Our Favorite PetaPixel Stories of 2023

PetaPixel favorite stories 2023
Image credits: Liam Brennan (left) and Josh Valcarcel (right).

This year has been a fascinating one in the world of photography, and like every year, it was full of incredible highs, devastating lows, and everything in between.

As we close the book on 2023, it is the ideal time to take stock and highlight our favorite stories of the year, setting a celebratory tone for 2024 and everything it will offer.

Matt Growcoot’s Favorite Stories of 2023

Interviewing Don Pettit

What is it about PetaPixel and space? All the staff loves it and the readers seem to too. So when I got the chance to interview Don Pettit — arguably the greatest photographer astronaut ever — I was excited.

Don proved to be a lovely man whose passion for photography was abundantly clear. He trains astronauts in our beloved art and remains an active astronaut at 68 years old.

Don Pettit surrounded by cameras
A famous photo of Don Pettit on Expedition 30/31 in 2011 surrounded by Nikon D3s in microgravity.

Don revealed to me that Nikon makes special firmare for NASA to help battle galactic cosmic ray damage that ruins the cameras in space. Fascinating stuff.

CEWE Photo Awards Suspends Winner Who Staged Picture

The CEWE Photo Awards is a pretty big deal so when I received a tip-off suggesting that the overall winner had staged her picture I began to dig.

It’s rare to go all Bernstein and Woodward but I spent a chunk of November investigating these claims speaking to people in the photographer’s native country of Indonesia to stand up the story.

Behind the scenes of the award-winning photo.
The picture that won the CEWE Photo Awards 2023, left, was purportedly taken in a traditional Indonesian cafe but was actually shot in a studio alongside multiple other photographers at a conceptual photo event, right.

When I was sent a picture of a crowd of photographers shooting the same scene in what was clearly a studio, I knew the winning photo had been staged and published my article which led to CEWE suspending the photographer.

Kayaker’s Scary Encounter With Orca Pod Leads to Dream Photos

Part of the job that I love is speaking with so many photographers about their craft. But some stories stand out more than others and Liam Brennan’s was one of those.

Spy hopping orca
An orca spy hopping close to the photographer’s kayak in the Salish Sea, Vancouver with Mount Baker (located in the U.S.) in the background | Liam Brennan

He was casually kayaking in the waters around Vancouver when a huge ocean-faring orca spy hopped right in front of him. Brennan had his camera ready and captured remarkable images of the apex predator with Mount Baker in the background.

But what I loved about the interview is that Brennan had no qualms telling me just how terrified he was!

What It’s Like Switching from a 2014 DSLR to a 2023 Mirrorless Camera

It’s a rare day I get to rise from my desk and shoot some photos so when I had the opportunity to review the Canon R6 Mark II I was positively thrilled.

Canon R6

My brief was to compare the R6 II to the last camera I had been using: a 2013 Canon 5D Mark II DSLR. I put the new mirrorless camera through its paces at a rollerblading event in Athens, Greece.

I remain impressed and now I’ve seen what the latest technology can do, I’m never going back.

Testing AI Photo Extenders

It’s easy to forget that Adobe’s Generative Fill didn’t exist at the beginning of 2023. AI photo editing has come on leaps and bounds in 12 months — particularly in Photoshop.

DALL-E vs Photoshop
One of these photos has been extended with Photoshop’s Generative Fill, the other one with DALL-E’s Outpainting.

Testing to see whether DALL-E or Photoshop extends photos better was one of those fun, deep-dive articles that was really a snapshot at that moment.

The article was published in June and since then DALL-E has released a new model, so a re-evaluation is most likely needed in 2024.

Jeremy Gray’s Favorite Stories of 2023

The Story Behind NASA’s Iconic and Timeless Artemis II Portraits

Early in my tenure with PetaPixel, while still reeling from the abrupt end of not only my time at Imaging Resource but the website itself, I got to write one of my favorite photography stories ever.

I’ve always loved speaking with talented photographers and showcasing their work, and I’ve long been obsessed with space. Interviewing NASA Scientific Photographer Josh Valcarcel to discuss his historic Artemis II crew portraits ticked all these boxes.

NASA Artemis II crew portrait
The crew of NASA’s Artemis II mission (left to right): NASA astronauts Christina Hammock Koch, Reid Wiseman (seated), Victor Glover, and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Jeremy Hansen. | Credit: NASA/Josh Valcarcel

Valcarcel’s insights, photos, and background make for a truly spectacular story. I’m not tooting my own horn, as it is Valcarcel’s words and pictures that carry the story, but it was a blast to write and was just what the doctor ordered for me personally and professionally.

How Editors Blend Art and Science to Bring NASA’s Space Photos to Life

At the risk of creating a pattern of space stories that I will struggle to break, another highlight of 2023 was working with PetaPixel‘s Podcast team to interview image processors Joe DePasquale and Alyssa Pagan at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland.

Our Favorite Stories of 2023
NGC 346 (NIRCam). Pagan picked this out as one of her favorites. NGC 346 is a dynamic star cluster within a nebula about 200,000 light years from Earth. The various ridges seen throughout this image result from stars forming within the colder gas of NGC 346. As stars form, they change the environment. The energy from the young stars breaks down dense clouds, creating the ridges. The pillars of glowing gas in the image show more of this stellar erosion process. | Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, Olivia C. Jones (UK ATC), Guido De Marchi (ESTEC), Margaret Meixner (USRA) / Image processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI), Nolan Habel (USRA), Laura Lenkić (USRA), Laurie E. U. Chu (NASA Ames)
Our Favorite Stories of 2023
Webb’s First Deep Field was unveiled on July 11, 2022 by President Joe Biden. The image covers a patch of the sky that is approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length. In that tiny section of sky, there are almost an inconceivable number of visible galaxies thanks to Webb’s resolution and sensitivity. Joe DePasquale picked this as one of his favorite images from the first year of Webb. | Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

DePasquale and Pagan are the masterful image processors behind some of Webb’s most spectacular images, and they have also worked with data from other famous telescopes, like the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope. Learning from the duo about how they bring the details of deep space to life and help propel humanity to new, greater understandings of the cosmos was equally fascinating and fun.

Like so many people I’ve talked to this year, DePasquale and Pagan are passionate about their work and generous with their time. I look forward to picking their brains in 2024 as more brilliant photos come downstream from Webb.

A Look at the Ultra-Rare Cameras in the 2023 Leitz Photographica Auction

Photography has a rich history, and there are few better places to learn about vintage cameras and lenses than in the bi-annual Leitz Photographica Auction. Ahead of this summer’s auction, I headed to Leica’s American hometown in New Jersey to check out some of the soon-to-be-sold lots.

I got to get up close and personal with some incredible camera equipment, including an ultra-rare Leica 250 GG Reporter with an accompanying Leica-Motor M00EV unit, a black paint M3 worth more than all the camera gear I’ve ever owned and will ever own put together, and a camera that is nearly a century old.

42nd Leitz Photographica Auction
Leica 250 GG Reporter + Leica-Motor M00EV

While seeing the gear was great, the best part of the experience was picking the brains of camera experts from the auction house. Don’t get me wrong, I love keeping up with the latest and greatest camera gear, but there is something so special about seeing photography’s origins.

Nikon Ambassador Michelle Valberg on Storytelling in Wildlife Photography

I’ve been lucky enough to chat with many remarkable photographers, amateur and professional alike. It is impossible to talk about everyone, but I want to highlight my recent interview with Nikon Ambassador and incredible wildlife photography Michelle Valberg.

On a Labor Day weekend trip to Ottawa, I visited the excellent Museum of Nature, where I saw dozens of incredible photos of wolves, all captured by Valberg. I was so enthralled that I emailed Michelle upon my return to ask if she’d be up for an interview. She was gracious enough to accept, and shared many insights into wildlife photography and the importance of storytelling. Plus, her photos are remarkable!

I’ve long loved wildlife photography, and the opportunity to speak to one of the world’s foremost wildlife photographers is one I’ll not soon forget.

Sony Announces a9 III, World’s First Global Sensor Full-Frame Camera

Alongside reviewing photo gear, writing about new cameras and lenses is my bread and butter and has been a significant part of my career. I’ve been around for many product launches and reveals from every manufacturer and have been on more press trips than I remember. However, no grand unveiling has been as impactful as Sony’s recent a9 III announcement.

The camera sports a groundbreaking global shutter image sensor, a first for the full-frame mirrorless camera segment, that powers some truly incredible features. Not the least is the ability for the a9 III to shoot full-resolution images at up to 120 frames per second and sync flash at any shutter speed, including at up to 1/80,000s. The new sensor design also means that rolling shutter is a thing of the past, a huge deal for sports and action photographers in particular.

There are some concerns about the cost of being at the forefront of global shutter sensor technology. Still, the Sony a9 III’s announcement makes the cut as one of my favorite stories of the year because it is possibly the most significant camera reveal ever.