The pandemic has changed our relationship with travel. The winning entries in our 22nd annual competition reflect many of those changes. One is the outcome of a quarantine hobby. Some were taken on trips long deferred, while some mark exultant returns to the road. Others were snapped closer to home than usual or in places that were uncharacteristically empty. They are as epic as the play of light on an iconic rock formation and as mundane as the arc of grime on a road-tripper’s windshield. And they remind us we should never take travel for granted. Here are the three top winners and 10 honorable mentions in this year’s competition.
Marc Squire, 32, New York City
Squire, a principal product manager at Major League Baseball, captured the winning image during a three-day trip to Yosemite National Park in June. On the last day of the trip, Squire and a friend waited out a thunderstorm to see Half Dome, the iconic rock formation, at sunset. After getting caught in the rain and waiting in the car for two hours, the pair drove to Glacier Point. “I have a feeling these clouds are going to blow over and we’re going to get to see the sun come out from the clouds and it’s going to be good,” he recalled telling his friend. As the sun came down, the light struck Half Dome and a rainbow formed in the background. “All of a sudden, it showed up, and it was like, ‘Oh, oh my gosh, this looks amazing,’ ” he said. He used a Sony a7 III to capture this scene.
Izzi Negrin, 22, Washington, D.C.
Fresh out of college at Washington University in St. Louis, Negrin and her best friend traveled to Croatia in June for a 10-day trip that took them to the old city of Split. Negrin, who studied Latin in high school, has long admired Roman architecture. At Diocletian’s Palace, built for the 4th-century Roman emperor, she was mesmerized by what she calls the “almost ethereal rush of history” in the mausoleum. Negrin, now working toward a master’s in education at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., knew almost immediately that she would convert this image — captured with her Sony a7 III — to black and white. “I do a lot of black-and-white film photography, so I’m constantly looking for patterns, repetitional forms and light,” she said.
Janell Harris, 42, San Francisco
This image of an airplane against the backdrop of the Milky Way in the Namib Desert in Namibia is the result of Harris’s dedication to learning a new skill during the pandemic. After being laid off, the graphic designer took Milky Way photography classes and resolved to travel to Namibia, which has some of the world’s darkest skies. The trip was canceled twice and, ultimately, scheduled for March. Harris, her boyfriend and a pilot traveled the country on a three-week fly-in safari in the Cessna in the foreground; she trekked to the plane with her Canon 5D Mark IV around 1 a.m. to capture this scene, which she likes because it looks “almost like the plane was flying through the sky at night.” Harris, who volunteers as a pet photographer at animal shelters, said this experience couldn’t have been more different. “Pet photography, it is very fast shutter speeds and lots of bright light,” she said. “Milky Way was 100 percent the other kind of photography — very long shutter speed, no light.”
Shelby St. Louis, 24, San Diego
Last December, while on vacation with her extended family in Providenciales in Turks and Caicos, St. Louis was on a paddleboard and about a mile from the shore when she came upon this island-like rock formation in the clear waters of Chalk Sound. It’s a “really serene, pretty area where you can see the bottom of the water, and there’s no motorized vehicles allowed, so it’s peaceful and calm waters,” said St. Louis, a technology consultant. As her father and sister kayaked nearby, she pulled her iPhone 11 out of its waterproof bag and snapped this photo with the phone’s wide-angle lens. The scene, she said, was striking because of the solitary rock formation, the “almost glowing” turquoise water and the pure white sand — all illuminated by bright sunlight that highlighted the small ripples and movements in the waters.
Jassen Todorov, 46, San Francisco
In February, Todorov flew his single-engine Piper Warrior plane over Monument Valley, on the border of Arizona and Utah. “Monument Valley is just spectacular,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to capture the glory of that area.” He said the landscape below was relatively empty when he took the flight. “It was really just like a distant, remote planet,” he recalled. Todorov, a professor at San Francisco State University’s School of Music, captured this vista with his Nikon D810 — while piloting the plane. “I feel very fortunate, because . . . the feeling of having wings is a marvelous one,” he said. “I’m flying like a bird, so I have this rare opportunity to see the world from above, which is foreign to most people.”
Peter Dunner, 74, Bethesda, Md.
On a July trip to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Dunner watched an everyday scene unfold below him on one of the museum’s terraces. “There’s nothing exotic about a woman standing next to a statue, but it becomes a moment and a feeling when she is unconsciously imitating the statue that’s nearby and paralleling movement of the statue’s arms,” Dunner said. “I started snapping pictures, and finally, she did what I wanted her to do, and I caught the moment.” The retired radiologist used a Fujifilm X-T4 with a wide-range lens, and he converted the image to black and white. A native New Yorker, Dunner caught the shutter bug walking around the city photographing street scenes; he still gravitates to spontaneous shots of “people doing what they do best: being people.”
Tad Philipp, 68, Rye, N.Y.
