12/20/2013 01:48 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Stories Behind The Most Powerful Photos Of 2013 (VIDEO)

The highs and lows of the year that was 2013 will endure through the powerful photography that captured the triumphs and failures of the human spirit.

HuffPost Live's Josh Zepps gathered the photographers behind these unforgettable shots to hear the stories of the pictures that moved us this year.

boston bombing

While millions of Americans stood frozen in front of their televisions, watching the chaos of the Boston Marathon bombing unfold, Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki was in the thick of the action. From his spot at the marathon's finish line, Tlumacki snapped the above photograph just five seconds after the first bomb exploded.

The photographer described the display of humanity that he witnessed immediately following the carnage following the two explosions. In addition to the Boston paramedics, EMTs and firefighters who were on the scene, victims got a rush of care from caring observers.

"Bystanders leapt over the fence. They were climbing the fence to get at the injured people," Tlumacki said. "I would say within 15 seconds, most of the people on the ground that were injured were being tended to."

As a result of the lightning quick response from professionals and strangers alike, none of the injured people surrounding Tlumacki died in the aftermath of the disaster, he said.


It was a transformation for the ages: Miles Scott changed from a 5-year-old who had battled leukemia into Batkid, a cloaked keeper of peace and justice for the city of San Francisco.

The day of heart-tugging happiness was orchestrated by Patricia Wilson, executive director of Make-A-Wish Foundation Greater Bay Area, who has been granting children's wishes for 15 years. Wilson asked for volunteers and was hoping to assemble a crowd of 200 people to cheer on Batkid as he conquered the city, but her call for help went viral and a wave of tens of thousands of supporters descended on San Francisco.

"I still can't articulate what that was like, to feel the love of that many people in front of city hall," Wilson said.

Wilson said she scoured Twitter that day and marveled at the powerful kindness spreading like wildfire online.

"It was just goodness. It was the day the Internet was nice," Wilson said. "Caring and compassion won the day for sure."

military couple

This unplanned shot went viral this year for its perfect illustration of love conquering all.

Family photographer Sarah Ledford, owner of ShutterHappy Photography, had a photo session with Kelly Cottle, her husband Jesse Cottle and the rest of Kelly's family, which Ledford scheduled at the edge of a river that boasted beautiful scenery but rough terrain. The photographer had no idea that one of her subjects had lost both legs in Afghanistan and wore two prosthetics.

At the end of the shoot, Jesse took off his prosthetics and the entire family hopped into the water for one final shot. Ledford thought she was all done, until she lucked into the perfect moment.

"He jumped on the back of Kelly, and Kelly was hauling him out of the water," Ledford said. "I stopped them and was like, 'No, no, hold on, this is way too cute, I have to capture this.'"

For Ledford, the best part was that a photo that seemed so magical to everyone else was just a typical day for this special couple.

"This was just everyday life for them, and I was capturing who they were in the moment," she said.

doma struck down

This photo marks the continuing drumbeat of equality that rang across the nation when the Supreme Court struck down the Defense Of Marriage Act this summer.

Same-sex wedding photographers Cindy Brown and Sharon McMahon were in a small Georgia town near Atlanta called Pine Lake when they heard the news, and Brown's reaction was immediate.

"I just ran out into the streets and started screaming and yelling at everybody," she said.

Brown and McMahon went downtown later that day for a celebration of DOMA's demise carrying a "NO H8" sign, and they snapped this moving portrait as a random car passed them by. McMahon said the glory of the day was the love that overflowed among strangers.

"We didn't know one another, but we were hugging. We were just running from one person to the other, from one place to the other," she said. "It was so spontaneous. I think that's what really made it great. People just kept coming in."



In A Bad Mood? 12 Little Reasons To Smile