The buzz surrounding Leonardo DiCaprio leading up to the 2016 Academy Awards was almost impossible to miss. Then it happened: After six nominations in his 20-plus years on screen, one of the most celebrated actors in Hollywood finally won an Oscar for Best Actor, for his role in “The Revenant.”

Getty Images photographer Chris Polk was backstage to witness DiCaprio’s big night unfold.

“It’s something you work for your whole career,” said Polk, who has been capturing the biggest names in entertainment for over a decade. “Being back there is a big responsibility — it’s such a big day and has a lot of weight on it.”

As “Titanic” co-star Kate Winslet looked on (and was caught shedding tears of joy for her friend) DiCaprio accepted his award.

“It was a big deal to him and you can see it in the imagery,” Polk said. “As the photographer, you get to share a moment with them that no one else could, and that’s special.”

Although the ceremony was Polk’s fourth, he said every year the event stands out not just for the glamour, celebrity and ceremony, but because of how genuinely happy and excited all the celebrities are — and how willing they are to have their photos taken.

When DiCaprio raised his award in front of the audience and millions of viewers around the world, Polk crouched on stage, out of sight from the television cameras, to get his shot. When DiCaprio finished his acceptance, Polk maneuvered so he could continue to photograph as the actor made his way offstage.

“When they come off stage, you’re the first person they’re going to see, even before their family and friends. Their reactions are so real,” Polk said. “It’s the closest thing to being inside what they’re thinking.”

To Polk, this moment when the gravity of winning sinks in is when incredible Oscar images happen.

“He’s such a professional,” Polk said of DiCaprio. “He was there 100 percent. To be part of his acknowledgement was a really great moment.”

At the end of the program, attendees and winners congregated on stage to congratulate one another. Kate Winslet, who captured the hearts of television viewers with her steadfast support of her friend, joined DiCaprio, allowing Polk was to capture images of the two engaged in a rare moment.

“He allowed us to participate in his win,” Polk said. “There are spectacular images of him embracing Kate. When else are you going to be able to shoot something like that other than at the Oscars?”

 

Explore more images from the moments that defined 2016 at Getty Images’ 2016 in Focus digital experience.