Breathtakingly Beautiful Pictures From The 2014 National Geographic Photo Contest

    Here are the winning images from National Geographic Traveler Magazine's 2014 photography contest, chosen from over 18,000 entries.

    Winner, Grand Prize – "The Independence Day", Julesburg, Colorado, USA, by Marko Korošec.

    While on stormchasing expeditions in the Tornado Alley in the USA, I have encountered many photogenic supercell storms. This photograph was taken while we were approaching the storm near Julesburg, Colorado, on 28 May 2013. The storm was tornado-warned for more than one hour, but stayed an LP [low precipitation] storm through all its cycles and never produced a tornado, just occasional brief funnels, large hail, and some rain.

    Second place – "First Time", Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, Israel, by Agnieszka Traczewska.

    Mea Shearim, in the ultra-Orthodox district of Jerusalem. Newly married, Aaron and Rivkeh are, after the wedding ceremony, to stay together for the very first time alone. Their marriage was arranged by families. The 18-year-old candidates confirmed the choice from one meeting only. Since then, until the wedding day, they were prohibited to meet or even talk.

    Third place – "Diver in Magic Kingdom", Grüner See, Tragöß, Austria, by Marc Henauer.

    Green Lake (Grüner See) is located in Tragöß, Austria. In spring, snowmelt raises the lake level about 10 metres. This phenomenon lasts only a few weeks, covering the hiking trails, meadows, trees. The result is magical to watch.

    Merit – "Foggy Small Town", Český Krumlov, South Bohemia, Czech Republic, by Duowen Chen.

    This photo was captured at noon, 25 December 2013, from the castle, which is located on the edge of the small town and is the perfect viewpoint for the panorama of the almost intact historical town. The fog and mist suffused and gave the town a sense of mystery.

    Merit – "End of the World", Banos, Ecuador, by Sean Hacker Teper.

    This photo, taken at the 'end of the world' swing in Banos, Ecuador, captures a man on the swing overlooking an erupting Mt Tungurahua. The eruption took place on 1 February 2014. Minutes after the photo was taken, we had to evacuate the area because of an incoming ash cloud.

    Merit – "Ladies in Waiting", Borough Market, London, England, by Susie Stern.

    While exploring Borough Market in London, I was delighted to come across four lovely young women dressed in vintage white dresses, eating ice cream as the local shopkeeper looked on. Are they brides? Or bridesmaids? I don't know, but they are obviously enjoying a very special day.

    Merit – "A Well-Earned Rest in the Sahara", Tin-Merzouga, Tadrat, Tassili N'Ajjer National Park, Algeria, by Evan Cole.

    This photo, of Moussa Macher, our Touareg guide, was taken at the summit of Tin-Merzouga, the largest dune (or erg) in the Tadrat region of the Sahara desert in southern Algeria. Moussa rested while waiting for us to finish our 45-minute struggle to the top. It only took 10 minutes of rolling, running, and jumping to get to get back down. The Tadrat is part of the Tassili N'Ajjer National Park World Heritage Area, famous for its red sand and engravings and rock paintings of cattle, elephants, giraffes, and rhinos that lived there when the climate was milder.

    Merit – "Divine Makeover", Kaveripattinam, Tamilnadu, India, by Mahesh Balasubramanian.

    Taken during the Mayana Soora Thiruvizha festival, which takes place every March in the small village of Kaveripattinam, the day after Mahashivarathiri (or 'The Great Night of Shiva'). The festival is devoted to Angalamman, a fierce guardian deity worshipped widely in southern India.

    Merit – "Khotso Peace at Devil's Knuckles", Jonathan's Lodge, Qacha's Nek, Sehlabathebe National Park, Lesotho, by Byron Inggs.

    On arrival at Jonathan's Lodge, our horses took to celebrating liberation from their heavy burdens. With the backdrop of the Devil's Knuckles and the afternoon's glow, how could I not take advantage of these magnificent creatures rejoicing in the afternoon's glow? This was the end of the first of a three-day horseback ride through Bushman's Nek, up the Drakensberg escarpment and into Lesotho's Sehlabathebe National Park.

    Merit – "LightSource", Old Bagan, Burma, by Marcelo Castro.

    A young monk finds a perfect light source to read his book inside of his pagoda, in Old Bagan, Burma.