For the past 12 years, the Smithsonian has sponsored a photo contest and it’s time to vote on the Reader’s Choice winner. Compiled over the course of a year, the 25 finalists hail from 93 countries, with photos submitted into categories including, Natural World, Travel, People, Americana, Altered Images and Mobile.

The photos are mementos of a favorite time or place, with some being purposefully shot and others coming about more organically. No matter the method or composition, all of the photos capture a moment in time that reveals something calm, magnificent, telling and beautiful about the natural world. While not all of the shots included in the photo contest focused on natural landscapes or animals, those that did offer a breathtaking glimpse of their subjects – we wish we could vote for them all!


From the national parks of the United States to a sunrise over China, these pictures remind us of the richness the natural world has to offer and why it’s so important that we work to preserve, conserve and protect it.

A wave strikes an elephant seal pup. (Anthony Smith, South Georgia Island)

A brown bear walks across an estuary. (Kevin Morgans, Lake Clark National Park, Alaska)

Light refracts through the curves of a breaking wave. (Ray Collins, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia)

A green iguana surfaces for air. (Lorenzo Mittiga, Bonaire, Netherlands)

The Carocolera is a common, but restless snake. (Alvaro Cubero Vega, Selva Verde Lodge, Sarapiqui, Costa Rica)

A vicuña, one of four South American camelids, wanders from its group in the Ecuadorian Andes. (Kristhian Castro, Chimborazo Volcano, Ecuador)

Mobula rays gather to feed on plankton attracted by dive lights. (Michael Labrecque, La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico)

A female golden silk orb-weaver rests on her nest. (Ramesh Chandar, Hong Kong)

The sun rises over rice fields near the Yulong River. (Yilang Peng, Yangshuo, China)

Wildflowers in Titcomb Basin beneath a dramatic horizon of jagged peaks. (Nick DeBarmore, Wind River Range, Wyoming)

Snow and ice covered tower at the top of Okemo Mountain (Jeremy Eichenlaub, Ludlow, Vermont.)

All image source: Smithsonian Magazine