The contest judges "liked the quality of light," POYi director Rick Shaw said. "They liked the connection of the subject's eyes with the audience, and also how the shark's fin frames and composes the people in the background."
Organized by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism, the annual contest began in 1944 to showcase photography taken during World War II.
Today its mission remains "to empower the world's best documentary photography, to provide a visual portrayal of society, and to foster an understanding of the issues facing our civilization," according to the organizers.
Photograph courtesy Yuri Kozyrev for Time via POYi
In Donald Miralle's picture, "I think that the judges particularly liked the juxtaposing of the little fish, which are swimming against the people," Shaw said.
This year's POYi panel of judges was made up of 17 renowned photographers, who were assigned genres—for example, sports or news features—based on their experience.
Unlike some photo competitions, POYi judging is transparent, providing a unique learning opportunity for photojournalism students at the Missouri School of Journalism.
"Anyone can come in and witness the judging," Shaw said, "and we do an online webcasting of the judging."
Photograph courtesy Donald Miralle via POYi
First Place: News Picture Story, Freelance/Agency
Demonstrators in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi call for the overthrow of the Qaddafi government in this photo by Yuri Kozyrev for Time magazine.
"Yuri put himself in the middle of civil disobedience at its height and was really able to record and reflect the extreme emotion of the people, ranging from a contemplative foreground to an exuberant background," Shaw said of Kozyrev, who has recently covered multiple Arab Spring revolutions.
"What's great about [Steve Winter's] work is that it's not only about the animals but also humankind's interactions with the natural world, both in a positive and negative sense."
Among the two Global Vision runners-up is David Guttenfelter for his National Geographic assignment "Japan's Nuclear Refugees" (see pictures). (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)
"Stephanie's artistry as a photographer is just extraordinary," Shaw said. "She has an amazing ability to get access to cultures that for most people would be off-limits."
Of this particular picture, he said, "if you look at the faces of the two girls, you know they're just children.
"I also like the way the hills sort of intersect with the heads and faces of the people. Those subtleties are what take a great picture to an even higher level."
Photograph by Stephanie Sinclair, National Geographic
First Place: Science/Natural History
In a photo by Jay Janner of the Austin American-Statesman, underweight cattle wait in a pen to be auctioned at the Gillespie Livestock Company in Fredericksburg, Texas, on August 10, 2011, during one of the driest periods ever recorded in the state.
"The drought has had a real impact on rural and agricultural communities in Texas, but how do you show that?" Shaw said.
"How many pictures of scorched earth and cracked fields have we seen? That's almost a cliché. So a photograph that can tell a story without resorting to clichés really helps it resonate with an audience."
Photograph courtesy Jay Janner, Austin American-Statesman via POYi
First Place: Magazine Feature-Story Editing
An Iraqi man feeds seagulls at dawn in a Lynsey Addario photo from the National Geographic article "Baghdad After the Storm" (more pictures). The coverage won the freelance photographer—as well as senior photo editor Sarah Leen and design director David Whitmore—honors for editing.
For Addario, the Baghdad assignment was bittersweet, coinciding as it did with the Egyptian Revolution.
"I have been covering the Middle East and South Asia for 11 years now, and while Egypt in particular wasn't my story, it was extremely difficult to watch history being made on TV," she told National Geographic. "I am used to being in the middle of it!"
Photograph by Lynsey Addario, National Geographic
First Place: Science/Natural History Picture Story
"Sometimes with these images, less is more," Shaw said. "The arm, the grip on the horn, the way the horn is bent the same way that the grasslands in the background is waving—it's very simple, yet very powerful."
Photograph by Brent Stirton, Getty Images/National Geographic
Third Place: Portrait Series
Hou Keming, a low-income laborer in Chengdu, China, sits beside an image of his daughters in rural Sichuan Province on December 6, 2011.
The photo, one of a series taken by Liu Jie for the Xinhua News Agency, won third place in the portrait category of this year's POYi contest.
Taken by Liu Jie for the Chinese government's Xinhua News Agency, the picture is part of "an extraordinary series showing family separation in China," POYi's Shaw said.
"He went and found the family members and photographed them, and then he went to where the father or husband of those families was working and juxtaposed the images ... I can't imagine the labor that was involved."
Photograph courtesy Liu Jie, Xinhua via POYi
Second Place: Issue-Reporting Picture Story
Somalis are shown during a 200-mile (322-kilometer) walk through the desert to reach a refugee camp.
"This is just classic Barbara Davidson photography," Shaw said. "The perfect composition, the quality of the light, the texture of the land, the faces of the people, and the body language—it all works together to really draw the viewer."
Photograph courtesy Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles Times via POYi
First Place: Magazine Series Editing
The seemingly instant city of Dubai springs from the Arabian Desert in a picture from National Geographic's "Population 7 Billion" series, which won dozens of photographers, designers, and editors top honors for series editing.
"One of the key things in editing is respect for the vision of the photographer. That's one of the criteria that we ask the judges to examine," Shaw said.
The public too will be able to examine many of this year's POYi winners at an exhibition in Washington, D.C., where Shaw estimates the pictures will be seen by more than 400,000 people.
"While the awards and the plaques or the trophy is certainly nice, a photographer wants their photographs to be seen," Shaw said.
Photograph courtesy Jens Neumann and Edgar Rodtmann, National Geographic via POYi