If anyone tries to tell you it’s easy to choose the 13 best photographs from a pool of nearly 1,500, don’t believe them. The yawning lioness or Machu Picchu in the rain? The wildflowers against a split-rail fence or the languid gondolier? The cascading waterfall or the espresso atop a wrought-iron cafe table? Our well-traveled contestants captured images both epic and intimate from around the world, reminding us once again that travel hones our vision and expands our horizons. Although the body of entries was remarkably diverse, several truths emerged: It’s hard to resist a beautiful sunset; roads vanishing into the distance capture the imagination; there’s nothing like a mountain range for putting everything in perspective; and people just really, really like penguins. We were captivated by many of these images along the way, but eventually we narrowed the field to 13. Our finalists range in age from 23 to 71, and their subject matter spans lofty peaks and watery depths. Here are our three winners and the 10 images that received honorable mention.
Dick Snyder, Lewes, Del.
Snyder’s photo of morning fog lifting along Cannon Beach, Ore., was already a winner before it reached our office — the Coastal Camera Club in his home town of Lewes, Del., chose it as their photo of the year. “That boosted my confidence,” Snyder said, explaining why he picked the image from a handful of other favorites to submit. The 71-year-old began dabbling in photography when his first child was born, but he didn’t hone his hobby until after his retirement from AT&T. He favors black-and-white images, and saw the potential in this landscape while road-tripping with his wife along the West Coast in October. Since then he has printed it on metal to highlight the contrast. Snyder reports one small problem: He recently downsized his living quarters, and the walls of his new home are already filled with his images. Still, for this multiple award winner? “I’ll make room.”
Hadi Dimachkieh, Washington, D.C.
Dimachkieh and his girlfriend of seven years, fellow finalist Pamela Janzesian, embarked on a 10-day photo vacation in Iceland in June. “We made up our itinerary using Google images,” said Dimachkieh, a partner in a Washington-based content production start-up. “We didn’t even read a lot about it. We just saw cool pictures, got the names of the places . . . and went one by one, circling the whole island.” A fan of long-exposure photography, the 25-year-old spent 30 minutes shooting Glacier Lagoon. He attempted to steady his camera with a tripod, but its legs sank deeper and deeper into the wet, black sand as time passed. “I had to be perfectly still,” he said. His goal? To capture something he had never seen before in “the coolest way possible.”
Bill Mugg, Cornelius, N.C.
Mugg took this picture, but he gives credit to his wife, Ellen, for drawing his attention to the scene. The 67-year-old prefers photographing nature, but before the couple set out last fall on a kayaking trip that began in Dubrovnik, Croatia, his wife noticed a woman peering out a window, watching crowds walk by on the main street of the Old City. “My wife is kind of my spotter, especially when it comes to people. . . . She said ‘Hey, look up there!’ ” Mugg, who is retired from careers in the Navy and telecommunications, waited about 15 minutes for the woman to shift the position of her head until it was just right. “I can only imagine what she was thinking,” he said.
Ian Lee, Bethesda, Md.
Lee shot this winning image during a spring break trip to Puerto Rico in April. While his daughter, 16-year-old Sophie, swam, Lee tinkered with his recent purchase — a case that enabled him to use his camera underwater. Despite not being able to set up the shot with his viewfinder, Lee, a 45-year-old Army physical therapist, knew what he wanted. “I was waiting for the sun to come over the mountains and when it came up, I saw that the fish kind of started to pop,” he said. He took just a couple of pictures, but that was all he needed. “It was what I hoped to capture.”
Pamela Janzesian, Washington, D.C.
Janzesian captured this scene on Solheimasandur Beach in Iceland on a cloudy, overcast day in June. Traveling with her boyfriend — a fellow finalist — she researched the wreck site ahead of time and decided to rent a 4 x 4 to get to the offbeat location. “We do a lot of off-roading trips so that we have the freedom to drive off and explore certain areas,” said the 27-year-old manager of Salon Virage in Falls Church. The U.S. Navy aircraft depicted in the scene crash-landed on the beach in the early 1970s and has been there ever since. (Happily, everyone onboard survived.) Janzesian shot several images without the woman and the black umbrella but decided this was her favorite. “They add a little life to the image,” she said.
