These photos were among the favourites of our 200 million Instagram followers

We’ve posted more than 26,000 photos in 10 years. Here are the stories you connected with.

By Amy McKeever
Published 28 Jan 2022, 18:10 GMT
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Wildlife ranger Joseph Wachira comforts Sudan, the last living male northern white rhino, as he laid dying at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in March 2018. “He died surrounded by people who loved him,” wrote Ami Vitale, who was there to capture his last goodbyes. She added that she hoped that Sudan's legacy “will awaken us to protect this magnificent and fragile planet.”
Photograph by Ami Vitale, National Geographic

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of our Instagram account—which just became the first brand to surpass the incredible milestone of 200 million followers—National Geographic is looking back at some of the photographs that have been reader favorites through the years.

Over the last decade, the @natgeo Instagram account has given readers an intimate glimpse into the lives and work of our photographers—where they travel, who they meet, and how they got the stories that they tell within the pages of our magazine. Overall, we’ve posted more than 26,000 stunning images taken by more than a hundred photographers. They’ve gotten nearly 82 billion impressions, eight billion likes, and more than 43 million comments since we first started recording audience data in 2016.

These images capture the beauty and wonder of the world we live in and the creatures that inhabit it. Our followers have joined Ami Vitale as she said goodbye to Sudan, the last living male rhinoceros. They’ve watched synchronous fireflies flicker in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with Kiliii Yuyan. And they’ve taken a moment just to breathe in the crisp air at Grand Teton National Park with Jimmy Chin.

 Our photographers have also illuminated our struggles—from Joshua Irwandi’s chilling image of the body of a suspected COVID-19 victim in an Indonesian hospital to the child bride that Stephanie Sinclair photographed in Afghanistan in 2005. And Nichole Sobecki’s photographs of a rescued cheetah cub reminded us that everyone can help combat the illegal wildlife trade by refusing to like, share, or comment when they see a social media post of a pet cheetah, which is likely a victim of trafficking. It’s a testament not just to the power of social media, but the power of photography.

One month after George Floyd was murdered while in police custody in Minnesota, Kris Graves photographed the remnants of the Confederacy in and around Richmond, Virginia. “One late night on statue-lined Monument Avenue, I came across projections by artist Dustin Klein on the monument of Robert E. Lee,” he writes. “We stood and watched a seemingly endless rotation of Black lives that had been ended at the hands of police.” Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of Floyd’s murder one year later, but Graves writes that “this continues to be an epidemic in the United States.”
While documenting the treacherous waters and fishing culture of the Aleutian Islands, photographer and salmon fisherman Corey Arnold captured this image. “Every night in Unalaska, I'd spot this red fox near the side of the road, charming drivers with its irresistible cuteness into throwing it snacks out the window,” he writes. “On this evening, I spent a few hours watching this fox at work, using my headlights to light the scene.”
This human face, suspended between its donor and recipient, is a reminder of the deep connection between one’s face and identity. Beyond the drama of the moment, this face will live on as Katie Stubblefield, who at 21 became the youngest person in the United States to undergo the experimental surgery. She and her family will spend their lives coping with both the miracles of today’s medicine and the legacy of teenage depression and attempted suicide.
“I don’t know about you, but fireflies take me back to childhood,” writes Kiliii Yuyan, who captured these synchronous fireflies flashing at early nighttime in the forests of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “Here, in the space all around me, a thousand tiny green-yellow lights are miniature lanterns, blazing long enough to be seen but always escaping my cupped hands.”
This is a rare example of performing polar bears, a controversial but not illegal practice in Kazan, Russia. Polar bears are a threatened species and a powerful symbol for conservation—yet these bears are fitted with metal muzzles and their trainer holds a metal rod. Photographer Kristen Luce and writer Natasha Daly traveled the world to learn about the suffering behind the scenes of wildlife tourism. “Our intention is not to shame tourists who have had these encounters,” Luce writes, “but to arm our readers with information that will help them identify potentially abusive situations for animals.”
Photograph by Kristen Luce, National Geographic
An 11-year-old girl in Afghanistan sits beside her fiancé, estimated to be in his 40s, at their engagement ceremony in 2005. After decades of progress for women and girls, the Taliban took back control of Afghanistan in August 2021—bringing what photographer Stephanie Sinclair described as “one of the most dramatic rollbacks of women’s and girls’ rights in recent history.” Reports emerged detailing war crimes and targeted violence against women and girls, including kidnappings, beatings, and forced marriages of young girls to Taliban fighters. “My heart is tearing into pieces,” Jamila, an Afghan journalist, told Sinclair. “For centuries we were the victims of wars—as children, as teenagers, as mothers. Always as women. We don’t want to be slaves to be beaten and abused. We don't want these 20 years of progress to just go, wash away.”
“A reminder to breathe,” writes photographer, filmmaker, and mountaineer Jimmy Chin of this striking image of the Middle Teton in Grand Teton National Park.
Photograph by Jimmy Chin
The Caldor Fire rips through a valley south of Lake Tahoe on August 29, 2021. Lynsey Addario documented the California wildfire season—the second worst on record—on assignment for National Geographic.
A seahorse clutches a discarded cotton swab to ride the oceans currents near Sumbawa Island, Indonesia. “It’s a photo that I wish didn’t exist but now that it does I want everyone to see it,” wrote photographer Justin Hofman. “What started as an opportunity to photograph a cute little sea horse turned into one of frustration and sadness as the incoming tide brought with it countless pieces of trash and sewage.”
Photograph by Justin Hofman, National Geographic
Alexa Smith, a transgender woman from Honduras, made three attempts to escape violence, compounded by transphobia, in her home country. Her first try stalled in 2019 due to an assault injury, and then again in the following year because of the pandemic. Joining a migrant caravan in late 2020 was her ticket out and she finally crossed into the U.S. in 2021. “To have my papers and not go back to Honduras until I’m ready—I’m standing on my own two feet to see that happen,” she told photographer Danielle Villasana.
Photograph by Danielle Villasana
The body of a suspected COVID-19 victim lies in an Indonesian hospital. After the patient died, nurses wrapped the body in layers of plastic and applied disinfectant to prevent the spread of the virus. Joshua Irwandi said he took this photograph “to raise awareness of the danger of coronavirus, to appreciate the work of the medical staff in Indonesia and around the world who risk their lives to save ours, and to remember that we must remain steadfast and united in the face of this pandemic of our lifetime.”
San, which means “nose” in Somali, was among 10 cheetah cubs rescued in October 2020 in Somaliland, after the arrest of a high-profile cheetah trafficker. Owning a pet cheetah is illegal in most countries—so when you see a pet cheetah on social media, know that they are most likely a victim of trafficking. Help combat the illegal wildlife trade by refusing to like, share, or comment on these posts, cutting off their potential reach.
Andy Lewis crosses a slackline high above the valley floor in Moab, Utah. Photographer Renan Ozturk dedicated this photograph to his late friend Dean Potter, who first envisioned a free-solo image like this "moon walk," captured without digital manipulation within a single frame. After missing his first chance at the shot, Ozturk writes that he “stumbled through the night, arriving tired and bloody to the moonset/sunrise location on the opposite side of the towers.”
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