Reiko Takahashi is 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year

A photograph of a humpback whale calf’s tail has earned Reiko Takahashi of Japan the prestigious grand prize in the 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year contest. Takahashi will receive a $10,000 prize. Her incredible photo was selected by a panel of National Geographic judges from more than 13,000 entries.

Takahashi took the photo, titled “Mermaid,” off the coast of Japan’s Kumejima Island. The longtime photographer left her office job to pursue her passion for underwater photography and traveled to Kumejima Island on a mission to photograph humpback whales with their young calves.

“It was a special scene for me, to be able to take a photo of the calf, completely relaxed in gentle waters,” said Takahashi. “I really cannot believe it. It was my dream to win. I am honored, and it will be the driving force for my future shooting,”

The National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year contest celebrates stunning pictures taken by all levels of photographers around the world. The contest recognizes spectacular photos taken within the last two years, with entries in three categories: Nature, People and Cities.

In addition to the grand prize winner, top photos were selected in each of the three categories. Takahashi’s photo was also chosen as the winner in the Nature category. Hiro Kurashina of Japan took top honors in the Cities category for his photo titled “Another Rainy Day in Nagasaki,” while “Tea Culture” by Alessandra Meniconzi of Switzerland won the People category.

All of the winning and honorable mention photos can be viewed at natgeo.com/travelphotocontest.

This year’s competition was judged by Whitney Johnson, vice president of visual experiences at National Geographic, as well as two National Geographic contributing photographers — ocean and adventure photographer Andy Mann and polar photographer Camille Seaman.

“I was amazed at the quality of images and the sensibility towards subject in all three categories for this competition,” said Seaman. “Looking at hundreds of images, choosing the winners was a daunting task. The images that stood out did so based not solely on their technical execution but also a sensitivity for a feeling of the moment and originality.”

Here’s a look at this year’s winners: Reiko TakahashiHao j.Marco GrassiHiro KurashinaEnrico PescantiniGaanesh PrasadGary CumminsAlessandra MeniconziTati ItatM.D. Tanveer Hassan Rohan.

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<p>Photograph and caption by Reiko Takahashi/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “I was fortunate to have encountered a humpback whale with her calf on my first day snorkeling near Japan’s Kumejima Island. Most of the time, the calf stayed close to her mom. At one point, the calf began jumping and tapping its tail on the water near us — it was very friendly and curious. Finally, the mother, who was watching nearby, came to pick up the calf and swim away. I fell in love completely with the calf and its very energetic, large and beautiful tail.” Kumejima, Japan. </p>
Nature, 1st place and grand prize winner: ‘Mermaid’

Photograph and caption by Reiko Takahashi/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “I was fortunate to have encountered a humpback whale with her calf on my first day snorkeling near Japan’s Kumejima Island. Most of the time, the calf stayed close to her mom. At one point, the calf began jumping and tapping its tail on the water near us — it was very friendly and curious. Finally, the mother, who was watching nearby, came to pick up the calf and swim away. I fell in love completely with the calf and its very energetic, large and beautiful tail.” Kumejima, Japan.

<p>Photograph and caption by Hao j./National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “Thousands of flamingos take off from the colorful salt Lake Natron in Tanzania. Before taking off, flamingos need to take a short run on water to build up some speed. At this time, their long, red legs trod a series of water ripples on the surface of the lake. Looking down from the helicopter, these ripple lines look like giant aquatic plants flowing in the water. This photo was taken from a helicopter.” Lake Natron, Tanzania. </p>
Nature, 2nd place: ‘Flamingos taking off’

Photograph and caption by Hao j./National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “Thousands of flamingos take off from the colorful salt Lake Natron in Tanzania. Before taking off, flamingos need to take a short run on water to build up some speed. At this time, their long, red legs trod a series of water ripples on the surface of the lake. Looking down from the helicopter, these ripple lines look like giant aquatic plants flowing in the water. This photo was taken from a helicopter.” Lake Natron, Tanzania.

