These stunning pictures just won the National Geographic Photo Contest

Since 2006, National Geographic Traveler Magazine has hosted an annual photography contest that beautifully showcases our gorgeous planet, in order to inspire us to go out and see it. Given that the magazine is already home to some of the most incredible photojournalism in the world, the bar is set high for said photo contest — and on Monday, they announced the 2015 winners.

This year, the contest received over 17,000 photographic entries from around the globe. The winners were picked based on creativity and photo quality, and entries were accepted in four categories: Travel Portraits, Outdoor Scenes, Sense of Place, and Spontaneous Moments. Of course, the top photos seem to encapsulate all four.

“National Geographic Travel celebrates and illuminates destinations around the globe, and it was exciting to see that same theme captured in the contest entries,” Maggie Zackowitz, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, said in the press release. “I was blown away by the creativity of the photographers.”

The grand prize winner — Anuar Patjane Floriuk, for “Whale Whisperers” — received an eight-day National Geographic Photo Expedition to Costa Rica and the Panama Canal for two; and the second and third place winners each received smaller trips of their own. Merit winners, which were not awarded in any particular order, all received smaller prizes, as well.

Check out the winners below, along with the photographer’s captions. If a photo is usually worth a thousand words, these are probably worth a million.

Grand prize: Whale Whisperers

“Diving with a humpback whale and her newborn calf while they cruise around Roca Partida … in the Revillagigedo [Islands], Mexico. This is an outstanding and unique place full of pelagic life, so we need to accelerate the incorporation of the islands into UNESCO as [a] natural heritage site in order to increase the protection of the islands against the prevailing illegal fishing corporations and big-game fishing.”

Second Place: Gravel Workmen

“[This] gravel-crush working place remains full of dust and sand. Three gravel workmen are looking through the window glass at their working place. Chittagong, Bangladesh.”

Third Place: Camel Ardah

“Camel Ardah, as it called in Oman, is one of the traditional styles of camel racing … between two camels controlled by expert men. The faster camel is the loser … so they must be running [at] the same speed level in the same track. The main purpose of Ardah is to show the beauty and strength of the Arabian camels and the riders’ skills. Ardah [is] considered one of the most risky situations, since always the camels reactions are unpredictable [and] it may get wild and jump [toward the] audience.”

Merit: A Night at Deadvlei

“The night before returning to Windhoek, we spent several hours at Deadveli. The moon was bright enough to illuminate the sand dunes in the distance, but the skies were still dark enough to clearly see the Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds. Deadveli means ‘dead marsh.’ The camelthorn trees are believed to be about 900 years old but have not decomposed because the environment is so dry.”

Merit: Catching a Duck

“Two boys are trying to catch a duck at the stream of the waterfall. Nong Khai Province, Thailand.”

Merit: Kushti, Indian Wrestling

“Kushti is the traditional form of Indian wrestling. Wearing only a well-adjusted loincloth (langot), wrestlers (pelwhans) enter a pit made of clay, often mixed with salt, lemon, and ghee (clarified butter). At the end of a workout, wrestlers rest against the walls of the arena, covering their heads and bodies with earth to soak up any perspiration and avoid catching cold. This relaxation ceremony is completed with massages to soothe tired muscles and demonstrate mutual respect.”

Merit: White Rhinos

“The night before this photo, we tried all day to get a good photo of the endangered white rhino. Skulking through the grass carefully, trying to stay 30 feet away to be safe, didn’t provide me the photo I was hoping for. In the morning, however, I woke up to all three rhinos grazing in front of me. Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda.”

Merit: Sauna in the Sky

“A sauna at 2,800 meters high in the heart of Dolomites. Monte Lagazuoi, Cortina, eastern Italian Alps.”

Merit: Highlanders

“Traditional haymaking in Poland. Many people continue to use the scythe and pitchfork to sort the hay.”

Merit: Romania, Land of Fairy Tales

“White frost over Pestera village.”

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(All images reposted with permission from National Geographic Travel.)