PICS: The winners from the NatGeo Travel Photographer of the Year awards will inspire wanderlust

Our desire to explore the world and learn more about its inhabitants – human and nature – stem from the depictions and experiences shared by individuals who creatively capture Earth’s diverse beauty through photography.

One of the platforms that never fails to delight and enlighten global audiences, while instilling deep wanderlust and the desire to learn even more about the world, is National Geographic. Serving to share knowledge for 129 years, it also funds work in the areas of science, exploration, conservation and education.

Added to this, one of National Geographic’s most pivotal roles is inspiring people to explore all corners of the world – and its Travel Photographer of the Year Contest certainly achieves this by revealing remarkable images of nature, cities, and people, shared by travellers on their global journeys.

SEE: PICS: NatGeo Travel Photographer of the Year Contest reveals incredible entries in the 'People' category

"For the Travel Photographer of the Year contest, we encourage photographers to show us the world through their own stories of travel and exploration," says National Geographic, which celebrates pictures taken by all levels of photographers.

Whitney Johnson, vice president of visual experiences at National Geographic, and two National Geographic contributing photographers — ocean and adventure photographer Andy Mann and polar photographer Camille Seaman chose the winners of the three categories - Nature, Cities and People.

"I was amazed at the quality of images and the sensibility towards subject in all three categories for this competition,” says Seaman.  “Looking at hundreds of images choosing the winners was a daunting task. The images that stood out did so based not solely on their technical execution but also a sensitivity for a feeling of the moment and originality."

The grand-prize went to Reiko Takahashi of Japan who beat more than 13 000 entries with her photo of a humpback whale calf’s tail, titled “Mermaid”.

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Yea

Nature 1st Place and Grand-Prize Winner

MERMAID - “I was fortunate to have encountered a humpback whale with her calf on my first day snorkeling near Japan’s Kumejima Island. Most of the time, the calf stayed close to her mom. At one point, the calf began jumping and tapping its tail on the water near us—it was very friendly and curious. Finally, the mother, who was watching nearby, came to pick up the calf and swim away. I fell in love completely with the calf and it’s very energetic, large and beautiful tail.” (Photo and Caption by Reiko Takahashi / 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest)     

Takahashi, a long-time photographer who left her office job to pursue her passion for underwater photography, took the winning photo off the coast of Japan's Kumejima Island where she ventured to photograph humpback whales with their young calves.

"It was a special scene for me, to be able to take a photo of the calf, completely relaxed in gentle waters,” says Takahashi. “I really cannot believe it. It was my dream to win. I am honoured and it will be the driving force for my future shooting," she adds.

Takahashi receives $10 000 USD (over R137 277 @ R13.73/$), will have the photo posted on the @NatGeoTravel Instagram account, and earns the prestigious title of National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year 2018. 

In addition to the grand-prize winner, top photos were selected in each of the three categories, with other category winners being awarded $2 500 (about R34 319) each.

Takahashi’s photo was also chosen as the winner in the Nature category, while Hiro Kurashina of Japan won the Cities category for his photo titled “Another Rainy Day in Nagasaki, Kyushu,” while the People category went to “Tea Culture” by Alessandra Meniconzi of Switzerland.

From 11-15 June members of the National Geographic community also got to vote for their favourite photo in each category from a selection of images chosen by National Geographic photo editors. The photos with the most votes have been named People’s Choice winners - see all the winners here.

Check out all the winning photos

Nature 2nd Place:

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Yea

FLAMINGOS TAKING OFF – “Thousands of flamingos are seen taking off from the colourful Lake Natron in Tanzania. Before taking off, flamingos need to take a short run on water to build up some speed. At that moment, their long, red legs create a series of water ripples on the surface of the lake. Looking down from the helicopter, these ripple lines look like giant aquatic plants flowing in the water. This photo was taken from a helicopter.” (Photo and Caption by hao j. / 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest)             

Nature 3rd Place:

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Yea

MARS – “These natural sand towers, capped with large stones, are known as the Earth Pyramids of Platten. They are situated in Northern Italy’s South Tyrol region. Formed centuries ago after several storms and landslides, these land formations look like a landscape from outer space and continuously change over the years and, more accurately, over seasons. This natural phenomenon is the result of a continuous alternation between periods of torrential rain and drought, which have caused the erosion of the terrain and the formation of these pinnacles. As the seasons change, the temperatures move between extremes and storms affect the area, pyramids disappear over time, while new pinnacles form as well.” (Photo and Caption by Marco Grassi / 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest)

Cities 1st Place:

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Yea

ANOTHER RAINY DAY IN NAGASAKI, KYUSHU – “This is a view of the main street from a tram in Nagasaki on a rainy day. The tram is vintage but retrofitted with modern ticketing equipment. A conductor is no longer on board—only the lone driver. The quiet streetscape seen through the front windshield of the tram somehow caught my attention. This view presents quite a contrast to busy urban centers in Japan, such as Tokyo and Osaka. The ride on a vintage tram through the relatively quiet main street was a memorable experience during our week-long visit to the historic city of Nagasaki.  (Photo and Caption by Hiro Kurashina / 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest)            

