Open between April 5 and July 11, the Traveler photo contest called for entries in four categories: "Travel Portraits," "Outdoor Scenes," "Sense of Place," and "Spontaneous Moments." A panel of photo experts judged the submissions based on creativity and photographic quality. (See all the entered pictures, sorted by category.)
Dan Westergren, senior photo editor for Traveler magazine and a judge in this year's contest, said he appreciated the humor in Canales' shot, submitted in the "Sense of Place" category.
"Pictures of the Milky Way have become fairly common now because of digital cameras. We've seen it so much, I'm getting a little tired of seeing it," Westergren said. "But in this picture, there's a guy just laying in the snow with the beam of his headlight shining up in the sky. It just added a sort of whimsy to the picture." (Also see "Best Night-Sky Pictures of 2011 Named.")
(The National Geographic Society owns both Traveler magazine and National Geographic News.)
Photograph by Ben Canales
Second Place: Pilgrim's Confession
A priest listens to confession in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, the final destination in the Christian pilgrimage walk known as Camino de Santiago, or "the way of St. James."
Taken by Jaime Murcia of Victoria, Australia, the picture was submitted in the "Spontaneous Moments" category.
"We always like a picture that has a sense of place, and it's pretty clear that this picture was not taken in America," said Traveler magazine's Westergren. "It's the kind of picture that can take you to a different place, in this case a place where the old ways are taken more seriously."
"I think we've seen so many pictures of beautiful places that we're always trying to find that little bit of something extra that makes it a little more interesting, and sometimes that is a little subtle humor," Westergren said—as in this "Spontaneous Moments" picture taken by Robin Moore of Washington, D.C.
"These young ladies were demonstrating a game they were teaching us, and I had just enough time to snap this photo before dropping the camera (literally) and joining in!" photographer Holly Baker of St. John's, Canada, wrote in her caption submitted with the shot.
"We chose this one [as a merit winner] because it was colorful and because it had an energy to it," Westergren said of the "Spontaneous Moments" submission. "You could see the motion of these women spinning, and the one on the right hand side with the big smile on her face just gave the photo a really good vibe."
A lone fisher stands at the tip of a rocky outcrop on Israel's Palmachim Beach as ocean waves crash around him in this picture by Ilan Shacham, of Modiin, Israel. Submitted in the "Outdoor Scenes" category, the shot was snapped during a wintertime visit.
"This one had a kind of lonely feeling to it, with the guy out there by himself, and the power of the waves washing over the rocks," Westergren said.
A pod of spotted dolphins takes an interest in a diver in the Bahamas.
"It's a beautiful thing to have an interaction with a wild animal," wrote photographer Becky Kagan Schott of Aston, Pennsylvania, in her caption. "They played and danced with us as we free-dove down like part of the pod in the crystal clear water. It was a true adventure and a memory that will last a lifetime."
Contest judge Westergren said of this "Spontaneous Moments" picture: "The body language of the diver with the dolphin and just the fact that they're both there in the water swimming together—it just gave everybody a really good feeling."
A gardener is busy trimming the hedges—a seemingly never-ending task—at a palace outside the city of Porto, Portugal. Photographer Laura Grier of Marina Del Rey, California, submitted the shot in the "Travel Portraits" category of the Traveler magazine contest.
"This picture is kind of funny, too," Westergren said. "It's the juxtaposition of this perfect garden and the realization when you see the guy on the ladder that somebody had to make that happen."
Photograph by Laura Grier
Merit Prize: Tiger Parade
Artists painted as tigers transform a road into a carnival during the fourth day of Onam—an annual harvest festival in Kerala, India—in a "Sense of Place" picture by Shantanu Das of Mumbai (Bombay).
"I just love the guy with the huge belly and the tiger painted on it," Westergren said. "The picture is chaotic in that it's a little jumbled and the scene doesn't resolve itself right away, but I think the tiger in the back, with its tongue sticking out looking straight at the camera, really grounds the composition and makes it work."
A man plays the accordion for friends during a cloudy-day picnic in Mongolia in this picture taken by Chris De Bruyn of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and entered in the "Travel Portrait" category.
"The guy playing the accordion is so straightforward, and the guy in the background has got some other kind of serious concern," Westergren said. "For me, it just seems like I'm sitting there having a picnic with all the different types of personalities of the world."