Winners of the National Geographic Photo Contest 2018 in the categories of people, places and wildlife.

Selected from nearly 10,000 entries, a photo of thousands of recalled Volkswagen and Audi cars sitting idly in the Mojave Desert has been chosen as the grand-prize winner of the 2018 National Geographic Photo Contest. The photo, titled Unreal, was captured by Jassen Todorov of the United States.

A concert violinist, Todorov began soaring above the ground in the early 2000s, eventually becoming a flight instructor and igniting his passion to visually capture the aerial world below—including both epic beauty and environmental challenges.

“When I fly long distances, I listen to a lot of music. I’m able to combine music, flying, and photography. Music has a lot to do with structure and composition, colors and patterns, moods and characters—when I am looking at a photo, I am thinking about the same things,” Todorov said.

Simultaneously flying, communicating with airport control, and photographing is a juggling act Todorov has refined over the years. What he was able to capture was incredible.

On the importance of the photo, Todorov said, “By capturing scenes like this one, I hope we will all become more conscious and more caring for our beautiful planet.”

Pim Volkers of Laren, Netherlands, won first place in the Wildlife category for a photo of wildebeest crossing the Mara River in Tanzania. Mia Collis of Westlands, Kenya, won first place in the People category for a portrait David Muyochokera on his last day working at his studio in Kibera, Nairobi.

Contestants submitted photographs in three categories – People, Places and Wildlife. The photos were judged by a panel of National Geographic photo editors.

Winners of the National Geographic Photo Contest 2018

Flying at the Crossing by Pim Volkers

First Place, Wildlife

It was early morning when I saw the wildebeests crossing Tanzania’s Mara River. The layering of dust, shade, and sun over the chaos of wildebeests kicking up water gives this picture a sense of mystique and allure. It’s almost like an old painting—I’m still compelled to search the detail of the image to absorb the unreal scene.

nattional geographic photo contest 2018 wildlife

Deep Snow by Jonas Beyer

Second Place, Wildlife

A few miles from Qaanaaq (Thule), Greenland, I was hiking in search of musk oxen when I saw a group of them. This ox was running hillside in deep snow, which exploded underneath it. I was lucky enough to be at the right spot to see them frolicking, and I watched them closely for about an hour. I love photographing musk oxen against the wintry landscape: They’re very tough Arctic survivors. This photo shows their beauty and power—and the snow they deal with for about eight months of the year.

Nat Geo greenland ox

A new look by Alison Langevad

Third Place, Wildlife

Late at night, two southern white rhinoceroses emerged from the shadows to drink at a watering hole in Zimanga Game Reserve. They were back to back, observing their surroundings before lowering their heads. I underestimated the emotional impact the incredible beasts would have on me. They had been dehorned to deter poachers. I was full of emotion—and horror—that poaching had such a devastating effect. It must have been a hard decision to dehorn them, and I am grateful for the reserve’s efforts.

Nat Geo rhino

Baby Teeth by Yaron Schmid

People’s Choice, Wildlife

We spotted a pride of lions sleeping on top of the kopjes in the Serengeti. As we approached the rocks, we saw quite a few cubs. The best moment was when three young cubs started playing and biting their mother’s tail—like kittens playing with yarn. I can’t remember a time I laughed so hard!

Nat Geo lions

Unreal by Jassen Todorov

Grand Prize

Thousands of Volkswagen and Audi cars sit idle in the middle of California’s Mojave Desert. Models manufactured from 2009 to 2015 were designed to cheat emissions tests mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Following the scandal, Volkswagen recalled millions of cars. By capturing scenes like this one, I hope we will all become more conscious of and more caring toward our beautiful planet.
Nat Geo Unreal

Thunderbird in the Dust by Nicholas Moir

Second prize, Places

A rusting Ford Thunderbird is blanketed by red dust from a supercell thunderstorm in Ralls, Texas. The dry, plowed fields of the Texas Panhandle made easy prey for the storm, which had winds over 90 miles an hour ripping up the topsoil and depositing it farther south. I was forecasting and positioning a team of videographers and photographers on a storm chase in Tornado Alley—this was our last day of a very successful chase, having witnessed 16 tornadoes over 10 days.

Nat Geo thunderbird

Road to Ruin by Christian Werner

Third prize, Places

While on assignment for Der Spiegel, we made a road trip through Syria to document the current situation in major cities. When I first entered the Khalidiya district in Homs, I was shocked. To make this image, I asked a Syrian soldier in charge of the area if I could climb onto a ruin. The soldier agreed, allowing me to climb at my own risk. I climbed up the ruins of a former house—which was full of improvised explosive devices—and took the picture.

nat geo syria

Snowflakes by Rucca Y Ito

Honorable Mention, Places

Japan’s Blue Pond in Biei-cho, Hokkaido, has become very famous for attracting tourists from around the world. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains and trees. This pond, frozen during winter, was artificially made to prevent river contamination from the nearby active volcano, Mount Tokachi. The accumulated pond water contains high levels of minerals, such as those containing aluminum. The alluring view of the blue pond can take one’s breath away.

nat geo japan

Sunday Best at Weekend Studio by Mia Collis

First Place, People

This photo of David Muyochokera was taken on his last day working as a photographer at Weekend Studio in Kibera, a large shantytown in Nairobi, Kenya. David had worked there for 37 years, but Weekend Studio was about to close permanently. David explained that with cameras now on phones, demand for his work had dwindled. I was troubled by the studio’s imminent closure, so I eventually took over the rent. A portrait of David now hangs at Weekend Studio in his memory.

Nat Geo people winner

Roadside Motel by Todd Kennedy

Second Place, People

On a family holiday driving from Sydney to Uluru, we stopped at a roadside motel in the small rural township of Nyngan, on the edge of Australia’s outback. The area is in the wheat belt, and it was unusually hot for that time of year—over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit and very dusty. Our daughter, Genie, is seen here enjoying a refreshing bath in a rubber ducky perched on the sink.

Nat Geo people tub

Love of Life by Avishek Das

Third Place, People

A Hindu devotee kisses his newborn baby during the Charak Puja festival in West Bengal, India. Traditional practice calls for the devotee to be pierced with a hook and sometimes swung from a rope. This painful sacrifice is enacted to save their children from anxiety. While covering the festival, I was able to view the religious practice from the perspective of Hindu devotees. I tried to capture the moment of love between a father and his child—and show a father’s concern for his little son.

Nat Geo life

Day of the Dead by Buck Holzemer

People’s Choice, People

A Day of the Dead procession winds through the streets of Antigua, Guatemala.

Nat Geo day of the dead

Also Read: 

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Powerful Photos You Won’t Forget

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018: 10 Astonishing Shots We Loved