Church of the Blood
Photographer Olga Ingurazova captures an ominous sky over the Church of the Blood that stands on the spot where the Romanovs were murdered in Yekaterinburg, Russia. (Olga Ingurazova)
John Legends eyes
Ockenfels uses light on John Legend's eyes to seemingly emphasize his artistic vision as one of the 2017 Ingenuity Award Winners. (Frank Ockenfels 3)