December 16, 2014 4:01 AM EST

We know them as head of states, movie stars or athletes. They are forward-thinking, rebellious or controversial. They lead us or challenge us. Yet, behind their extraordinary auras and personalities, they are human beings like the rest of us.

This year, as TIME reinforced its legacy of strong visual storytelling, these newsmakers reveled in the flashes of the magazine’s photographers. From Marco Grob’s playful portrait of Seth Meyer to Yuri Kozyrev’s powerful – and exclusive – shoot with Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of the Pussy Riots, TIME’s commissioned photographers crisscrossed the world to meet with the world’s most influential personalities; culminating in an unprecedented four-country, 12-city photo shoot by Jackie Nickerson and Bryan Schutmaat with TIME’s Person of the Year – the Ebola Fighters.

 

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