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Weeks of preparation made this “impossible” shot National Geographic’s best travel photo of 2017

By Johnny Simon
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

National Geographic announced the winner of its popular Travel Photographer of the Year contest this week, awarding Mexican photographer Sergio Tapiro Velasco the top honor. His stunning photo of a lightning bolt crackling over an erupting volcano earned him the first prize. Thanks to Velasco’s perfect timing, the dramatic scene is crisply cast against a starry night sky.

Hardly a lucky grab, this photo was the result of years of studying the highly active Volcán de Colima, which lies on the border between Jalisco and Colima states in western Mexico. The lightning observed from the volcano is a phenomenon totally separate from the lightning we associate with storm clouds, though the science hasn’t been settled as to its exact cause.

According to National Geographic, Velasco had been waiting for the conditions to be just perfect for his photo:

For more than a decade, Velasco has been studying and photographing the Volcán de Colima, which is one of the most active volcanos in Latin America and also known as the “Volcano of Fire.” Before he captured this striking photograph, Velasco had been carefully tracking an increase in activity and closely watched the volcano for almost a month.
While shooting on a completely clear night just 12 kilometers away from the crater, Velasco heard a booming noise and witnessed the biggest volcanic lightning he’d ever seen. Until he reviewed the photos he’d taken, Velasco had no idea if he’d actually captured the spectacular event.

The resulting images astounded Velasco. He said in an interview with National Geographic:

“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.”
Sergio Tapiro Velasco/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year
Weeks of preparation in the blink of an eye.

Here are some of the contest’s other winning images, which did not involve staking out a volcano:

Clane Gessel/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year
Marble Caves of Patagonia.
Yutaka Takafuji/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year
Fireflies in the forest of a small remote village in the Tamba area of Japan
Shane Gross/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year
Caribbean reef sharks.
Julius Y./National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year
Museum visitors curiously viewing Rembrandt’s “Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild”
Moin Ahmed/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year
Tongi Railway Station, Gazipur, Bangladesh.
Rodney Bursiel/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year
Surfing in Tavarua, Fiji.
Michael Dean Morgan/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the
Besakih Temple in Bali, Indonesia.

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