Velasco monitored the activity on the Volcan de Colima, one of the most active volcanoes in the region, for nearly a month before taking the shot. Setting up about 12 kilometers, or about 7.5 miles, from the volcano, the photographer shot the biggest volcanic lightning strike he has ever seen. While the cause of volcanic lightning is still debated, the clear night and eruption allowed Velasco to get the lightning, the eruption, and the stars all in one shot.
“When I looked on the camera display, all I could do was stare,” said Velasco. “What I was watching was impossible to conceive, the image showed those amazing forces of nature interacting on a volcano, while the lightning brightened the whole scene. It’s an impossible photograph and my once-in-a-lifetime shot that shows the power of nature.”
National Geographic also awarded category prizes. While Velasco took top honors for the nature category, the judges awarded Norbert Fritz first prize in the cities category, and F. Dilek Uyar took top honors for the people category.
For his shot, Velasco receives a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Archipelago and a $2,500 cash prize. First, second, and third place winners received $2,500, $750, and $500 in the contest.
Molly Roberts, National Geographic senior photography editor; Benjamin Lowry, adventure and underwater photographer; and Jody MacDonald, adventure and sport documentary photographer, evaluated the contest’s submissions.
“The quality of submissions in the 2017 Travel Photographer of the Year contest was wonderfully eclectic,” said Roberts. “I was inspired by the variety of locations and creativity of the photographers in their quest to make compelling images.”
The 2017 contest brought in over 15,000 entries, representing photographers living and working in more than 30 countries. The winning entries, including a selection of honorable mentions, can be viewed on National Geographic’s contest website.