<p>Photograph and caption by Marco Grassi/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “These natural sand towers, capped with large stones, are known as the Earth Pyramids of Platten. They are situated in Northern Italy’s South Tyrol region. Formed centuries ago after several storms and landslides, these land formations look like a landscape from outer space and continuously change over the years and, more accurately, over seasons. This natural phenomenon is the result of a continuous alternation between periods of torrential rain and drought, which have caused the erosion of the terrain and the formation of these pinnacles. As the seasons change, the temperatures move between extremes and storms affect the area, pyramids disappear over time, while new pinnacles form as well.” Brunico, South Tyrol, Italy. </p>
Nature, 3rd place: ‘Mars’

Photograph and caption by Marco Grassi/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “These natural sand towers, capped with large stones, are known as the Earth Pyramids of Platten. They are situated in Northern Italy’s South Tyrol region. Formed centuries ago after several storms and landslides, these land formations look like a landscape from outer space and continuously change over the years and, more accurately, over seasons. This natural phenomenon is the result of a continuous alternation between periods of torrential rain and drought, which have caused the erosion of the terrain and the formation of these pinnacles. As the seasons change, the temperatures move between extremes and storms affect the area, pyramids disappear over time, while new pinnacles form as well.” Brunico, South Tyrol, Italy.

<p>Photograph and caption by Hiro Kurashina/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “This is a view of the main street from a tram in Nagasaki on a rainy day. The tram is vintage, but retrofitted with modern ticketing equipment. A conductor is no longer on board <span>— </span>only the lone driver. The quiet streetscape seen through the front windshield of the tram somehow caught my attention. This view presents quite a contrast to busy urban centers in Japan, such as Tokyo and Osaka. The ride on a vintage tram through the relatively quiet main street was a memorable experience during our weeklong visit to the historic city of Nagasaki.” Nagasaki, Japan. </p>
Cities, 1st place: ‘Another rainy day in Nagasaki’

Photograph and caption by Hiro Kurashina/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “This is a view of the main street from a tram in Nagasaki on a rainy day. The tram is vintage, but retrofitted with modern ticketing equipment. A conductor is no longer on board only the lone driver. The quiet streetscape seen through the front windshield of the tram somehow caught my attention. This view presents quite a contrast to busy urban centers in Japan, such as Tokyo and Osaka. The ride on a vintage tram through the relatively quiet main street was a memorable experience during our weeklong visit to the historic city of Nagasaki.” Nagasaki, Japan.

<p>Photograph and caption by Enrico Pescantini/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “Teotihuacan means ‘the place where the gods were created,’ and that’s the exact feeling visitors have when they walk along the Avenue of the Dead at this Mexican archeological site. This pyramid was dedicated to the god of Sun, and I found it mesmerizing how the rising sun in the picture conquered just half the image, while the other half is in the shadows.<br>I have always loved archeology and ancient civilizations, so I couldn’t wait to visit Mexico and explore the remains of the pre-Columbian civilization. I planned my visit to Teotihuacan at sunrise, to get a combination of golden sunlight, play of shadows and few crowds around. I flew my drone to see if the image I had in my mind was really out there: Luckily for me, this frame was just waiting for my camera!” Teotihuacan, Mexico. </p>
Cities, 2nd place: ‘Geometry of the sun’

Photograph and caption by Enrico Pescantini/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “Teotihuacan means ‘the place where the gods were created,’ and that’s the exact feeling visitors have when they walk along the Avenue of the Dead at this Mexican archeological site. This pyramid was dedicated to the god of Sun, and I found it mesmerizing how the rising sun in the picture conquered just half the image, while the other half is in the shadows.
I have always loved archeology and ancient civilizations, so I couldn’t wait to visit Mexico and explore the remains of the pre-Columbian civilization. I planned my visit to Teotihuacan at sunrise, to get a combination of golden sunlight, play of shadows and few crowds around. I flew my drone to see if the image I had in my mind was really out there: Luckily for me, this frame was just waiting for my camera!” Teotihuacan, Mexico.

<p>Photograph and caption by Gaanesh Prasad/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “On an early morning, I wanted to photograph the fog, which is epic in Dubai every year from December to January — and almost every photographer’s dream in this part of the world. Sadly, I could not get access to the rooftop and so I peeped through the glazed window on a lower floor. I was overwhelmed and excited to see how beautiful the city looks, and my excitement was quadrupled as soon as I saw the reflection of the road and building on the building that I was in. I immediately opened the window to the maximum permissible amount and clicked a single shot with stretched hands.” Dubai, UAE. </p>
Cities: 3rd place: ‘Reflection’

Photograph and caption by Gaanesh Prasad/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “On an early morning, I wanted to photograph the fog, which is epic in Dubai every year from December to January — and almost every photographer’s dream in this part of the world. Sadly, I could not get access to the rooftop and so I peeped through the glazed window on a lower floor. I was overwhelmed and excited to see how beautiful the city looks, and my excitement was quadrupled as soon as I saw the reflection of the road and building on the building that I was in. I immediately opened the window to the maximum permissible amount and clicked a single shot with stretched hands.” Dubai, UAE.

