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The Most Astonishing Photos That Won Awards In 2014

The year did not disappoint for incredible photos of the awesome power of nature and glimpses into the human spirit. Take a look at some of the very best.

National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest 2014

Over 18,000 pictures were submitted to the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest, including images of ice caves, magical desert views, and intriguing scenes from cultures around the globe.

First place went to Marko Korošec's apocalyptic photo of a storm cloud near Julesburg, Colorado, US (below). National Geographic Traveler director of photography Dan Westergren said: "This winning photo of a supercell over the plains of eastern Colorado stopped the judges in our tracks.

"What makes the picture particularly strong is that except for the cloud, the rest of the scene is quite ordinary. The crazy UFO-looking shape gives the impression that it's going to suck up the landscape like a tablecloth into a vacuum cleaner. The unresolved tension in the image makes me want to look at it over and over."

Grand Prize - "The Independence Day" by Marko Korošec

Marko Korošec / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest / Via

"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 May 28, 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." –Marko Korošec

Second place – "First Time" by Agnieszka Traczewska

Agnieszka Traczewska / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest / Via

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

Third place – "Diver in Magic Kingdom" by Marc Henauer

Marc Henauer / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest / Via

"Green Lake (Grüner See) is located 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 diving landscapes." –Marc Henauer

Merit – "Foggy Small Town" by Duowen Chen

Duowen Chen / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest / Via

"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." –Duowen Chen. Location: Český Krumlov, South Bohemian, Czech Republic

Merit – "End of the World" by Sean Hacker Teper

Sean Hacker Teper / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest / Via

"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." –Sean Hacker Teper. Location: Banos, Ecuador

Merit – "Ladies in Waiting" by Susie Stern

Susie Stern / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest / Via

"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." –Susie Stern. Location: Borough Market, London, England

Merit – "A Well Earned Rest in the Sahara" by Evan Cole

Evan Cole / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest / Via

"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." –Evan Cole. Location: Summit of Tin-Merzouga, Tadrat, Tassili N'Ajjer National Park, Algeria

Merit – "Divine Makeover" by Mahesh Balasubramanian

Mahesh Balasubramanian / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest / Via

"Taken during the Mayana Soora Thiruvizha festival, which takes place every March in the small village of Kaveripattinam, the day after Mahashivarathiri (the great night of Shiva). The festival is devoted to Angalamman, a fierce guardian deity worshipped widely in southern India." –Mahesh Balasubramanian. Location: Kaveripattinam, Tamilnadu, India

Merit – "Light Source" by Marcelo Castro

Marcelo Castro / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest / Via

"[A] young monk finds a perfect light source to read his book inside of his pagoda." –Marcelo Castro. Location: Old Bagan, Burma

Merit – "Khotso Peace at Devil's Knuckles" by Byron Inggs

Byron Inggs / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest / Via

"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 afternoons glow. This was the end of the first of a three-day horseback ride through Bushman's Nek, up the Drakensberg escarpment, and into Lesothos' Sehlabathebe National Park." –Byron Inggs. Location: Jonathans Lodge, Qachas Nek, Sehlabathebe National Park, Lesotho

Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2014

Two and a half thousand photos from amateurs and professional photographers were entered into this year's astronomy photography contest, run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

A luminescent aurora photographed in Iceland's Vatnajokull National Park was the overall winner, showing a vivid reflection of the green lights in the waters of the Jokulsrlon Glacier lagoon.

Overall winner – "Aurora Over a Glacier Lagoon" by James Woodend

James Woodend / Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2014

"A vivid green overhead aurora pictured in Iceland's Vatnajokull National Park reflected almost symmetrically in Jokulsrlon Glacier lagoon. A complete lack of wind and current combine in this sheltered lagoon scene to create an arresting mirror effect giving the image a sensation of utter stillness. Despite this, there is motion on a surprising scale, as the loops and arcs of the aurora are shaped by the shifting forces of the Earth's magnetic field." –James Woodend

Winner, Deep Space – "Horsehead Nebula (IC 434)" by Bill Snyder

Bill Snyder / Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2014

Winner, Our Solar System – "Ripples in a Pond" by Alexandra Hart

Alexandra Hart / Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2014

"The sun's boiling surface curves away beneath us in this evocative shot that conveys the scale and violence of our star. The region of solar activity on the left could engulf the Earth several times over with room to spare. The sun's outer layers behave as a fluid, as alluded to in the image's title, and are constantly twisted and warped by intense magnetic forces." –Alexandra Hart

Royal Horticultural Society Photographic Competition 2014

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) sought out the best garden photographer of the year with its annual contest, awarding first place to Alain Jouno for his atmospheric photo of a foggy winter’s morning in the Parc Botanique de Haute Bretagne, Brittany, France.

RHS Photographer of the Year winner – "The Parc Botanique de Haute Bretagne, Brittany" by Alain Jouno

Alain Jouno / RHS Photographer of the Year 2014

"The View" by Christine Fitzgerald

Christine Fitzgerald / RHS Photographer of the Year 2014

Highly commended – "Roe Deer in a Bluebell Wood" by Don Hooper

Don Hooper / RHS Photographer of the Year 2014

Third place, Seasons – "Bluebell Wood" by David Shandley

Dave Shandley / RHS Photographer of the Year 2014

Second place, Under 11 – "My Wildlife Picture" by Sara Hussain

Sara Hussain / RHS Photographer of the Year 2014

Highly commended, Seasons – "Island Mist" by Robert Fulton

Robert Fulton / RHS Photographer of the Year 2014

CBRE Urban Photographer of the Year 2014

The CBRE photo contest set out to find the most arresting urban images of the year, to "enhance its understanding of the built environment on a global scale by seeing urban areas through different eyes".

German photographer Marius Veith beat off 11,500 entries from 79 countries to claim first prize with his photo of a jeweller arranging her stock.

Overall winner – "Mask of Society" by Marius Veith

Marius Vieth / CBRE Urban Photographer of the Year 2014

Winner, Asia-Pacific – "Net Mending" by Ly Hoang Long

Ly Hoang Long / CBRE Photographer of the Year 2014

Winner, Age 13–15 – "A Distant Silhouette" by Sarah Scarborough

Sarah Scarborough / CBRE Photographer of the Year 2014

Winner, Age 16–25 – "Christmas Tram" by Szabolcs Simo

Szabolcs Simo / CBRE Photographer of the Year 2014

"Christmas tram on the riverside of Danube in Budapest." –Szabolcs Simo

"Morning Massage" by Arunava Bhowmik

Arunava Bhowmik / CBRE Photographer of the Year 2014

"An Exhibition" by Manuel Paz-Castanal

Manuel Paz-Castanal / CBRE Photographer of the Year 2014

"The opening of a photography expo at the Casa do Cabildo exhibition hall in Santiago de Compostela." –Manuel Paz-Castanal

"Sewage Worker" by Sujan Sarkar

Sujan Sarkar / CBRE Photographer of the Year 2014

Velux Lovers of Light Photography Competition 2014

Roof windows manufacturer Velux set out to celebrate the beauty of daylight in all seasons with this year's instalment of its annual contest. Graham Colling from Bloxwich, West Midlands, UK, won first place with his photo "Early Light" (below), taken while on a morning woodland walk.

Overall winner – "Early Light" by Graham Colling

Graham Colling / Velux Lovers of Light

"Well, it promised to be a great day and it was here in the West Midlands. I headed for a small Forestry Comission plantation just north of Cannock. The colours were great, but the depth of the wood prevented the low sun from penetrating too far. I walked eastwards to get closer to the edge of the wood and suddenly came across this scene. I used the trunk of the tree to reduce the strength of the sun's rays but actually preferred this shot when it had moved from behind the trunk." –Graham Colling

Second place – "Carousel in the Myst" by Marko Stamatovic

Marko Stamatovic / VELUX Lovers of Light 2014

Third place – "Winter Sunrise Over" by Stephen Banks

Stephen Banks / VELUX Lovers of Light 2014

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014

Now in its 50th year, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition is run by two UK institutions: the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide.

Michael Nichols claimed first prize this year with his photo of the Vumbi lion pride in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. Nichols’ image shows five females resting with their cubs, after he’d been following them for nearly six months.

The 51st Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition is now open for entries.

Overall winner – "The Last Great Picture" by Michael Nichols

Michael Nichols / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014

Winner, Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year – "Stinger in the Sun" by Carlos Perez Naval

Carlos Perez Naval / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014

"Aware of Carlos’s presence, the common yellow scorpion is flourishing its sting as a warning. Carlos had found it basking on a flat stone in a rocky area near his home in Torralba de los Sisones, northeast Spain – also a place that he goes to look for reptiles. The late afternoon sun was casting such a lovely glow over the scene that Carlos decided to experiment with a double exposure (his first ever) so he could include the sun. He started with the background, using a fast speed so as not to overexpose the sun, and then shot the scorpion, using a low flash. But he had to change lenses (he used his zoom for the sun), which is when the scorpion noticed the movement and raised its tail. Carlos then had to wait for it to settle before taking his close-up, with the last rays of the sun lighting up its body." –Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014

Winner, Earth's Environments – "Apocalypse" by Francisco Negroni

Francisco Negroni / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014

"As the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcanic complex began erupting, Francisco travelled to Puyehue National Park in southern Chile, anticipating a spectacular light show. But what he witnessed was more like an apocalypse. He watched, awestruck, from a hill quite a distance to the west of the volcano. Flashes of lightning lacerated the sky, while the glow from the molten lava lit up the smoke billowing upwards, illuminating the landscape. ‘It was the most incredible thing I’ve seen in my life,’ Francisco says." –Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014.

Winner, World in Our Hands – "The Price They Pay" by Bruno D'Amicis

Bruno D'Amicis / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014

"Bruno found a teenager selling a 3-month-old fennec fox in a village in southern Tunisia. The pup was from a litter that he had dug out of a den in the Sahara Desert. Catching or killing wild fennec foxes is illegal in Tunisia, but it is still widespread." –Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014

Finalist, Birds – "Feral Spirits" by Sam Hobson

Sam Hobson / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014

"Just before dusk fell over London, the birds would start to appear. Sam says there were ‘swarms of them coming in low across the cemetery, heading for their roost in the trees just behind me. I’d keep having to duck.’ Ring-necked parakeets, an Afro-Asian species, are now well established in the wild in Britain – the result of escapes and deliberate releases from captivity – and they are thriving in London." –Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014

Finalist, Underwater Species – "Jelly Fireworks" by Geo Cloete

Geo Cloete / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014

"Geo never forgot the vast swarm of box jellyfish he encountered when diving in Hout Bay off Cape Town, South Africa. He had no camera then, but the experience sparked a passion for jellyfish. He fantasised about creating a picture of a huge mass of them, moving ‘like a firework display in slow motion’, their tentacles like star trails. Though Geo occasionally found small groups of box jellyfish around South Africa’s Cape Peninsula, it was seven years before he came across another mass gathering." –Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014

Finalist, Earth's Environments – "Magic Mountain" by David Clapp

David Clapp / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014

"David had travelled to Iceland partly to photograph the auroras, choosing to visit the Snaefellsnes peninsula because of its spectacular scenery. He had first set up by the frozen river below Mt Kirkjufell, but when the show intensified he scrambled up the bank to a pre-planned viewpoint with the mountain as the focus. At 2am, the intensity of the aurora light suddenly changed and a great burst pulsed across the sky in a totally unexpected formation." –Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014

Finalist, Birds – "Touché" by Jan van der Greef

Jan van der Greef / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014

"The focus of Jan’s trip to Ecuador was the astonishing sword-billed hummingbird, the only bird with a bill longer than its body (excluding its tail). Its 11-centimetre bill is designed to reach nectar at the base of equally long tube-shaped flowers – but Jan discovered that it can have another use." –Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014

2014 National Geographic Photographic Contest

Photographers from over 150 countries entered this year's National Geographic contest, which has three categories: people, places, and nature.

A photo of a packed room lit with ghostly fluorescent light at the marine animal theme park Ocean Park in Hong Kong was this year's overall winner. Photographer Brian Yen said: "I feel a certain contradiction when I look at the picture. On the one hand, I feel the liberating gift of technology. On the other hand, I feel people don’t even try to be neighborly anymore, because they don’t have to."

Winner, Grand Prize and People – "A Node Glows in the Dark" by Brian Yen

Brian Yen / National Geographic 2014 Photo Contest / Via

"In the last 10 years, mobile data, smartphones, and social networks have forever changed our existence. Although this woman is stood at the centre of a jam-packed train, the warm glow from her phone tells the strangers around her that she's not really here. She managed to slip away from here; for a short moment, she's a node flickering on the social web, roaming the earth, free as a butterfly. Our existence is no longer stuck to the physical here – we're free to run away, and run we will." –Brian Yen

Winner, Nature – "The Great Migration" by Nicole Cambré

Nicole Cambré /National Geographic 2014 Photo Contest / Via

"Jump of the wildebeest at the Mara River." –Nicole Cambré. Location: North Serengeti, Tanzania

Winner, Places – "Bathing in Budapest" by Triston Yeo

Triston Yeo /National Geographic 2014 Photo Contest / Via

"The Thermal Spa in Budapest is one of the favourite activities of Hungarians, especially in winter. We were fortunate to gain special access to shoot in the Thermal Spa thanks to our tour guide, Gabor. I love the mist, caused by the great difference in temperature between the the hot spa water and the atmosphere. It makes the entire spa experience more surreal and mystical." –Triston Yeo

Honourable mention, People – "Children in the Darkness" by Abdullah Alghajar

Abdullah Alghajar /National Geographic 2014 Photo Contest / Via

"Disabled children living in Syria war." –Abdullah Alghajar. Location: Syria, Termanin

Honourable mention, People – "Biltigiri" by Mattia Passarini

Mattia Passarini / National Geographic 2014 Photo Contest / Via

"The chef of Ramnami people in Chhattisgarh, India. Ramnami tattoo the name of the lord Ram on their body. Their entire focus is on the name of Ram, the name of God that is most dear to them. The Ramnami Samaj is a sect of harijan (Untouchable) Ram. Formed in the 1890s, the sect has become a dominant force in the religious life of the area. The tattoo is the result of their devotion and also, a gift and an acknowledgement from Ram." –Mattia Passarini. Location: India, Chhattisgarh

Honourable mention, People – "Tea Time in the Hut" by Karie Puret

Karie Puret / National Geographic 2014 Photo Contest / Via

"Little discussion with a doll in a plastic box, not inherently beautiful. But with this slice of light, it looks like a bubble invented to dream in an imaginative world." –Karie Puret. Location: Paris

Honourable mention, People – "My Brothers and I" by Tyler Greenfield

Tyler Greenfield / National Geographic 2014 Photo Contest / Via

"Our road trip down to Miami traversed this outlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We rested on this ridge overlooking the mountains. Though we argued consistently throughout the journey, here we were reminded of our brotherhood." –Tyler Greenfield. Location: Blue Ridge Parkway

Honourable mention, Places – "Destroyed Homs" by Sergey Ponomarev

Sergey Ponomarev / National Geographic 2014 Photo Contest / Via

"Birds fly over the destroyed houses in Khalidiya district in Homs, Syria. In the vast stillness of the destroyed city centre of Homs, there are large areas where nothing moves. Then, suddenly, wind blows a ripped awning, or birds fly overhead." –Sergey Ponomarev. Location: Homs, Syria

Honourable mention, Places – "The Storm" by Aytül Akbaş

Aytül Akbaş / National Geographic 2014 Photo Contest / Via

"During I was taking photo with my nephew, the storm came and I caught this beautiful moment." –Aytül Akbaş. Location: Kocaeli, Turkey.