TIME Picks the Best Viral Photos of 2011

Dagsa Family—Handout/Reuters
Dagsa Family—Handout/Reuters
Seconds after taking this picture of his smiling family outside his Manila home, in the early hours of New Years day, councilman Reynaldo Dagsa was shot dead. The police did not have to look far for evidence of the killer's identity. The assassin and his accomplice had inadvertently been photographed in the background of the last image taken by the politician—his gun directly aimed at his victim—from behind a parked car, the barrel highlighted by the camera's flash. Amid the traditional exploding firecrackers Dagsa's relatives had not heard the gunshot that killed him-- they simply saw him collapse after he was hit. He was rushed to hospital but pronounced dead on arrival. Later when they looked at the photo he had taken of them, his family realized that the 35-year-old Dagsa had photographed his own murder in the act. The photograph, taken just after midnight on 1 January, was released by Dagsa's family on 4 January. It was published on the front page of The Philippine Daily Inquirer and then quickly went viral. The picture also led to the arrest of two suspects, gunman Michael Gonzales and accomplice Rommel Olivia.

Spontaneous snapshots. Intimate moments. Unexpected exposures. There was no one formula for this year’s most viral photographs. Most were based on news events, such as the death of longtime Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi—but these photos ended up becoming the news themselves. They shocked us. They awed us. They inspired us to feel. But the most powerful feeling was the impulse to share.

The best viral images of 2011 are those we found flooding our email inboxes and Twitter feeds this year. One thing weaves the images together: each photographer netted a once-in-a-lifetime picture. From Royal Wedding mania and a bloodied despot to an utterly unexpected leopard on the loose, photographers both professional and amateur brought us the scenes of unpredictability and chaos that gripped our world over the past 12 months. As shocking as the subject matter is the simplicity of some images. A few came from mobile phones. Most were snapped without a thought of—or time to handle—composition or lighting. One was even taken by a man who would be dead minutes later.

Given that the Internet is a notoriously fickle beast, it’s impossible to predict which photos will score a hit. Here, LightBox looks back on the photos we couldn’t help but share. —Nick Carbone

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