We know where you’ve been — and not because of flagrant humblebragging. This is the 17th annual Travel photo contest, for which we encouraged you to flaunt your pictures. We received nearly 1,300 submissions, and you certainly set the globe a-spinning. The participants visited so many areas— including South Africa, Uganda, the Galapagos Islands, Slovenia, Vietnam, Antarctica and Iran — that the map looks like a pincushion. We noticed some prevailing trends. Cuba is hot, hot, hot, as is Iceland. The multifaceted landscapes overseen by the National Park Service, which turned 100 on Aug. 25, look ravishing from all angles. Also, many people are eschewing “serious cameras” for back-pocket smartphones. A few photographers will also remember the moment for what occurred outside the picture frame: They proposed to their significant other during their trip. (See winner Tim Auer.) Next year, perhaps we should add a Destination Wedding category to the contest. Here are our top-three placers, plus the 10 images that earned an honorable mention.

(Tim Auer)


Tim Auer, Mountain View, Calif.

Though his image captures the stillness and serenity of a sunrise at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, the photographer himself was far from calm. Minutes after this January photograph was taken, the 32-year-old electrical engineer proposed to his girlfriend of 2½ years. The shot of Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful Inn, Auer admits, was partly a stalling tactic. “I was seizing whatever opportunity I had to collect my thoughts,” he says. A photographer with a penchant for wildlife, he knew he wanted to capture the herd of bison seen huddling at right. “Most [of them] were sleeping, warming themselves with the steam coming off the thermal feature, except for one, who was standing and looking out toward the trail,” Auer says. As the beast moved closer, he clicked away on his Canon EOS-1D X, hoping to capture its silhouette. (The photographer’s sunrise silhouette of a brown bear in Alaska took third place in our 2014 Travel photo contest.) The picture — and the proposal — were a success. The wedding is set for March 2017.

(Shannon Hinson-Witz)

2nd place

Shannon Hinson-Witz, Chicago

Hinson-Witz, 44, recalls waiting patiently for this young mountain gorilla, a member of the Humba family, to turn toward her. “The rest of the family was engaged in a grooming session while this youngster sat off to the side happily munching on the forest vegetation,” she says. Hinson-Witz, a project manager for a pharmaceutical company, snapped this image during a December visit to Virunga National Park in Congo. She knew she wanted a close-up. “You’re not supposed to look at their eyes, which is so hard because as you can tell from the photo, their eyes are in­cred­ibly captivating,” she says. About 45 minutes in, her efforts paid off. The primate turned around and gazed directly at her. “I couldn’t look away from her eyes — they were mesmerizing,” Hinson-Witz says. The two continued to lock eyes as Shannon raised her Canon EOS 7D and quietly began shooting. “It was such a rare emotional and intimate moment,” she says. She hopes the photograph will inspire others to learn more about the vulnerable animals and Virunga National Park, the oldest in Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage site. “If one person sees this picture and decides to go visit, I’ll be over the moon,” she said.

(David Kim)

3rd place

David Kim, Atlanta

A few years ago, Kim decided that he needed a drastic change. “Instead of continuing to wind down my days blinking at a computer screen, I started [a] mantra: ‘Be less patient,’ ” says the independent financial speculator. He ditched his cubicle and made a commitment to travel the world. Kim now takes 22 to 25 trips every year and catalogues his adventures on Instagram.

One of his most memorable was in June, to Robben Island in South Africa, site of the former prison where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years. He captured this shot of himself hopping the island’s “coffin-shaped” wave breakers by placing his Leica on a nearby rock and setting a timer. He says this image captures the mood and spirit of the site. “Although raining, the sun kept boring through the clouds,” said Kim, 32. “It beautifully matched the spirit of not only Mandela, but also his fellow prisoners, many of whom now serve as tour guides there. . . . They weren’t bitter or angry; they were hopeful.”

Honorable mentions

(Jackelyn Soto)

Jackelyn Soto, Cary, N.C.

The 33-year-old chemist booked a six-day trip to Iceland with her mother and younger brother in February with one mission in mind: seeing the Northern Lights. But they were pleasantly surprised to find that the country’s land-based natural features were equally awe-inspiring. “It was starkly, amazingly beautiful,” Soto says. “You feel like you’ve gone to another world.” One of their favorite vacation activities was an all-day glacier tour organized by the Hotel Rangá in Hella. This capture is frominside one of the glaciers seen on that excursion.“The view inside was amazing,” Soto says. To take the shot, she slowed the shutter speed on her camera and tried to keep it as still as possible, despite her shivering — it was February in Iceland, after all. “I couldn’t believe the color of the ice was so blue!” she says. “It’s really that color in person! It was crazy.”

(Dennis Barnett)

Dennis Barnett, Lincolnshire, Ill.

Barnett, 65, was actually en route to another famous photo site, Deadvlei, when he scouted and composed this striking shot of Namibia’s massive orange-red sand dunes. “I prefer to shoot flat and straight-on,” says Barnett, owner of a small design firm, who took the image during a July trip. “I liked this angle the most because it seemed to compose on the page pretty well, like three perfect triangles.” He took several full-frame images on his Nikon camera before moving on. “When I saw what I wanted and the light was right, that’s when I shot it,” Barnett says. “There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.” Just left of center, two small lines appear to rise from the sand. Those are actually people in the distance, walking down the dunes. The dunes are like “small mountains” that stretch for miles, Barnett says. “They are magnificent.”

(Syeda Batool Moosvi)

Syeda Batool Moosvi, Washington, D.C.

