A few weeks ago, several members of The Washington Post's Travel section gathered in a dimly lit space to select the winners of Travel's 18th Annual Photo Contest. The team, which also included photo editors and art designers, reviewed more than 1,400 submissions from photographers of all ages (recent college graduates to retirees) and interests (Bhutanese archers to puddles in Prague). To no one's surprise, the viewing room grew loud with opinions and outbursts.
"It's got some people! It's got some God light!"
"That's super cool."
"That's a nice one. It says 'travel.' "
"Caterpillars — that's different than cows, cheetahs and butterflies."
"I don't like birds."
Since this was a photo competition, the experts paid close attention to the technical elements, such as composition, lighting and sharpness. They also homed in on originality and diversity of people, places and, yes, critters. (Winged bugs are the new penguins.)
The images that rose to the challenge also captured the essence of travel — basically postcards with more spirituality. But what ultimately moved us, and sent us figuratively packing our bags, were the photos that allowed us to take flight without a plane ticket.
And so on a summery afternoon, we found ourselves poking around London's Tate Modern, and skipping through the stonewashed southern Italian town of Matera, and whooping it up in cowboys-gone-wild Wyoming. We felt the tickle of a flamingo's feathers in the Bahamas and experienced the starkness of a scorched landscape at Eldorado National Forest in the Sierra Nevada. That day, we traveled the world through your images, and we are inviting you to take this voyage, as well.
TPC Air is now boarding.
Kaitlyn Hay, Chevy Chase, Md.
For a photograph to stand out among 1,400 others, it must be beautifully composed, evocative and capture the mystique of travel. This image meets all three criteria. "Where is that?" was the first question our panelists had when reviewing the image, which is exactly why Hay selected it. "I like the fact that you don't immediately know what you're looking at," she explained in an interview with The Washington Post. "You really have to study it to understand what you're seeing." She snapped this eerie and captivating bird's-eye view of Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya's immersive fog sculpture (aptly titled "London Fog") in March at the Tate Modern on a family trip to London with her younger sister. Using her new Christmas present, a mirrorless Olympus camera, she managed to keep a steady hand and balance — while adventurously leaning over a suspended railing — to get a clear shot of museumgoers moving through the billowing, misty clouds. "It captures the dynamic and mysterious mood of London life at night," said the 29-year-old, who is a third-grade art teacher at Beauvoir, an elementary school on the grounds of Washington National Cathedral. "There's a vibrancy, but also an edge to it, that I liked."
Michele Palazzo, New York City
Though Palazzo, a user-experience designer by day and street photographer by night, visits his native country, Italy, annually, this time was special: It was his honeymoon. Captivated by the vast, dramatic cityscape of Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage site, Palazzo and his new wife decided to hike to higher ground (via a nearby hill) to take in the city's natural and architectural beauty. To create this striking panorama, Palazzo used a digital Fujifilm X-Pro2 camera, paired with a super-wide lens, and stitched together three images. After returning from his May travels, he turned it black and white to bring out the composition's unique texture and shadows. "The whole thing cinched together like a dream," Palazzo said. "It's a little magic." (And he's no stranger to surreal images — his shot of New York's iconic Flatiron Building during Winter Storm Jonas in 2016 went viral.) "It's incredible when people say your photo provokes emotion," Palazzo said. "It's powerful."
Gary Kohn, Greenbelt, Md.
Kohn captured this image at Absaroka Ranch on July 4 during a five-day photography workshop in Dubois, Wyo. Around sunrise, he noticed a herd of horses being led back to their corral by cowboys. He knew he had to act quickly to capture the shot. "Horses, when they're going fast like that, won't stop and wait for you," the 67-year-old retired lobbyist quipped. He remained low and still as the horses galloped toward him at full speed. Thankfully, he was rewarded for his patience and was able to capture the cowhand, located at the right of the photo, with his lasso perfectly placed over his head. The ring of dust, kicked up from the galloping horses, also gave the image "an ethereal look" and enveloped the group "in a golden cloud," Kohn said. "It was magical."
John Norvell, North Bethesda, Md.
