An Eastern Screech Owl camouflages itself in the hollow of a tree; a young Sami reindeer herder takes respite from the Artic cold; a group of Congolese women in the sect of Tatahonda paint their black faces white in preparation for a religious ceremony. These are the images that captured the imagination of the judges and took home top honors in the 2013 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest.
National Geographic Traveler received more than 15,500 entries for its 25th annual competition, covering all corners of the planet from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe. In the end, however, it was Wagner Araujo of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, who emerged as the grand-prize winner for his black and white shot “Dig Me River,” which depicts the adrenaline of Brazilian Aquathon participants as they race into the Rio Negro.
Max Seigal of Boulder, Colo., placed second for his surreal image “Thunderstorm At False Kiva,” while third place went to Yanai Bonneh of Negev, Israel, for his frightening (yet humorous) image of cheetahs atop a Kenyan tourist safari, titled “Say Cheese.”
Keith Bellows, editor in chief of National Geographic Traveler magazine, said that every year the task of judging the contest gets tougher. “The quality of photos increasingly gets better -- and the range of imagery more diverse. It’s exciting to see the emergence of such huge numbers of imaginative photographers.”
Amateur and seasoned shutterbugs alike submitted photographs this year across four broad categories: Travel Portraits, Outdoor Scenes, Sense of Place and Spontaneous Moments. Each photo was then judged over two rounds of evaluation based on the creativity and photographic quality.
The prize-winning images will appear in the December 2013/January 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine, but you won’t have to wait until then to check them out. Scroll down below for a sneak peek at the top three, along with the seven merit winners and the People’s Choice.
First Place: Dig Me River -- "I was in Manaus, Amazonas, during the Brazilian Aquathlon (swimming and running) championship. I photographed it from the water and my lens got completely wet, but there was so much energy in these boys that I just didn't worry about that." Wagner Araujo/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Second Place: Thunderstorm at False Kiva -- "I hiked out to these ruins at night hoping to photograph them with the Milky Way, but instead a thunderstorm rolled through, creating this dramatic image." Max Seigal/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Third Place: Say Cheese -- "Cheetahs jumped on the vehicle of tourists in Masai Mara national park, Kenya." Yanai Bonneh/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Merit: The TataHonda Sect -- "The photographer could get inside of an enclosed sect named Tatahonda in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The ladies are preparing for their religious ceremony." Gergely Lantai-Csont/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Merit: Sakura -- "Cherry blossom is called Sakura in Japanese.Cherry blossom is Japanese symbolic flower.There are various kinds in a cherry tree and an especially old cherry tree has many kinds called Edo-Higan. The trees of the cherry tree exceeding hundreds of years are located in a line with a nebula this temple, and if spring comes every year,can looks at a powerful spectacle can do it. This photograph focused on Edo-Higan and photographed Beni-Sidare which is back together." Hideyuki Katagiri/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Merit: Children of Reindeer -- "Mikael Ánde, a child of Sámi reindeer herders, takes a break indoors after a long, cold day of rounding up the animals for vaccinations and slaughter. Children of reindeer herders learn to handle these animals and the land they thrive in from infancy - young Mikael here knew far more about the ways of nature than I could ever hope to learn." Michelle Schantz/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Merit: Piano Play at Sunset -- "Streets of Queenstown, New Zealand at the end of one more day filled with adrenaline. Calming and doleful scene with piano sound in the background." Nikola Smernic/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Merit: Portrait of an Eastern Screech Owl -- "Masters of disguise. The Eastern Screech Owl is seen here doing what they do best. You better have a sharp eye to spot these little birds of prey. " Graham McGeorge/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Merit: Guanjiang Shou -- "Guanjiang Shou troupes are one of Taiwan most popular activities that may be seen all over Taiwan at traditional folk religion gatherings. With their fiercely painted faces, protruding fangs and powerful, choreographed performances, they are easily recognized, They may be described as underworld police or gods' bodyguards." Chan Kwok Hung/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Merit: Lady in Water -- "A lady collects water in the river by a village in Bagan, Myanmar, 2013." Marcelo Salvador/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Viewers Choice: Another Perspective of the Day -- "The fisherman at Bira Beach." Dody Kusuma/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest