A photograph of an erupting volcano hit by a bolt of lightning has earned Sergio Tapiro Velasco of Mexico the title of 2017 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year. The judges probably had a tough time choosing from 15,000 travel photography entries from participants in more than 30 countries!

Velasco took his grand prize-winning photo, titled “The Power of Nature,” outside Colima, Mexico. For more than a decade, Velasco has been studying and photographing the Volcán de Colima, which is one of the most active volcanos in Latin America and also known as the “Volcano of Fire.” Before he captured this striking photograph, Velasco had been carefully tracking an increase in activity and closely watched the volcano for almost a month.

While shooting on a completely clear night just 12 kilometers away from the crater, Velasco heard a booming noise and witnessed the biggest volcanic lightning he’d ever seen. Until he reviewed the photos he’d taken, Velasco had no idea if he’d actually captured the spectacular event.

The 2017 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year contest recognizes spectacular photos taken within the last two years, with entries in three categories: Nature, People and Cities. Velasco gets a 10-day trip for two to the Galápagos Archipelago and a $2500 prize.

Grand Prize Winner: The Power of Nature

Photo and Caption by Sergio Tapiro Velasco

A powerful eruption illuminates the slopes of Mexico’s Colima Volcano on December 13, 2015. I was in the town of Comala when I suddenly saw incandescence above the volcano’s crater and started shooting. Seconds later, a powerful volcanic explosion expelled a cloud of ash particles and a massive lightning bolt illuminated most of the dark scene. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life.
Location: Rancho De Aguirre, Colima, Mexico
Colima Volcano, Comala, Mexico

Photo: Sergio Tapiro Velasco

Second Place Winner, Nature: To Live 

Photo And Caption By Hiromi Kano

Swans glide over the water in Kabukurinuma, Osaki, Japan, a protected wetland. Since many of Japan’s wetlands have been lost, this area has become a rare wintering place for birds and may be a last paradise for them. I was particularly impressed by the swans, and careful not to disturb them when taking pictures. I took into account wind direction and shutter speed to capture the strength and elegance of their flapping wings.

Location: Oinukake, Miyagi, Japan

Kabukurinuma, Osaki, Japan

Photo: Hiromi Kano

Honorable Mention, Nature: Marble Caves

Photo And Caption By Clane Gessel

My dad and I traveled to Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia earlier this year, and we wanted to see something off the beaten path. After a 10-hour drive and traversing a long, dirt trail, we finally came upon the marble caves. We chartered a boat to take us closer, and I waited for the perfect light to capture these intricate blue swirls. The extra effort it took to reach the caves was worth it.

Location: Torres Del Paine, Magallanes, Chile

Torres del Paine National Park, Magallanes, Patagonia, Chile

Photo: Clane Gessel

Honorable Mention, Nature: Forest Of The Fairy

Photo And Caption By Y. Takafuji 

In a remote village in the Tamba region of Japan, twinkling fireflies light up the Forest of the Gods on a summer evening. The fireflies carpet a stairway leading to a small shrine revered by the local people, creating a magical atmosphere.

Location: Tamba, Japan

Tamba region, Japan

Photo: Y. Takafuji

Honorable Mention, Nature: Mt Bromo

Photo And Caption By Reynold Dewantara 

Mount Bromo is a small but active volcano on East Java, Indonesia. On January 17, 2016, I was nearby when an increase in seismic activity triggered an alert. This photo was taken from the patio of a local hotel, where I was waiting with my camera. Just as the volcano erupted, the ashes seemed to glow with light. This photo is very special to me—a rare eruption of Mount Bromo with excellent lighting.

Location: East Java, Indonesia

Mount Bromo Volcano, East Java, Indonesia

Photo: Reynold Dewantara

Honorable Mention, Nature: In Your Face

Photo And Caption By Shane Gross

The Gardens of the Queen is a remote marine area south of Cuba, and has been protected since the 1960s. Predators, like these Caribbean reef sharks, are abundant—a sign of a healthy ecosystem. Large and fully-protected marine areas like this may be our best chance in the fight to save our fragile oceans. To get this image I placed my camera on a rock where I knew the sharks frequent, and backed away so I wouldn’t frighten them. I used a remote to take pictures while the sharks bumped my camera.

Location: Cuba 

Gardens of the Queen, Cuba

Photo: Shane Gross

People’s Choice Winner, Nature: Buff Tailed Coronet

Photo And Caption By Hymakar Valluri

A buff-tailed coronet feeds on flower nectar in the Ecuadorian forest, a paradise for hummingbirds.

Location: Ecuadorian forest

Forest of Equador

Photo: Hymakar Valluri

Second Place Winner, People: Interesting Moment

Photo And Caption By Julius Y

A crowd of spectators stands in front of Rembrandt’s masterpiece, Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild, at Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. As I observed the scene I laughed when I realized that the people in the painting also appear to be curiously watching the visitors. I managed to take two shots before the audience moved away—one is out of focus, but this one was perfect.

Location: Amsterdam, North Holland, Netherlands

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, North Holland, Netherlands

Photo: Julius Y.

Third Place Winner, People: Under The Wave

Photo And Caption By Rodney Bursiel

I recently traveled to Tavarua, Fiji, with professional surfer Donavon Frankenreiter and captured this image at Cloudbreak. The usual surf shots have all been done, so we decided to get creative and looked for new angles and perspectives.

Location: Tavarua, Fiji

Tavarua, Fiji

Photo: Rodney Bursiel

Honorable Mention, People: Bridging Generation

Photo And Caption By Jobit George

A father and son dressed in traditional white clothing sit at a mosque in New Delhi, India, under a blue sky on Eid al-Fitr, the conclusion of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. This photo shows the beautiful bond between two generations.

Location: New Delhi, NCT, India

New Delhi, India

Photo: Jobit George

Honorable Mention, People: The Man’s Stare

Photo And Caption By Moin Ahmed

A train coming from Dhaka pauses at Tongi Railway Station in Gazipur, Bangladesh, on a rainy morning. Suddenly I saw a pair of curious eyes looking at me through the misty window, and next to him a black umbrella shielded passengers from the rain. Together, it created a dreamy moment.

Location: Gazipur, Bangladesh

Gazipur, Bangladesh,

Photo: Moin Ahmed

Honorable Mention, People: Blessings At Besakih

Photo And Caption By Michael Dean Morgan

On the beautiful island of Bali, Besakih Temple has been known to locals as the “Mother Temple” for more than a thousand years. Perched high on the slopes of Mount Agung, a sacred volcano, Besakih consists of three major temples dedicated to the Hindu trinity: Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu. Here, Hindu Balinese often visit to pray, make offerings, and take blessings from pemangku (priests).

Location: Bali

Besakih Temple, Mount Agung, Bali

Photo: Michael Dean Morgan

People’s Choice Winner, People: Sand Porter

Photo And Caption By MD Tanveer Hassan Rohan

This photograph was taken from the bank of The river Dhaleswari in Munshiganj, Bangladesh during sand porters were carrying sand to preserve them on a place near the river.

Location: Munshiganj, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Dhaleswari River, Munshiganj, Bangladesh

Photo: MD Tanveer Hassan Rohan

First Place Winner, Cities: Levels Of Reading

Photo And Caption By Norbert Fritz

Natural light fills the modern interior of the city library in Stuttgart, Germany. With its stark white floors, open spaces, and large windows, it provides a unique atmosphere to broaden your knowledge.

Location: Stuttgart, Germany

Stuttgart, Germany

Photo: Norbert Fritz

Second Place Winner, Cities: Walled City #08

Photo And Caption By Andy Yeung

An aerial view of Whampoa Garden, Hong Kong, reveals its densely packed buildings. I drew inspiration from the Kowloon Walled City—once the densest place on Earth–which was demolished nearly three decades ago. Hundreds of houses were stacked on top of each other and there was very little open space. The Kowloon Walled City may be gone, but its legacy remains. It exists in Hong Kong’s modern architecture and stacked apartments, which have been built to accommodate the masses.

Location: Whampoa Garden, Hong Kong

Whampoa Garden, Hong Kong

Photo: Andy Yeung

Honorable Mention, Cities: Colorful Apartment

Photo And Caption By Tetsuya Hashimoto

This building is a 20-minute drive from my office—it’s a functioning apartment complex in Gifu Prefecture, Japan, where people live. The modern style of the building is a strange contrast to my sleepy country town, and for a long time I couldn’t quite capture its character. The woman dressed in red was perfectly consonant with the mood of this image. Without her, I couldn’t have made this image.

Location: Gifu Prefecture, Japan

Gifu Prefecture, Japan

Photo: Tetsuya Hashimoto

Honorable Mention, Cities: Al Ain

Photo And Caption By Andrzej Bochenski

New buildings rise from the desert floor near Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates.

Location: Al Ain, UAE

Al Ain, United Arab Emirates

Photo: Andrzej Bochenski

People’s Choice Winner, Cities: Colorful Market

Photo And Caption By Kajan Madrasmail

As night falls over Bangkok, Thailand, rows of rainbow-colored market stalls come to life.

Location: Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok. Thailand

Photo: Kajan Madrasmail

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Source: National Geographic

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