Philipp captured this image in the early morning between Pullman, Wash., and Moscow, Idaho. His first trip since the pandemic began, this 10-day journey in June with Action Photo Tours found him “in a couple of vans of people driving around at dawn looking for farmland” and ending long days by shooting clear, uninterrupted night skies. The retired financier had wanted to travel specifically to the Palouse area to capture its “undulating farmland,” and he liked how the early-morning mist accentuated the rolling fields of one of the country’s most fertile agricultural regions. “Of course, the classic-looking barn in the foreground helped,” he said. He captured this scene using a Sony a7R II and a telephoto lens. Despite the early mornings and long drives, he was happy to “be on the road again, taking pictures and seeing things with a photographer’s eye.”
Carolyn Miller, 52, Madison, Wis.
After receiving her first coronavirus vaccine shot, Miller purchased four plane tickets, including one for a June trip to New Mexico. While traveling with her mother and sister, she contacted a local friend she hadn’t seen in years and took her on a country drive. “It was kind of a rainy day, and we went for a walk and I saw this house,” said Miller, who teaches English as a second language in an elementary school. She snapped this photo of a house in Madrid, N.M., with her iPhone 11 Pro. She was taken by the simplicity of the scene and by the house number: She was born on Friday the 13th. She plans to print the image on birthday cards to mail to a couple of her friends who were also born on the 13th day of the month. “I always consider it a lucky day — any 13th, but especially Friday the 13th,” she said.
Courtney Bonneau, 42, North Attleboro, Mass.
Bonneau captured this scene during a nighttime stroll down Amsterdam’s unusually deserted Damrak in January. The social media manager, who also does freelance conflict photography, was testing out a new Sigma art lens made to shoot night scenes. She was taken by the glow from the windows of the apartments and the reflection on the canal below. “It gave me a holiday kind of feeling,” she said. While in the city to visit a friend, she used a Canon 550D to capture the image. After shooting humanitarian crises, she said, it was a pleasure to photograph a scene that evoked warmth and comfort. “I have no religious affiliation, but [Christmas is] a special time of the year for me, and the warm glow from the windows and the reflection on the water just gave me the chills, to be honest.”
Jessica Goldsmith, 36, Washington, D.C.
Goldsmith and her husband embarked on a road trip in May from Washington, D.C., to Portland, Maine, to celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary. Goldsmith, a graphic designer and admirer of painter Charles Sheeler’s industrial cityscapes, was taken by the intersecting lines and movement she saw as they drove on this bridge in New York City on the way home. “I really liked the way the lines of the roads and the bridges played off the dirty, grimy windshield,” she said. “There was so much movement going on in addition to us actually moving through the picture and driving.” Goldsmith, who received an honorable mention in last year’s photo contest, snapped this image from the passenger’s seat with her iPhone SE. “This photo is an ode to the road trip.”
Diane Holmes, 68, Potomac, Md.
Holmes and her 5-year-old grandson, Logan, are the early risers in her family. During a trip to Rehoboth Beach, Del., in June, the pair often walked to the beach to watch the sun rise and to savor the quiet. One morning, they were surprised to find tidal pools in the sand, a phenomenon she had seen only once before in the town. “It totally changed the landscape,” said Holmes, a retired program manager who takes family beach trips once or twice a year. As Logan played in one of the pools, she captured the moment with an iPhone 8. “The ocean was calmer, the sun was just coming up on a cloudy morning, so it was a little blue-tinted and hazy,” Holmes recalled. “I … happened to catch it just right with the ripples and him just being absorbed in the whole experience.”
Jamie Kuhn, 33, Fort Wainwright, Alaska
Kuhn captured this scene in the Castner Glacier Ice Cave near Fort Greely, Alaska, during a day trip with her children in January. With her daughter, 6, and son, 7, Kuhn hiked along a frozen river during the few daylight hours of the Alaskan winter after attending an ice hockey tournament nearby. “Because it’s so dark and so cold here, we do a lot of hiking and trails,” she said. Kuhn, director of child care at Fort Wainwright’s Child Development Center, captured this scene with her Nikon D3400. “The scene was really gorgeous,” she said. “When you’re walking up to the ice cave, you would not be aware there is an actual cave there, because it’s hidden and kind of tucked away in the snow.” She liked how the natural light made the frozen water look like “an underwater glimpse of a frozen wave.”
Steve Dickens, 55, Washington, D.C., and Miami Beach
Dickens captured this urban picnic scene at the Lakeshore East development in Chicago, a city where he and his husband were “long-term tourists” last summer. While walking down a staircase near the Aqua Tower, an 82-story skyscraper designed by Jeanne Gang, Dickens snapped this scene from above. “The light was just bouncing off all the skyscrapers . . . [and] the umbrellas aren’t casting strong shadows, but the shadows they’re casting are going in multiple directions,” he said. “I remember the light was really, really beautiful, and I looked down and the gravel looked almost like velvet in this light.” The architect used his iPhone SE to capture this August 2020 scene. Beyond the lighting and vibrant colors, Dickens was attracted to the “little vignettes of life going on,” such as the kid on his phone and the two people snuggled close, even though the table affords them more room.
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Interviews and captions by Helen Carefoot. Photo editing by Monique Woo. Design by Audrey Valbuena.