‘The Power of Nature’. Grand Prize. 1st prize, Nature. © Sergio Tapiro Velasco / National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year. “Powerful eruption of Colima Volcano in Mexico on December 13th, 2015. That night, the weather was dry and cold, friction of ash particles generated a big lightning of about 600 meters that connected ash and volcano, and illuminated most of the dark scene. On last part of 2015, this volcano showed a lot of eruptive activity with ash explosions that raised 2-3 km above the crater. Most of night explosions produced incandescent rock falls and lightning not bigger than 100 meters in average.”

Sergio Tapiro Velasco of Mexico has won the top spot in this year’s prestigious National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year competition with an incredible shot of lightning striking an erupting volcano, beating thousands of other entries from participants in over 30 countries.

Taken just outside Colima, Mexico, the photograph depicts the Volcán de Colima, also known as ‘the Volcano of Fire’, one of Latin America’s most active volcanos, during a storm. Velasco has been studying and shooting the volcano for over a decade. To catch his striking image, he said that he’d been watching the volcano closely and tracking an increase in its activity for almost a month. Reportedly, while shooting on a completely clear night just 12 kilometers away from the crater, he heard a booming noise and witnessed the biggest volcanic lightning strike he’d ever seen. Until he reviewed the photos he’d taken, Velasco had no idea if he’d actually managed to captured the spectacular event.

Writing about his photograph, he said:

“When I looked on the camera display, all I could do was stare. What I was watching was impossible to conceive, the image showed those amazing forces of nature interacting on a volcano, while the lightning brightened the whole scene. It’s an impossible photograph and my once in a lifetime shot that shows the power of nature.”

‘Levels of Reading’. 1st place, Cities. © Norbert Fritz / National Geographic Photographer of the Year. “The modern interior of the city library in Stuttgart. With its wide – open space in the central, where natural light comes from through the windows on the top, it has a very unique atmosphere, where you can broaden your knowledge.”

As grand prize winner of the contest, Velasco will receive a 10-day trip for two to the Galápagos Archipelago with National Geographic Expeditions, as well as a $2500 prize. In addition to the grand-prize winner, top photos were selected in each of the three categories. First-, second- and third-place winners were awarded $2500, $750 and $500, respectively, as well as a subscription to National Geographic Traveler magazine. Velasco’s shot was also chosen as the winner in the Nature category, while Norbert Fritz of Hungary took home top honours in the Cities category for his photo titled ‘Levels of Reading‘, and F. Dilek Uyar of Turkey won the People category with ‘Worship‘.

Hosted annually, the National Geographic Travel Photographer the Year contest aims to celebrate stunning photos taken by people all over the globe, especially those that inspire people to see the world through a new lens. The full list of winners and honourable mentions can be seen by clicking here, but below are some of our favourites.

‘Worship’. 1st place, People. © F. Dilek Uyar / National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year.  “This photo was taken in Konya. Willing Dervish in an historical place of Sille KonyaTurkey. The ‘dance’ of the Whirling Dervishes is called Sema and is a symbol of the Mevlevi culture. According to Mevlana’s teachings, human beings are born twice, once of their mothers and the second time of their own bodies.”

‘Interesting Moment’. 2nd place, People. © Julius Y. / National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year. “Museum visitors curiously watching Rembrandt’s painting “Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild” where it gave the illusion that the people on the paintings too are curiously watching the visitors.”

‘Mt. Bromo’. Honourable mention, Nature. © Reynold Riksa Dewantara / National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year. “Mount Bromo volcano is a small, but active volcanic cinder cone on Java, Indonesia. Early 2016, I happened to be in Mt. Bromo during the increase of seismic activity and triggered the alert status to the second highest.”

‘Colourful Apartment’. Honourable mention, Cities. © Tetsuya Hashimoto / National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year. “This building is apartment complex in Gifu Prefecture of Japan. It is very colorful, but it is an ordinary collective housing where ordinary people can live.”

‘The Man’s Stare’. Honourable mention, People. © Moin Ahmed / National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year. “The photo was taken on 23rd of July 2016 at Tongi Railway Station, Gazipur, Bangladesh. I was there for taking photos and waiting for a moment. A train from Dhaka toward another district has reached and stopped at the platform for 5 min for lifting passengers. It was huge raining. Suddenly I found air of curious eye was looking at me through the window and on his left an umbrella has been put for protect the rain. I got the moment.”

‘Marble Caves’. Honourable mention, Nature. © Clane Gessel / National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year. “The marble caves of Patagonia.”

‘To live’. 2nd place, Nature. © Hiromi Kano / National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year. “Swans who live vigorous even in mud.”

‘Walled City #08’. 2nd place, Cities. © Andy Yeung / National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year. “The Kowloon Walled City was the densest place on Earth. Hundreds of houses stacked on top of each other enclosed in the center of the structure. Many didn’t have access to open space.This notorious city was finally demolished in 1990s. However, if you look hard enough, you will notice that the city is not dead. Part of it still exists in many of current high density housing apartments. I hope this series can get people to think about claustrophobic living in Hong Kong from a new perspective.”