<p>Photograph and caption by Gary Cummins/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “In this photo, I tried to bring the intense and stacked living conditions that Hong Kong is famous for into perspective for the viewer. With so many people living in small spaces, it’s strange to see all these amenities empty. As a solo traveler, I’m often alone in crowds, and this photo resonates with me. I barely scratched the surface of this incredible urban environment, but this image really summarizes my experience here.” Hong Kong, China. </p>
Cities, honorable mention: ‘Alone in the crowds’

Photograph and caption by Gary Cummins/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “In this photo, I tried to bring the intense and stacked living conditions that Hong Kong is famous for into perspective for the viewer. With so many people living in small spaces, it’s strange to see all these amenities empty. As a solo traveler, I’m often alone in crowds, and this photo resonates with me. I barely scratched the surface of this incredible urban environment, but this image really summarizes my experience here.” Hong Kong, China.

<p>Photograph and caption by Alessandra Meniconzi/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “Tea isn’t just a drink but a mix of tradition, culture, relax, ceremony, pleasure … around the world!” Altai Mountains, Western Mongolia. </p>
People, 1st place: ‘Tea culture’

Photograph and caption by Alessandra Meniconzi/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “Tea isn’t just a drink but a mix of tradition, culture, relax, ceremony, pleasure … around the world!” Altai Mountains, Western Mongolia.

<p>Photograph and caption by Tati Itat/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “Since 2016, I’ve been involved with Haitian immigrants and refugees living in my city, Estrela. I have become friends with some families, and especially with twin sisters Leïda and Laëlle. They say living in Brazil is like living in paradise — very different from the reality of their country of origin. They dream of becoming models and teachers, as a way to earn money to bring their other relatives from Haiti to Brazil, to live all near one another. On this day, they were playing in front of their home, improvising exercises to develop their imagination and creativity, as if they were actresses, and playing an imitation game with poses. Laëlle reached for Leida’s face and lifted her head up, showing her where she should look. At this brief moment, I took the photo.” Estrela, Rio Grande do Sul State, Brazil. </p>
People, 2nd place: ‘Leïda and Laëlle — I will lift you up’

Photograph and caption by Tati Itat/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “Since 2016, I’ve been involved with Haitian immigrants and refugees living in my city, Estrela. I have become friends with some families, and especially with twin sisters Leïda and Laëlle. They say living in Brazil is like living in paradise — very different from the reality of their country of origin. They dream of becoming models and teachers, as a way to earn money to bring their other relatives from Haiti to Brazil, to live all near one another. On this day, they were playing in front of their home, improvising exercises to develop their imagination and creativity, as if they were actresses, and playing an imitation game with poses. Laëlle reached for Leida’s face and lifted her head up, showing her where she should look. At this brief moment, I took the photo.” Estrela, Rio Grande do Sul State, Brazil.

<p>Photograph and caption by M.D. Tanveer Hassan Rohan/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “This photograph was taken from Dhaka’s airport rail station during the Eid vacation. People were returning to their village homes to spend Eid with families, and the rush at the last hour was immense. One man caught my attention: He was dangling on a train’s handle with his family, trying to get inside the train. At that time, rain started and the train began to slowly move. The family had tickets to board the train, but couldn’t get to their seats. There are many people like him, who come to Dhaka for work — leaving their families and home villages — so when they get vacation, they don’t want to miss the opportunity to spend time with dear ones, no matter what.” Dhaka, Bangladesh. </p>
People, 3rd place: ‘Challenging journey’

Photograph and caption by M.D. Tanveer Hassan Rohan/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. — “This photograph was taken from Dhaka’s airport rail station during the Eid vacation. People were returning to their village homes to spend Eid with families, and the rush at the last hour was immense. One man caught my attention: He was dangling on a train’s handle with his family, trying to get inside the train. At that time, rain started and the train began to slowly move. The family had tickets to board the train, but couldn’t get to their seats. There are many people like him, who come to Dhaka for work — leaving their families and home villages — so when they get vacation, they don’t want to miss the opportunity to spend time with dear ones, no matter what.” Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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