Gina Mei
December 29, 2015 3:34 pm

For the last 127 years, National Geographic has produced some of the most gorgeous and powerful photographs in existence. More than anything, the magazine is renowned for its incredible photojournalism, and it has yet to disappoint when it comes to using pictures to tell in-depth stories about society at large.

It’s fair to say National Geographic is a good judge for stellar photography — and this year’s winners of the 2015 National Geographic Photo Contest are no exception. On Tuesday, the magazine announced the top 13 winners of its annual contest, and all of the images are absolutely breathtaking. Choosing from over 13,000 entries, this year’s grand prize went to James Smart of Melbourne, Australia, for his photograph “DIRT,” featuring a tornado tunneling through Colorado.

“The tornado was slowly getting bigger as it picked up the dust and soil from the ground on the farmland,” Smart said in a press release. “It wasn’t moving very fast, so we kept getting closer as it tracked next to the home as you can see in the image. Driving down a Colorado dirt road, we were lucky enough to be on the west of the tornado, so it was front lit. This really helped to get great detail out of the image and the perfect light for the sky and foreground.”

Submissions for the contest were accepted in three categories: People, Places, and Nature. A winner was picked for each, and then honorary mentions awarded to a handful of others.

“Every year photographers from around the globe share photographs that transport us to another place, connect with us emotionally, or stir us to action,” National Geographic‘s website reads — and we think their choices pass with flying colors.

“DIRT” by James Smart — Grand Prize and “Nature” Winner

Jaw-dropping, rare anti-cyclonic tornado tracks in open farm land narrowly missing a home near Simla, Colorado.

“Asteroid” by Franciso Mingorance — “Places” Winner

On the occasion of the preparation of a report on Ríotinto from the air, I decided to include phosphogypsum ponds located in the marshes of red and whose radioactive discharges has destroyed part of the marsh. As an environmental photojournalist had to tell this story and report it but had to do with an image that by itself attract attention of the viewer. I discovered this on a low-flying training that caught my attention for its resemblance to the impact of an asteroid on its green waters.

“At The Play Ground” by Joel Nsadha — “People” Winner

Bwengye livesin a slum called Kamwokya in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. He cherishes his bicycle more than anything else. He brings it to this playground in the slum every evening where he watches kits playing soccer.

“Hill of Crosses” by Hideki Mizuta — Honorable Mention

There are many hundreds of thousands of crosses, the Hill of Crosses has represented the peaceful resistance of Lithuanian Catholicism to oppression. Standing upon a small hill is the place where many spirits of the dead lives. When I visited this place, a girl in the pink dress ran through as if she brought the peace, hope, love.

“From Generation to Generation” by Jackson Hung — Honorable Mention

This photo was taken during Chinese New Year’s Eve of 2015 in Taiwan. While paying respects to our ancestors, I noticed how the light was coming into the room and saw the passing of incense sticks to each of our family members after sending our prayers. The photo is symbolic since the passing of incense sticks resembles and knowledge and wisdom passed down from generation to generation.

“Overlooking Iraq from Iran” by Yanan Li — Honorable Mention

There are relics left along the Iran-Iraq boarders. A group of Iranian female students play around an abandoned tank. Among them, one girl stands on the tank with her arms open.

“Orangutan in the Rain” by Andrew Suryono — Honorable Mention

I was taking pictures of some Orangutans in Bali and then it started to rain. Just before I put my camera away, I saw this Orangutan took a taro leaf and put it on top on his head to protect himself from the rain! I immediately used my DSLR and telephoto lens to preserve this spontaneous magic moment.

“Changing Shifts” by Mohammed Yousef — Honorable Mention

In Masai Mara, the cubs of the famous cheetah called Malaika became young enough to start hunting. They moved from one hill to another scanning the lands. Here, they seemed to change shifts as one cheetah leaves the hill while the other takes her place.

“Colorful Chaos” by Bence Mate — Honorable Mention

White-fronted Bee-eaters getting together on a bough before going to sleep to their burrows, scraped into a sand wall. I was working on this theme for 18 days, as there were only 5-10 minutes a day, when the light conditions were appropriate, 90% of my trying did not succeed. I used flash lights to light only the ones sitting on the branch, and not to the others, flying above. When in the right angle, the backlight generated rainbow colouring through the wings of the flying birds.

“Acrobat of the Air” by Alessandra Meniconzi — Honorable Mention

A flocks of Alpine choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus), mountain-dwelling birds, performs acrobatic displays in the air. I was able, during a windy day, to immortalize their impressive flight skills.

“Nothing to Declare” by Lars Hübner — Honorable Mention

Taiwan – In the countryside, the funerals are usually accompanied by local chapels. When a family member dies, their body is kept in the house, or in a tent built specifically for this purpose. After a set period of time, the deceased, accompanied by a funeral procession is buried.

“The Game” by Simone Monte — Honorable Mention

The game (Altinho) in Ipanema – Rio de Janeiro

“Surrealist Painting in Nature” by Tugo Cheng — Honorable Mention

As the largest mountain ranges in Central Asia, Tian-shan (‘sky-mountain’ in Chinese), has one of the best collections of natural landscapes in the world and is seen by many as a paradise for outdoor adventures. Thanks to the richness of sediments compounded with the power of erosion by rivers flowing down the mountains, the north face of Tian-shan is carved into stunning plateaus and colorful canyons hundreds of meters deep, resulting in this surrealist painting in nature.

(Images via National Geographic 2015 Photo Contest.)

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