10 Iconic Photos from 125 Years of National Geographic

National Geographic
National Geographic / National Geographic

National Geographic's Power of Photography issue—on stands now—celebrates 125 years of beautiful, heart-stopping, iconic pictures snapped by National Geographic's photographers. "Today photography has become a global cacophony of freeze-frames. Millions of pictures are uploaded every minute," author Robert Draper writes. "It’s on this hyper-egalitarian, quasi-Orwellian, all-too-camera-ready 'terra infirma' that National Geographic’s photographers continue to stand out. Why they do so is only partly explained by the innately personal choices (which lens for which lighting for which moment) that help define a photographer’s style. Instead, the very best of their images remind us that a photograph has the power to do infinitely more than document. It can transport us to unseen worlds."

You can get transported to a few of those unseen worlds below, and to many more by reading the cover story.

All photos and captions via National Geographic.

1. Whitefish, Michigan, 1906

Photo by George Shiras/National Geographic

Photography pioneer George Shiras made the first nighttime wildlife photos. Here he demonstrates his revolving camera tray, mounted jacklight, and handheld flashgun.

2. Machu Picchu, Peru, 1913

Photo by Hiram Bingham/National Geographic

An elevated view of about half of Machu Picchu, the lost mountaintop city of the Inca in the Peruvian Andes. National Geographic supported Bingham's excavations at the site from 1912 to 1915.

3. Texas, 1939

Photo by Luis Marden/National Geographic

A cowgirl dropped a nickel in a parking meter to hitch her pony. When this photo was taken El Paso was still a highly horse-conscious town with many cattle-ranch residents.

4. Kuwait, 1991

Photo by Steve McCurry/National Geographic

Under the black clouds of burning oil fields during the Gulf War, camels forage desperately for shrubs and water in southern Kuwait. Front-line photographs of regions ravaged by human strife can also illuminate war’s environmental cost.

5. South Africa, 1996

Photo by Chris Johns/National Geographic

A lion pushes through a dust storm in Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, South Africa. The weather had worsened to the point that it didn’t notice the photographer's approach. "I shot three rolls of him and just one picture turned out—serendipity," says Johns.

6. Canada, 2004

Photo by Paul Nicklen/National Geographic

Its image mirrored in icy water, a polar bear travels submerged—a tactic often used to surprise prey. Scientists fear global warming could drive bears to extinction sometime this century.

7. Jökulsárlón, Iceland, 2009

Photo by James Balog/National Geographic

Destined to melt, an 800-pound chunk of ice glowed in the moonlight. It washed up in a lagoon created by a receding glacier, part of a worldwide shrinkage of glacial ice.

8. Afghanistan, 2010

Photo by Lynsey Addario/National Geographic

Noor Nisa, about 18, was pregnant, and her water had just broken. Her husband was determined to get her to the hospital, but his car broke down, and he went to find another vehicle. The photographer ended up taking Noor Nisa, her mother and her husband to the hospital, where she gave birth to a baby girl.

9. Gulf of California, Mexico, 2011

Photo by Brian Skerry/National Geographic

Snared and doomed by a gill net, a thresher shark is among an estimated 40 million sharks killed each year just for their fins. Drawing attention to this unsustainable practice has led some countries to ban the trade of shark fins, considered a delicacy in Asia.

10. Sequoia National Park, California, 2012

Photo by Michael Nichols/National Geographic

This photo is a mosaic composed of 126 images—click to enlarge. Cloaked in the snows of California’s Sierra Nevada, the 3,200-year-old giant sequoia called the President rises 247 feet. Two other sequoias have wider trunks, but none has a larger crown, say the scientists who climbed it. The figure at top seems taller than the other climbers because he’s standing forward on one of the great limbs.