The Winning Images From Nat Geo’s Travel Photographer Of The Year Contest Will Take Your Breath Away

The National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest has ended for 2017, and the winners have been announced! Much to my surprise, for the grand prize, they went with an incredible photograph of a lightning bolt hitting an erupting volcano taken by photographer Sergio Tapiro Velasco, and not my entry, “Selfie in a Starbuck’s Bathroom.” I was DEFINITELY robbed, but whatever. Capturing a photo of all the fury, power, and beauty mother nature has to offer is cool too…I guess.

Tapiro has been patiently photographing volcanoes for 15 years, but this moment was definitely a once in a lifetime capture. Not that it was an easy shot to get. He spent 20 whole days just watching this volcano, Mount Colima, in December of 2015. Then, while shooting the erupting volcano, lightning struck, and everything lined up to create this phenomenal image.

“This picture is a gift that nature has given to me,” Tapiro told National Geographic. “When I saw the camera display I was shocked—I didn’t believe it.”

At 13,000 feet, the 5 million year old Mount Colima is a stratovolcano in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt in Jalisco, Mexico. It’s often active, but the last major eruption happened in 1913, which has scientists predicting that the next big eruption could happen any day now. It’s Tapiro’s lifelong goal to be there to capture it. He even built a restaurant at its base just to make sure he’s always close at hand.

“It is the passion of my life,” Tapiro told Nat Geo. “I love this volcano.”

Along with the prestigious title of Travel Photographer of the Year, Tapiro has won a ten-day trip for two to the Galápagos Archipelago with National Geographic Expeditions.

It’s an amazing photograph, but truly, all of the runners up and category winners were incredible this year. National Geographic was kind enough to share them with us. So check them out below!

All captions were written by the photographer.


1st Place

“Levels of reading” The modern interior of the city library in Stuttgart. With its wide-open space in the central, where natural light comes from through the windows on the top, it has a very unique atmosphere, where you can broaden your knowledge.

2nd Place
“Walled City #08” The Kowloon Walled City was the densest place on Earth. Hundreds of houses stacked on top of each other enclosed in the center of the structure. Many didn’t have access to open space.This notorious city was finally demolished in 1990s. However, if you look hard enough, you will notice that the city is not dead. Part of it still exists in many of current high density housing apartments. I hope this series can get people to think about claustrophobic living in Hong Kong from a new perspective.

3rd Place
“Henningsvær Football Field” This football field in Henningsvær in the Lofoten Islands is considered one of the most amazing fields in Europe, and maybe even in the world. The photo was taken during a 10-day sailing trip in Norway in June 2017. We arrived to Henningsvær after a week of sailing through the cold and rainy weather. Upon our arrival, the weather cleared up. I was really lucky that the conditions were suitable for flying my drone, and I managed to capture this shot from a height of 120 meters.

Honorable Mentions

“Colorful apartment” This building is apartment complex in Gifu Prefecture of Japan. It is very colorful, but it is an ordinary collective housing where ordinary people can live.

“Al Ain” New city on the desert


1st Place
“The power of nature” Powerful eruption of Colima Volcano in Mexico on December 13th, 2015. That night, the weather was dry and cold, friction of ash particles generated a big lightning of about 600 meters that connected ash and volcano, and illuminated most of the dark scene. On last part of 2015, this volcano showed a lot of eruptive activity with ash explosions that raised 2-3 km above the crater. Most of night explosions produced incandescent rock falls and lightning not bigger than 100 meters in average.

2nd Place
“To live.” Swans who live vigorous even in mud.

3rd Place
“Crocodiles at Rio Tarcoles” This image was captured in Costa Rica when I was travelling from Monteverde to Playa Hermosa. As you cross over this river, you can stop and peer over the edge of the bridge. Below, reside over 35 gigantic crocodiles,relaxing on the muddy banks of the river. I wanted to capture the stark difference between the crocodiles on land and in the water. In the murky waters, the body contours of these beasts remain hidden, and one can only truly see their girth as they emerge from the river.

Honorable Mentions

“Marble Caves” The marble caves of Patagonia

“Forest of the Fairy” Shooting in the forest This photograph was taken in the evening hours of a humid early summer day in the forest of a small remote village in the Tamba area of Japan. It beautifully captures the magical atmosphere of Princess fireflies carpeting a stairway leading to a small shrine revered by the local people.

“Mt. Bromo” Mount Bromovolcano is a small, but active volcanic cinder cone on Java, Indonesia. Early 2016, I happened to be in Mt.Bromo during the increase of seismic activity and triggered the alert status to the second highest.

“In Your Face” Caribbean reef sharks are usually shy so I placed my camera on a rock where I know they frequent and used a remote trigger to click away as they came in and bumped my camera around.


1st Place
“worship” This photo was taken in Konya. Willing Dervish in an historical place of Sille KonyaTurkey.The ‘dance’ of the Whirling Dervishes is called Sema and is a symbol of the Mevlevi culture. According to Mevlana’s teachings, human beings are born twice, once of their mothers and the second time of their own bodies.

2nd Place
“Interesting moment.” Museum visitors curiously watching Rembrandt’s painting ” Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild” where it gave the illusion that the people on the paintings too are curiously watching the visitors.

3rd Place

“Under The Wave” I recently traveled to Tavarua, Fiji to do some surf photography with pro surfer Donavon Frankenreiter at Cloudbreak. I’m always looking for new angles and perspectives. The usual surf shots have all been done so we decided to get a little creative. Makes you look twice.

Honorable Mentions

“Bridging Generation.” A beautiful photo of a father and son sitting in white traditional attire with beautiful blue sky on the day of Eid al-Fitr in a mosque in New Delhi, India. The photo shows the beautiful bond which these two generation have been building up in a very simple and lovable manner.

“The Man’s Stare” The photo was taken on 23rd of July 2016 at Tongi Railway Station, Gazipur, Bangladesh. I was there for taking photos and waiting for a moment. A train from Dhaka toward another district has reached and stopped at the platform for 5 min for lifting passengers. It was huge raining. Suddenly I found a pair of curious eye was looking at me through the window and on his left an umbrella has been put for protect the rain. I got the moment.

“Blessings at Besakih” Besakih Temple has been known as Bali’s ‘Mother Temple’ for over 1000 years and is perched 1000 metreshigh on the southwestern slopes of Mount Agung. Here Balinese often come to offer up prayer and take blessing from the temple priests or “Pemangku” who reside there.