National Geographic Sense Of Place Essays

National Geographic Traveler magazine has announced the winners of its 2013 photo contest, featuring stunning photography from around the world.

Placing first this year is Wagner Araujo of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, who captured Brazilian Aquathlon participants running into the Rio Negro.

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"I photographed it from the water and my lens got completely wet, but there was so much energy in these boys that I just didn’t worry about it," Araujo said, via a NatGeo press release.

Despite the damage to his camera, Araujo's photographic endeavor was well worth it: the grand prize is a 10-day expedition to the Galápagos for two.

The competition was especially stiff this year, receiving more than 15,500 submissions taken in countries ranging from Brazil to Kenya.

"Every year the task of judging the contest gets tougher," Keith Bellows, National Geographic Traveler magazine's editor in chief, said in a press release. "The quality of photos increasingly gets better — and the range of imagery more diverse. It’s exciting to see the emergence of such huge numbers of imaginative photographers."

Now in its 25th year, the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest features images divided into four categories: Travel Portraits, Outdoor Scenes, Sense of Place and Spontaneous Moments. Judges evaluate the photos over two rounds, choosing the top three images along with seven merit choices. An additional photo is selected through voting by readers.

The winning images will appear in the Dec. 2013/Jan. 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine. Check out this year's honorees below:

FIRST PLACE: "Dig Me River" by Wagner Araujo

I was in Manaus, Amazonas, during the Brazilian Aquathlon (swimming and running) championship. I photographed it from the water and my lens got completely wet, but there was so much energy in these boys that I just didn't worry about that. (Photo and caption by Wagner Araujo/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)

SECOND PLACE: "Thunderstorm At False Kiva" by Max Seigal

I hiked out to these ruins at night hoping to photograph them with the Milky Way, but instead a thunderstorm rolled through, creating this dramatic image. (Photo and caption by Max Seigal/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)

THIRD PLACE: "Say Cheese" by Yanai Bonneh

Cheetahs jumped on the vehicle of tourists in Masai Mara national park, Kenya. (Photo and caption by Yanai Bonneh/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)

MERIT: "The TataHonda Sect" by Gergely Lantai-Csont

The photographer could get inside of an enclosed sect named Tatahonda in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The ladies are preparing for their religious ceremony. (Photo and caption by Gergely Lantai-Csont/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)

MERIT: "Sakura" by Hideyuki Katagiri

The cherry blossom is called Sakura in Japanese. The cherry blossom is a Japanese symbolic flower. There are various kinds in a cherry tree and an especially old cherry tree has many kinds called Edo-Higan. (Photo and caption by Hideyuki Katagiri/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)

MERIT: "Children Of Reindeer" by Michelle Schantz

Mikael Ánde, a child of Sámi reindeer herders, takes a break indoors after a long, cold day of rounding up the animals for vaccinations and slaughter. Children of reindeer herders learn to handle these animals and the land they thrive in from infancy - young Mikael here knew far more about the ways of nature than I could ever hope to learn. (Photo and caption by Michelle Schantz/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)

MERIT: "Piano Play At Sunset" by Nikola Smernic

Streets of Queenstown, New Zealand at the end of one more day filled with adrenaline. Calming and doleful scene with piano sound in the background. (Photo and caption by Nikola Smernic/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)

MERIT: "Portrait Of An Eastern Screech Owl" by Graham McGeorge

Masters of disguise. The Eastern Screech Owl is seen here doing what they do best. You better have a sharp eye to spot these little birds of prey. (Photo and caption by Graham McGeorge/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)

MERIT: "Guanjiang Shou" by Chan Kwok Hung

Guanjiang Shou troupes are one of Taiwan's most popular activities that may be seen all over Taiwan at traditional folk religion gatherings. With their fiercely painted faces, protruding fangs and powerful, choreographed performances, they are easily recognized. They may be described as underworld police or gods' bodyguards. (Photo and caption by Chan Kwok Hung/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)

MERIT: "Lady In Water" by Marcelo Salvador

A lady collects water in the river by a village in Bagan, Myanmar, 2013. (Photo and caption by Marcelo Salvador/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)

VIEWERS' CHOICE: "Another Perspective Of The Day" by Dody Kusuma

The fisherman at Bira Beach (Photo and caption by Dody Kusuma/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest)

I've been seeing some great pictures of the places you have visited. As I look back at the photos I've favorite, I'm noticing a few things. I'm a sucker for backlighting, and I like small figures in a grand landscape. But as I look back at those pictures I realize that the ones that catch my attention initially may not be the best in the end. Small figures in a landscape can all of a sudden turn into an overdone archetype. One of my colleagues calls these pictures, "dude in a red jacket." And the backlit pictures, upon further reflection don't seem to have lasting meaning. 

In order to transcend these problems the photograph has to have more than one thing going on. Try adding another element. For example a beautiful landscape with, stunning light, and  a small figure with body language that shows struggle or happiness. A backlit cobblestone street with tourists just walking by is one thing, but if the subject is doing something interesting, like playing a violin on the street that's so much better. 

I've also seen many pictures of people either up close, or far away, how about something in between?

The last thing I want to talk about is post processing. Although I like my chili very spicy, I don't feel that way about photographs. In the last few days I have looked at way too many HDR pictures, over-saturated pictures, and photos with overused shadow and highlights and clarity sliders. What's terrible is that most of the overdone shots were taken in places that were already incredible to look at and photograph. 

Yes, tasteful post processing is very important in creating dramatic, compelling photography. I can't tell you how much is too much, so rather than try to explain I'll cop out and use former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's threshold test for obscenity, “I know it when I see it.”

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