A polar bear peers up from beneath a hole in the melting sea ice of the Hudson Bay while a setting midnight sun turns the Arctic sky cotton candy pink. For a wildlife photographer, such a surreal encounter doesn’t happen everyday. But veteran Paul Souders put himself in the right place at the right time to snap a shot that would ultimately win him the top prize in the 2013 National Geographic Photo Contest.

“The bear swam up to the iceberg, ducked under and stayed underwater for several seconds as I moved my zodiac into position and then held out the camera on a six-foot boom near the entrance,” Souders told National Geographic of the encounter. “I didn’t fire until she came up to breathe and take a look at me, and I kept firing the shutter as she submerged again.

“She hung there, just below the surface, watching me, then came up for another breath before swimming away,” Souders continued. “I couldn’t see her from where I sat in my small zodiac boat; I was shooting blind with the wide angle. I sensed it was a unique situation, but the first thought in my mind was that I really didn’t want to screw up. I’d already dunked the remote radio trigger and camera into the salt water, and had to jury rig a replacement cable by chewing off the copper wires and hand-splicing it together. I don’t know how, but somehow it worked.”

“The Ice Bear” beat out more than 7,000 entries from over 150 countries to win both the Nature category and $10,000 top prize. Cecile Baudier of Jylland, Denmark, placed first in the People category for the image “Together, Alone,” while Adam Tan of Selangor, Malaysia, took first in the Places category for his image “Long Road to Daybreak.”

Keith Jenkins, director of photography for NationalGeographic.com, noted that the overall caliber of entries in the 2013 National Geographic Photo Contest was outstanding. “We were thrilled to see a global community of picture lovers connect and share each other’s photos of our world,” he said.

The 10 honorary mentions, each prize-worthy in their own right, paint a colorful portrait of our incredibly diverse world. Combined with the three winning shots, which will be published in National Geographic magazine, this dazzling collection of images reaffirms the beauty of the people, places and natural landscapes that call planet earth home. Scroll down to have a look.