Norvell, 77, snapped this playful image on Halloween at Namib-Naukluft National Park, the largest nature reserve in Namibia, during a 10-day photo vacation. On his way back to camp, after a day of shooting in extreme heat (the temperature reached 118 degrees), he noticed a small troop of baboons congregating near a tree. Intrigued, he began clicking away with his handheld Fujifilm mirrorless camera, coupled with a 200 mm lens. As they were about to leave, a noise made by a couple traveling down the canyon frightened the animals and prompted them to rapidly climb the tree's branches. "For only a brief second, they stood on guard, frozen at the sound, and looked in the same direction," said Norvell, a retired National Institutes of Health assistant director. Mimicking their same steely focus, he took only a few pictures before the animals dispersed — but that was all he needed.
JiYing Yuan, Bethesda, Md.
Last November, during a midafternoon walk in Dali City, China, Yuan was captivated by the light coming from the clouds above the lake. She knew the beams, along with the movement of the people playing on the lake's jetty, would make for an excellent composition and began shooting the scene on her handheld Sony camera. Later, she turned the image black-and-white to highlight the dramatic streaks of light, which gave the scene an otherworldly glow. "I watch for the photo competition every year and have never thought to submit my own photo," said the 48-year-old librarian. "But this year, I thought, 'Why not give it a try?' " We're glad she did.
Judy Graham, McLean, Va.
"I am drawn to unusual beauty and dramatic landscapes," Graham, 62, said. "I find [them] to be breathtaking and inspiring." So, it's not surprising that this captivating vista inspired Graham to whip out her Canon EOS 5D Mark III and start shooting Chile's Torres del Paine National Park. "Something about the trees struck me," said the human resources consultant. "I saw a kind of beauty in the trees, bowing over and reaching towards the light." They mirrored the shape of the triangular mountain peaks, she noted. Luckily, she shot it when she did. Minutes after this picture was taken, the scene completely changed. "The light was gone, sleet began to fall from the sky and the wind picked up," she said. But fortunately, she had gotten the shot before the elements shifted. "When you go on these trips, you get one, if you're lucky two, really epic shots," Graham said. "And I knew it, after I saw it, that I had captured something special."
Rebecca Stibrik, Springfield, Va.
During a week-long family vacation in the Bahamas, Stibrik, 22, got up close and personal with her "spirit animal," a pink flamingo, at the Ardastra Gardens, Zoo and Conservation Center. The five-acre zoo lets the vibrant pink birds strut their stuff for out-of-town tourists — and their cameras — multiple times a day. Stibrik, a recent graduate of Marymount University and a freelance graphic designer, managed to get within six feet of her favorite, long-legged fowl to shoot this close-up portrait. Rather than focusing on the flamingo's perch, she zoomed in on the bird's sinuous, S-shaped neck and silky, ombré feathers. "It's almost as if they were posing for the camera, like they knew how pretty they were," Stibrik said. And she didn't mind their, um, peacocking one bit. "Seeing the birds, in person, was one of the highlights of my entire trip," she said.
Gerald Bowers, Seattle
Despite the stillness of the photograph, the moment Bowers shot this sunset scene in January on Inle Lake in Burma — which is also known as Myanmar — it was anything but calm. "My fishing boat was rapidly rocking in the water, as was the fisherman's boat I was shooting," the 74-year-old former accountant said. He took 50 shots in a matter of seconds to try to capture the one-legged paddle-boater. The fisherman, he explained, used his foot to maneuver the net into position at the bow of the boat, then quickly plunged the net into the shallow lake to scare, and then ensnare, fish. "A lot of it was luck, to be honest," Bowers said. "I was shooting one fisherman with a wide-angle lens when another fisherman pulled up next to our boat and stuck his net right in front of my camera [a Nikon D5]." Instead of being flustered by the change of scenery, he used it to his advantage and framed his subject in the trap's wooden, ribbed netting. The image's movement, color and composition caught the panel's eye. "Things were happening so fast, but I think it's really the best I could've done, under the circumstances" Bowers said. "I'd like readers to look at it and come away with a piqued curiosity about Myanmar and that it's an interesting and exciting place to visit."
Rogelio Andreo, Sunnyvale, Calif.
