See the photos that won National Geographic’s ‘Pictures of the Year’ contest

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National Geographic announced the winning photographs from its first “Pictures of the Year” photo competition.

The contest, which opened to U.S. residents in early December, invited readers to submit a digital photograph in one of four categories: nature, people, places and animals.

The contest required that photographs be largely unaltered. According to the rules, “only minor burning, dodging and/or color correction is acceptable, as is minor cropping.” Photos with other changes are “unacceptable and … ineligible for a prize.”

Grand prize — Alaska

Bald eagles at Alaska’s Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve compete to perch on a tree log.
Karthik Subramaniam

Karthik Subramaniam, a software engineer in San Francisco who is passionate about wildlife photography, clinched the grand prize. He said he captured his winning shot at the end of a weeklong photography trip in Haines, Alaska, which hosts the world’s largest congregation of bald eagles each fall.

As Subramaniam watched the eagles hunt for salmon in their fishing grounds, an eagle swooped in to steal another’s perch on a tree.

“Hours of observing their patterns and behavior helped me capture moments like these,” he said.

The photo will be featured in an upcoming issue of National Geographic’s U.S. magazine.

In addition to the grand prize winner, Nat Geo also gave honorable mentions to several “winners.” Their photos will be published on National Geographic’s Your Shot Instagram page, which has some 6.5 million followers.

Most of those photographs, along with information provided by Nat Geo, are published below.

Iceland

Iceland’s Fagradalsfjall volcano erupted for the first time in 6,000 years in March 2021.

Iceland’s Fagradalsfjall volcano erupting in 2021.
Riten Dharia

The six-month lava flow that covered the surrounding landscape in hard black rock was “an exhibition of the raw and awesome power of nature,” said Riten Dharia, who photographed the scene on the Reykjanes Peninsula.

Mongolia

In this photograph, a nomadic Kazakh eagle hunter on horseback prepares his golden eagle for a hunt in Bayan-Olgii, Mongolia, where training eagles to hunt is a 3000-year tradition, according to Nat Geo.

A hunter and his eagle on horseback in the grasslands outside of Bayan-Olgii, Mongolia.
Eric Esterle

To capture the moment, photographer Eric Esterle lay on his stomach at the edge of the stream as the horse passed less than a few feet away, he said.

“I remember covering my camera with my body and putting my head down,” he said.

Austria

Seeing this golden tree hidden among tall trunks in the forest gave photographer Alex Berger “goosebumps,” he said.

A golden tree deep in the Austrian Alps.
Alex Berger

Berger said he spotted it by a small stream while on a road trip through the Austrian Alps.

The mountain ranges of the Alps stretch about 750 miles through eight countries.

The island of South Georgia

Rhez Solano photographed this crowd of king penguins on the beaches of Gold Harbour on the island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic Ocean.

King penguins crowd together on the beaches of the island of South Georgia.
Rhez Solano

The island hosts king penguins along with gentoo penguins and elephant seals.

Roughly half of the island is covered in ice, and there is no permanent human population living on it, though travelers can visit it by cruise ship or yachts, according to its governmental website.

North Carolina, U.S.

Freelance photographer Tihomir Trichkov said he took this shot while headed home from the airport early one morning in October.

It captures fog that had settled over a valley visible from North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway.

A view of the foggy valley from North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway.
Tihomir Trichkov

The scene depicts “the little slice of heaven that I live in,” Trichkov said of his home in Highlands, North Carolina.

“The Smoky Mountains are simply gorgeous,” he said.

Washington, U.S.

This photo depicts the night sky reflected in the waters of Tipsoo Lake in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Tipsoo Lake in Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state.
W. Kent Williamson

From across the lake, photographer W. Kent Williamson said he could see the lantern lights of climbers heading to Mount Rainier’s 14,411-foot summit.

“The night sky was unusually clear, and the Milky Way could be seen just above the mountain,” he said.

Peru

A lone salt miner uses a wooden rake to extract salt from a hillside at Peru’s Salt Mines of Maras in this photograph captured by An Li.

Salt wells on a hillside in the Salt Mines of Maras in Peru.
An Li

The mines comprise around 4,500 salt wells, each of which produces some 400 pounds of salt per month. Families who own the wells continue the tradition of salt extraction that dates back to the Inca Empire.

About the ‘Pictures of the Year’ contest

The contest is Nat Geo’s latest effort to highlight photography from contributors.

It launched alongside the magazine’s annual “Pictures of the Year” issue, which features the best 49 photos taken by Nat Geo photographers, chosen from more than 2 million submissions.

The goal of the “Picture of the Year” contest is to provide aspiring photographers the “same spotlight,” according to Nat Geo.

To see the full gallery of winners, visit natgeo.com/PhotoContestWinner.

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