13/07/2016 5:22 PM IST | Updated 16/07/2016 1:08 AM IST

The Winning Images Of NatGeo Photography Contest 2016 Redefine Stunning

When the camera captures magic.

Takashi Nakagawa
Picture perfect.

The winter horseman of Mongolia, two red foxes prancing in snow, the Milky Way over the Atacama Desert in Chile and a rooftop view in Varanasi are just some of the winners of National Geographic's annual Travel Photographer Of The Year contest. To say that these photographs redefine beauty and capture nature in all its magnificence would be an understatement.

You have to see it to believe it. Check out the winning shots of this year's contest.

1. Grand Prize Winner: Winter Horseman by Anthony Lau, Inner Mongolia

Anthony Lau
The Winter in Inner Mongolia is very unforgiving. At a freezing temperature of minus twenty and lower with constant breeze of snow from all direction, it was pretty hard to convince myself to get out of the car and take photos. Not until I saw Inner Mongolia horsemen showing off their skills in commanding the steed from a distance, I quickly grab my telephoto lens and capture the moment when one of the horseman charged out from morning mist .

2. Second Place Winner, People: Rooftop Dreams by Yasmin Mund, Varanasi, India

Yasmin Mund
I arrived at my guest house in Varanasi at 5:30am, I instinctively climbed the 7 sets of stairs to the rooftop (which happened to be the highest in the vicinity) to see the sunrise over the famous Ganges River. As the sun was rising I looked over the right hand side of the balcony and my jaw dropped with disbelief. Below were families - mothers, fathers, children, brothers, sister and dogs all sleeping on the top of their houses. It was mid summer in Varanasi and sleeping sans AC was difficult.

3. Third Place Winner, People: Remote Life by Mattia Passarini, Himachal Pradesh, India

Mattia Passarini
Kinnaura tribal old women in remote village in Himachal Pradesh carrying big log back home to warm up her house

4. Honourable Mention, People: Muscle Beach Gym by Dotan Saguy, California, USA

Dotan Saguy
A weightlifter lifts a barbell loaded with heavy plates while a bodybuilder performs an aerial handstand at the Muscle Beach Gym in Venice Beach, CA.

5. First Place Winner, Nature: Wherever You Go, I Will Follow by Hiroki Inoue, Hokkaido, Japan

Hiroki Inoue
Romance is in the air. It was the time of day immediately following sunset. I heard a voice. "Wherever you go, I will follow you" the voice says.

6. Second Place Winner, Nature: Double Trapping by Massimiliano Bencivenni, Brazilian Pantanal, Brazil

Massimiliano Bencivenni
Picture taken in the Brazilian Pantanal... when I downloaded the CF did not want to believe it .... The nature knows we always give magnificent events but sometimes extraordinary

7. Third Place Winner, Nature: Lagunas Baltinache (Atacama Desert) by Victor Lima, Chile

Victor Lima
The Baltinache Ponds, also called Hidden Ponds are a set of seven salt ponds located in the area of the Salt Cordillera, near San Pedro de Atacama, in the second region of northern Chile, in the Atacama desert. After much research, I believe to be the first photographer to publish night photos of this place, but it is still necessary to confirm this information. Tech Details: Photography done in one shot. Foreground was illuminated by the moonlight. Reduced exposure in Lightroom in +/- 1EV.

8. Honourable Mention, Nature: Bears on a Berg by John Rollins, Canada

John Rollins
This photo was taken far out on the sea ice in the Davis Straight off the coast of Baffin Island. This mother and her yearling are perched atop a huge snow covered iceberg that got "socked in" when the ocean froze over for the winter. To me, the relative "smallness" of these large creatures when compared to the immensity of the iceberg in the photo represents the precariousness of the polar bear's reliance on the sea and sea ice for its existence.

9. First Place Winner, Cities: Ben Youssef by Takashi Nakagawa, Marrakesh

Takashi Nakagawa
Even though there were a lot of people in Ben Youssef, still here was more quiet and relaxing compare to the street outside in Marrakesh. I was waiting for the perfect timing to photograph for long time.

10. Second Place Winner, Cities: Silenced by Wing Ka H., Guangzhou, China

Wing Ka H.
At Mainland China university, students work like slaves or more like prisoners. Serious academic corruption, dry and irrelevant to society curriculum, and rote memorisation teaching methods� were leading to students developing �rigid ways of thinking�, progressively losing interest in learning and ultimately emerging from university as �soulless zombies�.

11. Third Place Winner, Cities: Celestial Reverie by Jeremy Tan, Malaysia

Jeremy Tan,
Lightning seemingly strikes Komtar Tower, the most iconic landmark of George Town, capital of Penang state in Malaysia. It is symbolic of the rejuvenation that the city, famous for a unique blend of centuries-old buildings and modern structures, has enjoyed in recent years. While many of its old neighbourhoods fell into neglect in the 1990s and early 2000s, UNESCO World Heritage listing in 2008 sparked a transformation, and today, they are all part of a vibrant tourist destination.

12. Honourable Mention, Cities: Divide by Kathleen Dolmatch, New York, USA

Kathleen Dolmatch
In the helicopter looking south on Central Park West - dividing the architecture and Central park, on November 5th 2014, a day before my 27th birthday. The flight was my birthday gift. Taken with Canon 5D Mark iii & EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM - edited in Adobe Lightroom (I previously incorrectly had this as Park Ave)