Capturing pure human emotion is what every photographer strives for when they snap a picture. After all, a candid moment far better displays reality than a staged one, and you can’t quite nail down emotion when it’s forced.
Not only do photographers want to convey the raw feelings of the subjects in their pictures, but they also aim to elicit emotion from the viewer. It’s not an easy task, and sometimes it takes years to capture the perfect moment that makes an impact.
These 36 incredible pictures not only showcase the entire range of human emotion, but they manage to affect their viewers in impactful ways. Take a look!
1. This young boy had a very good reason for his shocked expression. He was born deaf, and he needed a hearing aid inserted into his ear. This picture was taken at the exact moment that the device was turned on and he could hear for the first time.
2. This famous photograph was snapped during a very tense time in China. The civilian in front of the tanks became known as “Tank Man,” and he became the courageous symbol of the Tiananmen Square Massacre that occurred in 1989.
3. During a protest in Kiev, Ukraine, one of the activists stopped to play a few notes on an old piano that was standing on the side of the street. Even during times of turmoil, this person seemed to understand that the beauty of music was more powerful than violence.
4. During World War II, the Nazi regime incited all sorts of emotion when it stormed into neighboring European countries. This man broke down into somber tears as he watched Nazi troops march into Paris, France.
5. In this heartbreaking picture, a child tries to pull his drunken father off of the ground outside their home. Millions of children grow up in households that are less than ideal, and this picture portrays a young boy who has to assume the role of the adult out of love and desperation.
6. This pair of gravestones of a married couple in the Netherlands was a true symbol of the power of love. The wife was Catholic and the husband was Protestant, so they weren’t allowed to be buried in the same graveyard. But they found a way to be connected forever.
7. A young orphan boy broke out into a wide smile and threw his head back in happiness after he received a new pair of shoes toward the end of World War II. The gratitude in the boy’s face is felt to this day—long after the war’s end.
8. This somber photograph depicts a Russian war veteran kneeling down next to the very tank he operated in the war. Millions of soldiers saw friends and family suffering at the hands of the enemy, and this vet took a moment to recall the memories of his life-changing experiences.
9. During times of war, it seems like acts of kindness are few and far between. When Sergeant Frank Praytor, pictured below, came across an abandoned kitten near where he was stationed, he put aggression aside and found kindness in his heart to help the little guy out.
10. Dogs are known to be incredibly loyal to their owners, and this picture is a perfect example of that devotion. After his owner was killed in a landslide in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this dog stayed by his grave for days before leaving.
11. This photo sums up what every soldier was feeling about the Vietnam War in three short words. Young kids who were barely out of high school were being sent to fight overseas. This soldier may have a smile on his face, but the overall attitude was one of fear and loneliness.
12. During the Kosovo War, families would desperately try to get their children into refugee camps even if they couldn’t go with them. In this photo, a two-year-old boy is passed through a barbed-wire fence by his despairing family who hopes he can make his way safely to a camp.
13. The assassination of beloved President John F. Kennedy was one of the darkest hours for the United States. In this inspirational photo, the president’s son, John F. Kennedy Jr., salutes his father’s coffin as it rolled by. It’s striking to see such a small child observing this solemn ceremony like an adult.
14. The Black Power movement of the 1960s caused a lot of tension between races, but it was an important stance in solidarity for the African-American community. During the medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a courageous homage to the movement.
15. This is an amazing example of a before-and-after family photo of three sisters who were clearly very close with each other. It’s sad to know that one of the sisters passed away before the photo on the right was taken, but they memorialized her beautifully.
16. The faces on these Jewish prisoners are wrought with relief and disbelief. This photo was snapped just as the train in the background was stopped and the inmates were told of their liberation. They were in complete shock at the news.
17. This captivating photo shows an Indian boy desperately clinging to a power line after a devastating flood struck the area where he lived. Though it’s a haunting image—and his fate is unknown—it acts as a testament to the strength and will of a human being who is determined to stay alive.
18. During every period of war, there are always those who protest violence and oppression by encouraging peace and unity. In this photo, a 17-year-old girl holds a flower as a peace offering to soldiers during anti-war protests in 1967.
