A truly great photo captures a fleeting event, thought, feeling, mood or emotion in a way that words rarely can. It takes a moment in life and translates a multitude of meanings into one, single shot.
So it is with the winning images from the 2014 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest.
One of the world's most respected photography competitions drew over 18,000 entries this year. The winning handful are visually stunning and diverse and give the viewer an intimate glimpse into all kinds of scenarios from around the world.
There's girl having her face decorated in honour of Angalamman, a fierce guardian deity worshipped widely in Southern India, the horses rejoicing in the afternoon's glow in Devil's Knuckle, Lesotho, and four mysteriously beautiful women dressed in white outside a store in London's Borough Market.
The overall winner this year is a photograph of a dramatic storm cloud in Colorado, taken by Marko Korošec of Sezana, Slovenia.
His photo is titled The Independence Day because the spaceship-like cloud formation reminded Korošec of the 1996 movie.
"It’s such a beautiful structure created by Mother Nature and dangerous at the same time," he said. "I decided to submit this photo because it does look kind of surreal and gives a feeling of how small we are against nature."
Agnieszka Traczewska of Krakow, Poland, won second place for her photo of a newly married young couple in an ultra Orthodox district of Jerusalem. And third prize went to Marc Henauer of Geneva, Switzerland, for his shot of an ephemeral diving spot in Austria.
"Each year our entrants up the ante. Each year the quality of photos improves. Every day I checked the new posts and sent my favourites — and there were many — out on Facebook and Twitter," said Keith Bellows, National Geographic Traveler magazine editor-in-chief and National Geographic Travel senior vice president.
"What started as a contest that consisted of judging a relative handful of prints has grown into a digital colossus that has the staff energized around picking from a treasure trove of excellence."
Come take a look at just a few of the winning and merited entries from this year, below. See more about the 2014 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest here.
The Independence Day (grand prize)
Photo and caption by Marko Korošec / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
While on storm chasing expeditions in the Tornado Alley in 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 storm through all its cycles and never produced a tornado, just occasional brief funnels, large hail and some rain.
Location: Julesburg, Colorado, USA
First Time (second place)
Photo and caption by Agnieszka Traczewska / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Mea Shearim, an 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. 18 years old candidates confirmed the choice in result of the one meeting only. Since then until the wedding day, they were prohibited to meet or even talk.
Location: Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, Israel
Diver in Magic Kingdom (third place)
Photo and caption by Marc Henauer / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Green Lake (Grüner See) is located Tragöss Austria. In spring snowmelt raises the lake level about 10 metres. This phenomenon, which lasts only a few weeks covering the hiking trails, meadows, trees. The result is magical to watch diving landscapes.
Location: Grüner See at Tragöss – Austria
Khotso Peace at Devil's Knuckles
Photo and caption by Byron Inggs / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
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 afternoons 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 horse back ride through Bushman's Nek, up the Drakensberg escarpment and into Lesotho's Sehlabathebe National Park.
Location: Jonathans Lodge, Qachas Nek, Sehlabathebe National Park, Lesotho
A well earned rest in the Sahara
Photo and caption by Evan Cole / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
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.
Location: Summit of Tin-Merzouga, Tadrat, Tassili N'Ajjer National Park, Algeria
Foggy small town
Photo and caption by Duowen Chen / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
This photo was captured at noon, 25.12.2013, 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.
Location: Český Krumlov, South Bohemian, Czech Republic
Ladies in Waiting
Photo and caption by Susie Stern / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
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.
Location: Borough Market, London, England
Photo and caption by Marcelo Castro / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Young Monk finds a perfect light source to read his book inside of his pagoda - Old Bagan, Burma.
Location: Old Bagan
Photo and caption by Mahesh Balasubramanian / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Taken during "The Mayana Soora Thiruvizha" festival 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.
Location: Kaveripattinam, Tamilnadu, India
Photos: National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest