From vaccination centres and ICU wards to family reunions and lockdown beards, the images selected by the Guardian and Observer photographers, accompanied by their thoughts, give individual takes on covering the ongoing pandemic.

Graeme Robertson

The week I spent in the ICU was really shocking for me. I also caught Covid that week so I had time after the job to think about what I had witnessed. I sat in the ward opposite a poor patient and was surprised how pale and plastic their skin appeared. I asked the doctors if this was normal for Covid sufferers; the doctors said the patients were dying and the skin changes colour. This was shocking to me. I thought every person breaking the rules or did not think Covid was that bad should spend a day in this ward. The people were very ill and helpless. I was scared and I don’t get scared. I was also so impressed with the staff and the amount of people needed to achieve very small jobs like moving a patient; it took six to eight people just to turn a patient in bed. I already had so much respect for our NHS staff but now I think they are superhuman and deserve everything we can give them.

Vaccinations at Thurso high school, Scotland.

Murdo MacLeod

Vaccination has changed our landscape and our lives over the last year. Imagine the world without it. There is no freedom like good health. I photographed on a day when almost 1,000 people of all sorts and sizes got vaccinated in a sports hall at Thurso high school. The team included practice nurses, advanced nurse practitioners, GPs, a retired GP, a trainee GP, paramedics and a consultant physician. Additional volunteers included practice administration staff and even some patients acting as support volunteers. It was the epitome of community and society at work doing good.

Tom Adamson, Gamekeeper for the Bolton Abbey Estate holds some heather in his hands as Moorland Burning takes place on Barden Moor in the Yorkshire Dales.

  • Tom Adamson, gamekeeper for the Bolton Abbey estate, holds some heather in his hands as moorland burning takes place on Barden Moor in the Yorkshire Dales

Richard Saker

With Covid influencing the way I’ve worked this year it was good to get away from this story for a while. So the opportunity to cover moorland burning in a considered way over a few days and listen to the arguments for and against was refreshing and enlightening. To its critics, moorland burning is damaging to the environment – it releases millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases, destroys habitats and increases the threat of flooding in lowland rivers. The vast moorland estates in northern England and Scotland earn vast incomes from grouse-hunting and every year they burn patches of heather to remove cover for predators and create space for green shoots to be eaten by the grouse. The estates argue that the burning helps to preserve the landscape and claim that opposition is motivated by hostility to grouse shooting. I love the Yorkshire Dales, its a special place of peace and tranquillity so to see it ablaze was, as a photographer, visually spectacular and dramatic but as a human being left me feeling upset and worried. Looking at this image makes me feel uneasy and if it makes others feel the same way then it was certainly a photograph worth taking.

Scenes outside Buckingham Palace after the death of Prince Philip was announced, 9 April

Sarah Lee

This was an impromptu shot. I happened to be cycling past Buckingham Palace on the afternoon Prince Philip’s death had been announced. People and news cameras were gathering in the expectation of seeing “something”, “anything”. There was the feel of a strange pandemic-influenced spectacle. Genuine mourners (and there were a few quietly dignified people laying flowers who had known or worked personally with the duke) were outnumbered by curious members of the public. It still felt odd to see people shoulder to shoulder in a crowd. We were only just coming out of the strictest stage of last winter’s lockdown. You could palpably sense the nervousness about Covid. But also the thrill of being in a crowd again. Part of a collective experience, albeit a slightly melancholy one, for the first time in months. As I watched, this ardent royalist dressed in his ramshackle homemade guards uniform came to leave a tribute. It caused the crowd to surge together. A strange site of curious masked spectators watching a self-consciously public display of mourning that seemed so specific to these weird pandemic times.

The national Covid memorial wall at dusk, 4 November

Martin Godwin

The Covid memorial is a public mural painted by volunteers to commemorate victims of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom. Stretching for more than a third of a mile along the South Bank of the River Thames in London, opposite the Palace of Westminster. As the day was ending, the last of the light caught the wall and it seemed to glow. People turn up to look and maybe draw a red heart. Some just quickly walk past. But most seem to slow and look and read the inscriptions on the wall. The young couple in the photo stopped for some time to take in the memorial, as the woman reached out to touch some heart, or name, the feeling was palpable.

Sister Elaine Stokes giving local resident Leo Fielding his first Covid-19 injection at Lichfield Cathedral.

  • Sister Elaine Stokes gives Leo Fielding, a local resident, his first Covid-19 injection at Lichfield Cathedral, 15 January

Chris Thomond

Leo Fielding caught my eye immediately as he strode up the nave at Lichfield Cathedral, which had opened that day as a coronavirus vaccination hub.

Smartly dressed and full of purpose, the energetic octogenarian quickly took a seat and rolled up his shirt sleeve. As Sister Elaine Stokes inverted the vial and carefully filled the syringe, he took in every last detail as if to savour the moment. His gaze never wavered as she checked for air bubbles and then approached, needle in hand. Within seconds the task was complete and one of the NHS’s heroes exchanged mask-hidden smiles and wished Leo well as he stood up to head home.

Interrupting his walk towards the exit, I remarked that it was a wonderful setting for such a momentous personal occasion. He glanced around at the magnificent surroundings and whispered: “Yes, I think I’ll say a little prayer of thanks on my way out.”

After spending the previous year photographing too many Covid hotspots, this was easily the most uplifting experience I’d witnessed. Many were nervously stepping outside their doors for the first time since the pandemic started, eager to be filled with a miraculous new drug and hope for the future.

Nurse Kim James comforts a gravely ill Covid-19 patient on the ICU ward at Milton Keynes hospital during the UK’s second Covid wave, 7 January

David Levene

I caught Covid, along with the rest of my family, just before Christmas last year. Thankfully our illnesses were not too severe and I was back to work by 2 January 2021. Five days later, I was witnessing, first-hand, just how severely many other people were being affected by the disease on the Covid wards at Milton Keynes hospital.

Until then it had been difficult to get media access to Covid wards, but by the second wave, hospitals had begun to let journalists document the increasingly bleak picture that faced NHS staff as they battled to deal with rising infections and severe illness, largely due to the more transmissible Alpha variant. I spent the day in Milton Keynes meeting staff and patients on high-dependency and intensive care units. Nine out of the 10 beds in the ICU were occupied by patients seriously ill with Covid-19, most of whom were unconscious.

The man in this photograph had been admitted two days earlier and, like the rest of the patients suffering with Covid-19, was alone, separated from family members not allowed into the hospital to be with their loved ones. I watched as nurse Kim James comforted the patient, holding his hand tightly as he struggled to breathe, assisted by the Cpap (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) mask he wore over his face.

The patient died from Covid-19 two days later.

A male model poses wearing a face mask over his genitalia for a Guardian Weekend story about sex during Covid, 26 May

Antonio Olmos

On a Monday morning in May I got a call from Kate Edwards, the picture editor of the Guardian Weekend Magazine. She wanted to know if I could do a studio photo illustration for a piece on sex during the Covid pandemic. The magazine wanted a mask over a man’s genitals. And could I find a model and do the photo in two days. I said sure, why not. I called a friend who knew lots of men willing to pose naked after all my friends with nice torsos turned me down. My friend found me Dan de la Motte. After two years of covering all the sadness of Covid with empty city streets, closed shops, masked people and those cut down by the disease, this photo is certainly different and was actually fun to do.

Alice, Oxford Street, London.

  • Alice, Oxford Street, London, 15 December

Jill Mead

I’d been out photographing in the West End and was heading home. I saw Alice applying her makeup in the light of a shop window and instantly knew I’d love to take her portrait. She was completely unaware how beautiful and striking she looked and utterly modest too.

Alice is 21 years old, a zoology graduate, and in January is heading to a research project in South Africa. She was accepted two years ago but Covid-19 scuppered it. It looked likely that the Omicron variant would jeopardise her trip again but she’s finally going. She can’t wait. I felt so thrilled for her and truly chuffed that I’d captured a tiny aspect of her adventure, with the Oxford Street Christmas lights, as a lovely backdrop. Everything about meeting her felt optimistic. I’d missed that feeling.

Josh and Arun.

Suki Dhanda

I shot a series of photographs focusing on men and boys growing their hair during lockdown earlier this year. Although the salons had reopened from 12 April 2021, for some there was no rush for a cut. Most liked the longer unkempt look. What was the point of a haircut if there was nowhere to go?

In this photo, Josh is sitting next to his brother-in-law, Arun. Both spent their lockdown in his mother-in-law’s house in Slough. I had not met them before. Not only did they have matching long hair and beards, but they also dressed similarly. Both were very happy with their hair – much to the dismay of their family – and were planning to keep their hair uncut. Four months later Josh did end up trimming his hair and beard to look smarter for work. Aaron ended up shaving his head and his hair has grown back to a manageable length, so far!

Wedding dresses in a closed shop, London, 1 March

Linda Nylind

At the beginning of the winter lockdown in January 2021, I took a series of pictures for my lockdown diary to visualise my feelings about the pandemic. I stumbled upon this shuttered boutique full of wedding dresses on Fonthill Road in Finsbury Park, an area normally buzzing with fashion traders and people buying outfits for special occasions. In normal times, this shop front would have represented the most joyous moment in many people’s lives, but it had somehow taken on an apocalyptic air. It made me think about all the lives disrupted, dreams shattered, and plans put on hold indefinitely because of the pandemic.

A scene from The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare at the RSC’s new Garden Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

  • A scene from The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare at the RSC’s Garden theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 21 July

Tristram Kenton

The RSC’s Comedy of Errors, directed by Phillip Breen, was due to open in the Royal Shakespeare theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon in April 2020. Because of lockdown restrictions, all their theatres were closed. Sixteen months later, the production opened in a new outdoor performance space, the Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Garden theatre: a space that had not even been conceived of when the production went into rehearsal.

I had spent most of that time glued to my desk digitising my archive, so it was exhilarating to be back photographing live theatre again. This wide-angle shot shows the performance in full flow, with the two permanent RSC theatres, the RST and Swan, lit up behind. It shows just how successful the RSC, like many other theatres, has been in adapting to the circumstances, giving audiences (those who were lucky enough to get tickets!) a magical live experience again.

A Covid advice sign above the huge South Stand that would normally be filled with home fans during the Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea Premier League match at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium on 4 February 2021 in London

Tom Jenkins

Spurs v Chelsea, normally one of the most intense matches in the Premier League with a rivalry that borders on hatred among the fans. This was the scene at half-time in their clash at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium in early February. It’s taken at the top of the huge South Stand, the biggest single-tiered stand in the country, which, in normal times, would be packed with home fans. That moment felt very dark and haunting as the message to social distance was played out across the rows of empty seats.

Cannon Hill Park in Birmingham .Pictured is Alyssa Bravo with her fiancé Paul Abuston whom she hasn’t seen for 7 Months. Today is Alyssa’s birthday

Fabio de Paola

I did a shoot on the first day of lockdown easing at Cannon Hill Park in Birmingham when members of different households could meet up, play outdoor sports and have picnics again. Walking around the park, I couldn’t help notice a family bring out a cake on to a picnic table. It was Alyssa’s birthday and she was seeing her fiance for the first time in seven months! Double celebration. All the family seems so happy to be meeting up. It felt like a corner had been turned.

Seascape photography (using multiple exposures) at Chapel Porth, north Cornwall

  • Seascape, Chapel Porth, Cornwall, 29 January

Jonny Weeks

Seldom have I had much freedom or time to play around with my cameras since I was at art school, so when my editor asked me to diarise lockdown life in a creative way during the third national lockdown (January 2021) I wandered out to my local coastline looking for inspiration. The sunlight streaming over the cliffs at Chapel Porth in Cornwall provided a strong backlight for high contrast photography and when I combined these landscape images with pictures of the tumbling ocean, it created a dissonant effect. I particularly enjoyed it whenever dog walkers, cyclists, surfers and runners crept into these scenes because it gave me the chance to compose something a bit more playful. On reflection, I realised those people were seeking escapism from lockdown life, just as I was, and my multiple exposure photographs were a nod to the solitude and uncertainty of that time.

By Indana