Shengwen Yang, Rochester, N.Y.
Yang embarked on a solo 12-day road trip along the West Coast during a summer break from the University of Rochester this May. The 23-year-old electrical engineering graduate student planned her trip around picturesque locations, making Antelope Canyon in Arizona a priority after hearing it was “a photographer’s paradise.” Touring the canyon grounds with a guide, she found the perfect spot and then waited several hours for the right light and for the other visitors to clear out. “I wanted to capture what it feels like to be in the desert, where there is nobody else around,” she said.
Kerry Kenn Allen, Washington, D.C.
Allen, 68, captured this penguin on a National Geographic tour of Antarctica in February. Exploring the Detaille Island on a Zodiac raft, he noticed the Adelie penguin’s head peeking over the enormous iceberg. Allen, the president and founder of Civil Society Consulting Group, was accustomed to seeing tightly packed penguin colonies with thousands of birds, so the solitary penguin caught him off guard. “There was nobody else around,” he recalls. “He was just out there doing his thing . . . having a nice walk.” Allen reached for his camera and quickly began shooting as the bird waddled about the vast snowscape. “I put it on automatic and hoped for the best,” he said.
Angela Japha, Denver
Japha calls “The World” her home — literally. After retiring from careers as a CPA and in information technology, she bought an apartment with her husband on the aptly named ship, and the pair spend most of the year visiting harbors around the globe. This photo was taken last June in Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea, during a festival of tribal music and dance. They allowed Japha, 57, to move around them, and she took full advantage, ultimately taking more than 4,000 pictures.
Robert W. Fawcett, Bowie, Md.
Fawcett captured this vista just after sunset in the fall as storm clouds began to brew over Jackson Hole, Wyo. Intent on reaching the location by sundown, he and his wife sped through their motel check-in, throwing their bags haphazardly into their room. “You have to catch every passing minute because the scene changes so quickly,” said the 54-year-old federal employee. “We kind of knew that if we made it there by sunset something exciting was going to happen.”
M. Sedestrom Guthrie, Arlington, Va.
Guthrie’s April trip to Cuba began with a bit of bad luck: She dropped her camera and broke the light meter. She wasn’t deterred, though, and whipped out her iPhone 5 instead. While exploring Havana’s artful Hamel’s Alley with her husband and tour group, the 63-year-old Arlington resident, retired from a career helping students with college financial aid, saw a chicken darting through the crowd. She said she had to act fast, kneeling to capture the bird’s beady-eyed profile and the headlight of one of Cuba’s classic cars.
John O. Taylor, Annapolis
On an October safari in Balule Nature Reserve near Hoedspruit, South Africa, Taylor, an Annapolis resident, had to do something a little daring to get this image: step out of his vehicle. As an armed guide stood watch in case the hippos left the Olifants River, Taylor, a 62-year-old retiree from a career in pharmaceutical product development, was able to inch close enough to photograph the animals as they “just drifted around and occasionally made very loud bellowing sounds.”
Kip Platto, Alexandria, Va.
Sometimes unplanned stops make for the best memories. Kenneth “Kip” Platto and a buddy, a fellow photographer, hadn’t planned to stop in Lugoj, Romania, in October during their three-week tour of the country. But an outdoor food festival piqued their interest and they decided to make a pit stop, stay and shoot. “My original intent was to focus on the abundance of meats and cultural elements on display at this food stand,” said the 52-year-old geographic information systems specialist for the Department of Energy. But as soon as he started clicking, one of the cooks decided “to add a little extra zest to the picture” and began mugging for the camera. “The food quickly became secondary to what they were doing,” Platto said. “I love the expression of the lady on the left side of the picture. It’s almost semi-embarrassment for him.”
Betty Hsiao, San Mateo, Calif.
This image, dubbed “Top of the Met” by Hsiao, 29, was captured during a visit to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the fall. “I couldn’t resist the surreal distortion of the New York skyline reflected from the walls,” she said.
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