Cities 2nd Place:

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Yea

Geometry of the Sun – “Teotihuacan means 'the place where the gods were created,' and that's the exact feeling visitors have when they walk along the Avenue of the Dead at this Mexican archeological site. This pyramid was dedicated to the god of Sun, and I found it mesmerising how the rising sun in the picture conquered just half the image, while the other half is in the shadows. I have always loved archeology and ancient civilizations, so I couldn't wait to visit Mexico and explore the remains of the pre-Columbian civilisation. I planned my visit to Teotihuacan at sunrise, to get a combination of golden sunlight, play of shadows, and few crowds around. I flew my drone to see if the image I had in my mind was really out there: luckily for me, this frame was just waiting for my camera!” (Photo and Caption by Enrico Pescantini / 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest)

Cities 3rd Place:

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Yea

REFLECTION – On an early morning, I wanted to photograph the fog, which is epic in Dubai every year from December to January — and almost every photographer’s dream in this part of the world. Sadly, I could not get access to the rooftop and so I peeped through the glazed window on a lower floor. I was overwhelmed and excited to see how beautiful the city looks, and my excitement was quadrupled as soon as I saw the reflection of the road and building on the building that I was in. I immediately opened the window to the maximum permissible amount and clicked a single shot with stretched hands.” (Photo and Caption by Gaanesh Prasad / 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest)

Honourable Mention:

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Yea

ALONE IN THE CROWDS – “In this photo, I tried to bring the intense and stacked living conditions that Hong Kong is famous for into perspective for the viewer. With so many people living in small spaces, it's strange to see all these amenities empty. As a solo traveller, I’m often alone in crowds and this photo resonates with me. I barely scratched the surface of this incredible urban environment, but this image really summarises my experience here." (Photo and Caption by Gary Cummins / 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest)

And in our own SA honorable mention, Cape Town's beautiful BoKaap did make the finalists in this category. 

ALSO SEE: PICS: Colourful Bo-Kaap featured in NatGeo's spectacular 'Cities' entries for Travel Photographer of the Year Contest 

SUGAR AND GUM DROPS â?? â??The colourful streets of BoSUGAR AND GUM DROPS - "The colourful streets of Bo-Kaap weren't always this way. The facades were once mandated to be a drab, uniform color during Apartheid. After Apartheid ended, the residents painted their homes every colour of the rainbow to celebrate their freedom. Visiting Bo-Kaap during the intense mid-day sunlight, the houses were so brightly colured it was almost blinding!" (Photo and Caption by STEPHANIE MILLER, THE SCENIC SUITCASENational Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

People 1st Place:

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Yea

TEA CULTURE – “For a long time, I have been fascinated by the ancient Mongolian method of hunting with Golden Eagles. In early 2018, I followed one family of eagle hunters during their migration from winter camp to spring camp. Mongolia is sparsely populated, but the inhabitants have a very hospitable and welcoming culture. Tea for Kazakh culture is one of the attributes of hospitality. Tea isn't just a drink, but a mix of tradition, culture, relaxation, ceremony, and pleasure. Damel, seen here wrapped in heavy fur clothes, drinks a cup of tea to keep warm from the chilly temperatures in Western Mongolia.” (Photo and Caption by Alessandra Meniconzi / 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest)

People 2nd Place:

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Yea

LEIDA AND LAELLE - I WILL LIFT YOU UP – “Since 2016, I've been involved with Haitian immigrants and refugees living in my city, Estrela. I have become friends with some families, and especially with twin sisters, Leïda and Laëlle. They say living in Brazil is like living in paradise—very different from the reality of their country of origin. They dream of becoming models and teachers, as a way to earn money to bring their other relatives from Haiti to Brazil, to live all near one another.  On this day, they were playing in front of their home, improvising exercises to develop their imagination and creativity, as if they were actresses, and playing an imitation game with poses. Laëlle reached for Leida's face and lifted her head up, showing her where she should look. At this brief moment, I took the photo. (Photo and Caption by TATI ITAT / 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest)

People 3rd Place:

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Yea

CHALLENGING JOURNEY – “This photograph was taken from Dhaka's airport rail station during the Eid vacation. People were returning to their village homes to spend Eid with families, and the rush at the last hour was immense. One man caught my attention: he was dangling on a train's handle with his family, trying to get inside the train. At that time, rain started and the train began to slowly move. The family had tickets to board the train but couldn’t get to their seats. There are many people like him, who come to Dhaka for work — leaving their families and home villages — so when they get vacation, they don't want to miss the opportunity to spend time with dear ones, no matter what.” (Photo and Caption by MD Tanveer Hassan Rohan / 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest)
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