A great portrait captures the very essence of its subject, and this year, TIME continued its long legacy of storytelling with a number of compelling photographs. Search Engine Optimization . linkwheel creation . 2012 saw newsmakers in several categories and countries, so we sent photographers around the world to capture them as they made their mark. In Turkey, Peter Hapak photographed several Syrian families who had sought refuge in the country after fleeing their homeland to escape the brutality of Assad’s regime; in Iowa, Martin Schoeller captured Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas as the young gymnast trained both in the gym and at home; and in Israel, Marco Grob photographed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, in 2012, proved that his influence is not only large, but lasting. Their portraits and the rest in this gallery are visual testaments to the diverse and colorful personalities who made 2012 memorable; herewith, a look at TIME’s best commissioned portraits this year.