Surreal. That’s how visual journalist Hyosub Shin describes 2020.

The year started out with the usual coverage, high school basketball championships, murder trials, legislative sessions, an Oprah Winfrey tour and the arrival of those soon-to-be-infamous new voting machines.

Then the world changed. Amid early fears of COVID-19, metro Atlanta began to shut down. The constant noise and traffic were suddenly quiet. In recent years, Shin has added drone photography to his skills, and this allowed him to document the roadways from a unique vantage point. When he saw a largely empty Spaghetti Junction during rush hour, he said “I realized this year wouldn’t be the same.”

The constant news of COVID began to give way to protests after the death of George Floyd touched off weeks of unrest around the world, including in metro Atlanta. The coverage was seemingly endless with long days and many miles traveled on foot to capture images of protesters and police during clashes and peaceful exchanges. “To tell the truth, I was physically very tired,” Shin said.

Then came the deaths of civil rights icons the Rev. C.T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis. “I had met them and photographed them several times,” Shin said, and with their deaths “it was a personal grief, as well.”

As the pandemic continued to rage, the virus hit close to home when Shin’s oldest son spiked a fever and became ill. The family went into quarantine but the journalist in Shin was still at work. He brought his camera to his son’s doctor appointment. “It was a chance to get a photo of a real patient in real-time. Yes, it was private, but it showed the gravity of the situation.” Thankfully, his son has recovered and his whole family is healthy.

He’s looking forward to the new year. With the vaccine, “I’m optimistic we will get back to our normal life soon,” he said.

Watch this Behind the Lens video for Hyosub Shin’s perspective on 2020: