Lonely Planet Writer

See the winners of the National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year contest

A unique view of a humpback whale calf has secured Reiko Takahashi of Japan the prestigious grand prize in the 2018 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year contest.

The grand prize winning photo. MERMAID: “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 it’s very energetic, large and beautiful tail”. Photo and Caption by Reiko Takahashi/ National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

The striking image shows the whale’s tail as it glides through the water ahead off the coast of Japan’s Kumejima Island. Takahashi is a long-time photographer who left her office job to pursue her passion for underwater photography. She travelled to the island in order to photograph humpback whales with their young calves – and the resulting image has now won her the US$10,000 (€8614) prize. Her image was selected from more than 13,000 entries from around the world.

2nd Place in the nature category. FLAMINGOS TAKING OFF: “Thousands of flamingos are seen taking off from the colorful Lake Natron in Tanzania. Before taking off, flamingos need to take a short run on water to build up some speed. At that moment, their long, red legs create 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”. Photo and Caption byhao j./ National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

“It was a special scene for me, to be able to take a photo of the calf, completely relaxed in gentle waters,” said Takahashi in a statement. “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,”

1st place in cities category. ANOTHER RAINY DAY IN NAGASAKI, KYUSHU: “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—onlythe 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 week-long visit to the historic city of Nagasaki”. Photo and Caption by Hiro Kurashina/ National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

The annual contest recognizes photos taken within the last two years, with entries in three categories: nature, people and cities. Takahashi’s photo took the overall grand prize and well as securing the top spot in the nature category. Hiro Kurashina of Japan took first in the cities category for his photo titled “Another Rainy Day in Nagasaki, Kyushu,” while “Tea Culture” by Alessandra Meniconzi of Switzerland won the people category.

1st place in people category. TEA CULTURE: “For a long time, I have been fascinated by the ancient Mongolian method of hunting with Golden Eagles. In early 2018, I followed one family of eagle hunters during their migration from winter camp to spring camp.Mongoliais sparsely populated, but the inhabitants have a very hospitable and welcoming culture. Tea for Kazakh culture is one of theattributes of hospitality.Tea isn’t just a drink, but a mix of tradition, culture, relaxation, ceremony, and pleasure. Damel, seen here wrapped in heavy fur clothes, drinks a cup of tea to keep warm from the chilly temperatures in Western Mongolia”. Photo and Caption by Alessandra Meniconzi/ National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

Kurashina’s image is taken from a vintage tram in Nagasaki and shot in black-and-white. He explained that the quiet scene caught his attention, presenting a contrasts to Japan’s busier cities like Osaka. Meniconzi’s image was taken in the Altai Mountains of Western Mongolia, where she followed a family of eagle hunters during their move from their winter to spring camp.

See all of the winning and honorable mention images here.