Moosvi was captivated with Tehran’s cityscape during her first visit to Iran in July. “The city lies in an immensely large valley in the shadow of the Alborz mountains,” she says. An internal-medicine doctor at Washington Hospital Center, she traveled to the Iranian capital last summer for a medical conference. One morning, before a busy day, Moosvi, 43, got up early and took in the sunrise from her hotel room’s balcony. Noticing the contrast between the newer and older parts of the city, as well as the sun’s play upon the skyscrapers, she took out her iPhone 6 and captured the scene. Her husband encouraged her to submit it for consideration. “It brings back good memories,” she says of the shot. “We are happiest during our vacations.”

(Christopher Michael Shepherd)

Christopher Michael Shepherd, Baltimore

“The Matterhorn has fascinated me since I first visited as a child,” says Shepherd, 21, who snapped this vista during a two-week European vacation. The recent graduate of the University of Delaware, now a structural engineer at AECOM in Baltimore, returned to Zermatt, Switzerland, in June to photograph the country’s most iconic landmark. “This time, I felt my photography skills were at a level where I could capture its essence,” Shepherd says. He took a four-hour hike from Zermatt and left the top of the trail feeling satisfied with the pictures he had snapped of the world-famous mountain. But it was upon his descent, about 100 feet down the hill, that he noticed this cloud formation around the mountain’s peak. He particularly liked how the lodge was dwarfed by the mountain’s massive shadow. The unusual vantage point prompted him to reach for his camera and start shooting.

(William G. Barnard IV)

William G. Barnard IV, Chagrin Falls, Ohio

Barnard, 42, took this photograph in a mask-maker’s market in Purulia, about 125 miles west of Kolkata, during a month-long visit to India in November. The colorful papier-mâché masks are traditionally used in the Chhau, an ancient dance from east India.“Using only the light coming in from the door of the artist’s workshop. I opened my f-stop to 0.95 and chose to focus on the mask he was working on,” says Barnard, a computer programmer. He likes the fact that the image tells a story. “You get character from the artist and character from the mask,” he says. Barnard snapped three quick shots of the mask-maker before taking a memento for the road: one of the beautiful hand-painted masks, which is now hanging up in his living room.

(Regina Goetze Roman)

Regina Goetze Roman, Alexandria, Va.

“It was completely empty,” says Roman, 60, of the April morning scene in Cairo. “I felt like I was witnessing something that was rarely seen.” Noticing the clear sky and the juxtaposition of the solitary figure on the old rickshaw and the shiny new tour bus, she began clicking away on her Nikon . Moments later, the scene completely changed, as tour buses and tourists swooped in. “There are those moments were we stand within eternity and are part of the past, part of the future,” says Roman, a spiritual director at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria. “In this moment, it seemed like all of history flowed through me. . . . It gave me, and anybody who was there at that moment, a sense of timelessness and a feeling of awe and wonder of this civilization.”

(Frederick J. Baldassaro Jr.)

Fred J. Baldassaro Jr., Alexandria, Va.

Baldassaro snapped thisimage in June during a five-day National Geographic photography workshop in Dubois, Wyo., 85 miles east of Jackson Hole. Early one morning, he and a team of photographers noticed that the light was hitting these cowboy hats in a distinctive way. While the rest of the group remained outside the barn, Baldassaro sneaked into it to capture the moment up close. Using a wide-angle lens, he took only a few snaps before heading out to the buses to start the day’s adventures. “I kept my camera with me at all times, day and night, in case there was a photo opportunity like this one,” says Baldassaro, a 42-year-old director of communications at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “It was a perfect moment of light and feeling. As soon as I came out [of the barn], I thought I had captured something special.”

(Andrew Kaufman)

Andrew Kaufman, Washington, D.C.

A fork in the road turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Kaufman, a 31-year-old surgical resident, who shot this image during a New Year’s hike at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. “We had just walked this seven-mile loop in the park and gotten to a point in the trail where it was closed, due to ice,” Kaufman recalled. “We were exhausted and frustrated.” He noticed his wife, Shannon, looking up at the sky as they plotted their next move. The unusual perspective and the vibrancy of color caught his attention. “You don’t really appreciate how big and grandiose [the trees] are until you’re staring up and looking at them like that,” Kaufman says. “The sky was this incredible shade of blue and the walls of the canyon were these great, grated textures of orange and yellow.”

(Paula Shegda-Goins)

Paula Shegda-Goins, Falls Church, Va.

After making annual visits to Vietnam for 15 years, Shegda-Goins decided to switch up her routine by enrolling in a photography class.“Whenever we come back to the same city, we try to do something different and look at it from a different view,” says the 63-year-old former financial project manager. Her newfound skills came in handy amid the light and movement of Hanoi’s busy and bustling Old Quarter. A quick study, Shegda-Goins was able to highlight the vibrancy of the city’s famous night market as well as its colorful cast of characters. “I was trying to capture the moment and the multitude of activities going on in the market, from the boredom of the vendors, who were there every night, to the different people trying on glasses and attempting to be chic,” she says.

(Aya Okawa )

Aya Okawa, El Cerrito, Calif.

In October, Okawa took to the skies to capture this bird-eye’s view of Yellowstone’s colorful Grand Prismatic Spring. Flying at nearly 11,000 feet, Okawa leaned from an open window of the small aircraftand began clicking away with her Nikon. “This was taken after the sun had just come out over the hills, so that we could get a nice illumination on the ground and the colors,” says the 38-year-old, who is a managing director of the nonprofit Global Academy Foundation. The colors and patterns in the photograph resemble abstract art. “You see all of the features and textures of the earth, which are so beautiful.” Okawa picked this photograph from the series because she liked the juxtaposition of man and nature. “You can see the springs and two tiny people enjoying them in a quiet moment,” she says.

— Megan McDonough and Andrea Sachs

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