19. True bravery is something that everyone likes to think that they possess. In truth, most people allow their fear to take over when faced with an intimidating situation. This man courageously stands up against a line of police officers and pleads for them to stop acting aggressively toward his fellow protesters.
20. A reunion between long-lost siblings is always a wonderful experience, even if it’s short-lived. In this well-known photograph, a North Korean man waves goodbye to his weeping South Korean brother from a bus after a temporary inter-Korean reunion event.
21. In this absolutely mesmerizing picture, 100,000 Buddhist monks sit in complete silence and pray together for a peaceful future for the world. Each one of these monks is sending positive energy out into the universe.
22. Albinism is the absence of pigmentation in the eyes, skin, and hair, making those who have it have incredibly light features. These two babies are actually cousins, though the one on the left was born with albinism. Even though they look different, the bond they share will never fade away.
23. In this picture, a doctor takes a much-needed break during a 23-hour-long heart transplant. His assistant can be seen in the background of the photo taking a short nap on the floor. Their exhaustive efforts worked; the patient survived.
24. Here is the actual patient who was on the operating table in the previous photo. Not only did this man survive the intense 23-hour ordeal, but he actually outlived his surgeon. He is grateful every day for that doctor’s determination!
25. In this startling picture, a young Irish teenager confronts a British soldier in Northern Ireland during a period of unrest that became known as “The Troubles.” Catholics and Protestants frequently faced off in violence because Catholics wanted to be free of British rule in Northern Ireland.
26. This photograph shows a reporter running with a child in his arms. This was taken during the Spanish Civil War, and the reporter apparently was trying to rescue the child. It’s not known whether or not they survived after the picture was snapped.
27. In a world where greed seems to be the number one characteristic among many people and big businesses, it’s especially lovely to see a picture of two different species sharing a moment of compassion and generosity. This monk doesn’t seem at all fazed by his much larger, clawed friend!
28. In 2009, wildfires tore through miles of land in Australia, destroying forests and killing thousands of animals. But one lucky koala was discovered by rescuers, and he shared a special moment with a man who offered him some much-needed water.
29. This picture is famous around the world. A missionary worker takes the hand of a starving child in Uganda. The conditions that families lived in were beyond atrocious, and famine claimed the lives of children and adults all over the country. Still, this image provided some sense of hope.
30. After an earthquake shook Japan in 2011, it caused a massive tsunami that decimated the prefecture of Fukushima. Here, a young woman sits amid the chaos and stares hopelessly at all of the destruction, waiting for some kind of help to arrive.
31. A young boy named Diego Frazao Torquato cries while playing a song on the violin at his mentor’s funeral. Not only did his teacher show him how to play the instrument, but he also rescued him from a life of poverty and violence.
32. The Occupy Wall Street movement divided people all over the country. While tensions were high and economic inequality affected everyone, officers weren’t expected to share in the opinions of the protesters. Policeman Ray Lewis thought otherwise; he was arrested because he sympathized with the movement.
33. This is another iconic photo that proves that love can always overcome turmoil. The gentleman on the ground, Scott James, comforts his girlfriend, Alex Thomas, after she was injured when she fell during a riot.
34. In this heartbreaking photo, a young man sits on the ground and clutches his chest in agony after learning that his brother had just been killed. It’s not known how the brother died, but he left behind a family member who will never forget him.
35. In 2011, a flood in India caused by heavy monsoons swept away thousands of acres of land and killed more than 100 people. The man in this photograph knows that all life is worth saving, however; he risks his own safety to rescue these three frightened, stranded kittens.
36. Leaving your family behind is one of hardest parts about being deployed overseas when you’re a soldier—especially when there’s no guarantee you’ll ever be able to see them again. Here, soldier Terri Gurrola holds her daughter and cries tears of joy after returning from a seven-month tour in Iraq.
After looking at these pictures, most people can’t help but appreciate the real emotions that the photographers were able to capture. It’s a beautiful collection of humanity at its most vulnerable!
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