It's not surprising that Andreo was chasing the recent total solar eclipse when we contacted him for a comment on his work: The Spanish American astro-photographer has a history of looking to the sky for inspiration. His stunning, detailed photographs of galaxies and nebulae have won him numerous international accolades and have been featured on the websites of National Geographic and NASA. "Many people travel to these amazing places — National Parks, Hawaii, et cetera — but they never bother to look up," Andreo said. "They are missing another spectacle, the night sky." The winning image was taken in March during a two-night photo excursion to Death Valley National Park's Eureka Dunes. Traveling solo, he set up his Sony a7S mirrorless camera to take continuous, time-lapse photographs and made his way toward the dunes in pitch-black darkness. Once there, he posed in place for double the exposure time. "An ending shot, at the top of the dune, would have been nice, but I didn't want to photograph the winning moment, I wanted to capture the traveler's journey," Andreo said. "To me, it was not only beautiful, but personal and meaningful."
William Patton, Woodbridge, Va.
"I was in Times Square a little after midnight — I don't know why I went there and I'll probably never go back — but I was walking around, taking pictures, when I came across these clocks," Patton said. Suddenly, he had an idea: What if he could depict time in Times Square? Geared with a Nikon D810, a tripod and a steady hand, he positioned himself near the clocks and began shooting time-lapse photographs. By slowly zooming in on the brightly lit timepieces, from 24 mm to 70 mm, he was able to depict not only the passage of time (10 seconds) but also the popular tourist destination's vibrant lights and legendary hustle. "There's just so much going on there at any given second, so to be able to capture a small window of time is pretty incredible," said the 65-year-old assistant branch manager for Burke & Herbert Bank.
Gwen Bowden, Burke, Va.
Honorable Mention: Sometimes, the best photos happen when you least expect them. On a whim after a family trip to Delaware in February, Bowden decided to visit the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, located near Cambridge, Md. Dubbed the "Everglades of the North," it covers more than 25,000 acres of wetlands and forest, and is a haven for tens of thousands of migrating snow geese in late fall and winter. As Bowden was taking in the scenery, something spooked the massive flock of waterfowl and prompted them to take flight. Luckily, she was prepared. She quickly raised her camera and began shooting as steadily and quickly as possible. "Somebody asked me, 'Well, weren't you scared?' " said the 61-year-old, who works at Doodlehopper 4 Kids in West Springfield, Va. "I said, 'It's a once-in-a-lifetime moment. You don't have time to get scared. You just start clicking and hope for the best.' "
Hernan Massenlli, Washington, D.C.
On a June road trip from Denver to San Francisco for a friend's wedding, Massenlli was captivated by the rows of dry, skeletal trees lining California's Eldorado National Forest, a consequence of several recent and devastating forest fires in the region. "Every tree in this picture has a unique personality and expression," he said. "They appear to be both dancing and guarding the forest." The charred trees compelled the 39-year-old Whole Foods employee, who lives and works in the District, to veer off U.S. Route 50 and capture the scene. "Although we had minimal light, we were amidst a cloud of mosquitoes and had limited gear, we took a chance," Massenlli said. As the golden evening light slipped into darkness, he snapped away and hoped that his images would help raise viewers' consciousness to the effects of climate change. "It's here, it's happening and it's important," Massenlli said. "And this photo is a good opportunity to spread that message."
Charles Levie, West Friendship, Md.
Levie, 70, remembered the scene vividly: It was the first November snow in more than 50 years and Kamakura, Japan, was buzzing about the unseasonably cold weather. Never one to miss a photo opportunity, he decided to document the occasion and enlisted two of his photography club friends to explore the city. The ancient Japanese capital, located an hour by train from Tokyo, is known for its traditional and historical art, architecture and culture. "Tokyo is like the heart and brain of Japan, while Kamakura is its soul or history," Levie said. "It's a simple, sacred place."
While shooting, they encountered a group of women donning traditional Japanese winter kimonos and asked to take their picture. They agreed, and happily posed for the photos. After they parted ways, he snapped a quick, full-frame photo on his Canon EOS 5D camera to remember their friendly encounter. The image, Levie said, captured the Japanese spirit. "From the outfits, to the umbrellas, to the body language and how they are strolling, it's all very Japanese," said Levie, now a math teacher in Rota, Spain, at a Department of Defense Dependents School. "It's a culture that appreciates and embraces its past, and constantly celebrates it."
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