This year, I decided to enter the National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. Yes, the Grand Prize - setting sail on the National Geographic Endeavour II on an extraordinary 10-day journey for two in the Galápagos Islands - is appealing to say the least, but that's not why I entered. I submitted my entries to join thousands around the world in celebrating the art of travel photography and the beauty of our planet that needs everyone's attention desperately. If we can all marvel at the wonders of the world, we should be more than willing and able to take action to keep it alive. Here are my entries and some of my favorite photographs from my travels over the past couple years with some behind the scenes insights on capturing the shot.
The Lion King
I've dreamed of taking this picture for a long time, and it nearly didn't happen. After 3 full days in the Kruger bush, we didn't see a single lion. We reminded ourselves that finding rare animals is never guaranteed, and headed out at 3am one last time. We searched for hours to no avail, and then everything came together. We spotted a small pride of lions mating in the early morning light. We marveled for 5 mins before they disappeared. Today, we had a wild staring contest with the King.
Kruger National Park, South Africa
The Land of the Midnight Sun
For two weeks, I trekked around Iceland under the midnight sun. With the sun setting on the left of Kirkjufell mountain and the sun rising on the right, this early morning was absolute magic. As the most photographed mountain in all of Iceland, I remember seeing a picture of this place years ago and saying audibly, “I have to go there.” It was that kind of spiritual calling that inspires and fuels adventure travel and everything it takes to pull off a major expedition like this.
Morning Glow in Canyonlands
It looks warm, but this clear desert sunrise came with below freezing temps. After multiple attempts squandered by morning cloud cover, storms and even snow, I didn't know if I'd get to witness a sunrise at Mesa Arch. My last night camping out in Moab, I left the tent at 4am in the dark for one final try. It was 29 degrees, but the skies were clear and I knew this was it. As the sun peaked out over the La Sal range, light flooded into Canyonlands NP and left it's signature glow under the arch.
Mesa Arch, Canyonlands, United States
Speechless at Oxbow Bend
I'm a sucker for fall colors. Located in Grand Teton National Park, I staked out this spot at Oxbow Bend overlooking Mt.Moran for over a month, returning almost daily to check on the progress of the trees and the lighting. It was fascinating to watch some of the leaves change sooner and faster despite being part of the same grove. This morning, the sunrise was clear, the winds were calm, the clouds looked hand painted over the Tetons, and the trees were a spectacular gradient of color.
Oxbow Bend, Wyoming, United States
If you're a skier, Alaska is what dreams are made of. Last spring, two childhood friends and I set out to explore Alaska's backcountry. The weather proved extremely variable, limiting our terrain options for the the majority of the trip. During a long skin through the Chugach range, we crested a ridge line that revealed this amazing view of Kickstep Mountain. As the dark storms moved in rapidly, the sun peeked out just long enough to create this dramatic setting where everything else faded away.
Kickstep Mountain, Alaska, United States
50 Shades of Sandstone
We all have our favorite spots to watch the sunset, and this is one of mine. Watching the Colorado River bend around the smooth and steep sandstone canyons as the sun falls behind the horizon is an experience that will be tucked away in my memory for eternity. The American Southwest is a peaceful sanctuary for all who love and appreciate our natural world. Make no mistake, Mother Earth is a marvelous wonder. Respect and care for her, there is no Planet B.
Page, Arizona, United States
Taking in the mystique and beauty of Antelope Canyon was always on my bucket list, and the experience touched my soul as a photographer. For whatever reason, coming out the other side of this trip with this photo is exactly why I love photography: its ability to unite, incite and inspire. For me, it has certainly motivated adventure, influenced discovery, and challenged my comfort zone. I hope that photography invigorates and empowers you to chase your dreams - that's what this art is all about.
Antelope Canyon, Arizona, United States
Kalalau From Above
Aerial photography is one of my favorite types to shoot. A different perspective and a different sense of scale welcome a completely different appreciation of our natural world. The cathedral mountains, jagged seaside cliffs and pure blue waters of Kauai's Na Pali Coast are completely mesmerizing. Accessible only by trail and swimming by sea, you can make out the campgrounds of hikers that have made the 11 mile one way trek in nestled in the trees behind the sands of Kalalau Beach.
Kalalau Beach, Hawaii, United States
Today we tracked and marveled at parades of wild elephants in Addo National Park. Can you spot the star of the show? Right in the middle is a 5-day old newborn, protected on all sides by his family unit on their way to a watering hole. These beautiful giants were breathtaking and one of my all time favorite wild encounters.
Addo National Park, Eastern Cape, South Africa
Beauty and Grace
On my first trip to Iceland, I was really keen on photographing Icelandic horses and they did not disappoint. Their short, stocky builds and beautiful flowing manes perfectly fit Iceland's naturally rugged beauty. They are tough, elegant and emotional all at the same time, and my camera could not look away.
Hofn, East, Iceland
Home to over 24 million people, Shanghai is constantly on the move. A city that truly never sleeps, locals and visitors from all over the world can enjoy an impressive variety of food, fashion, design and entertainment in the aptly named Paris of the East.
To view the full contest and all the wonderful entries, visit: http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/photographer-of-the-year-2017/