Winners revealed: National Geographic Traveller (UK) Photography Competition 2023

We asked you for photos that tell great stories, and we received thousands. These are the winners of the 11th annual National Geographic Traveller (UK) Photography Competition.

This article was adapted from National Geographic Traveller (UK).

We asked you for photos that tell great stories, and we received thousands. These are the winners of the 11th annual National Geographic Traveller (UK) Photography Competition.

As the world continued to open up throughout 2022, the borders and boundaries that held people back enabled new adventures and perspectives. Travel photography has a special power: it is perhaps the only thing that can change the vibrancies of distant cultures from imagined to tangible forms. And it opens a door to everything around us; the medium through which we glimpse the world's beauty from home.

Pat Riddell, editor of National Geographic Traveller (UK), said: “Photography remains at the heart of the National Geographic brand, and these winners reflect some of the very best images taken around the globe. From the underwater world of the Indian Ocean to wildlife in London’s Richmond Park and the delicacy of the ice fields in Greenland, the images are full of drama, intimacy and warmth.

“The 18 photographers who made the shortlist have managed to capture unique and inspiring perspectives of travel in all its forms in each of the categories. A huge congratulations to all the winners and runners-up on their standout achievements in this year’s competition.” 

The competition consists of six categories: Food and Travel, Landscape, People, Portfolio, Urban Environment, and Wildlife. Below, we present the winner and runners-up for each award, plus reveal the recipient of the 2023 Grand Prize.

Food and Travel 

Many photographers have an eye for food and an eye for travel. But it takes particular skill to capture the messy and satisfying ways in which culture and cuisine are intertwined.

The winner: Simon Urwin 

On a road trip from Nashville to New Orleans, I took a detour to Brownsville, Tennessee, to have lunch at this Deep South institution, famous for its wood-smoked, slow-cooked meats. This shot was taken as her speciality pork was retrieved from the charcoals after 12 hours. The barbecued pork is then hand-pulled and served in a slider bun with homemade slaw and a splash of Miss Helen’s ‘secret sauce’. “Only I know the recipe, but I’ll never tell,” she said. “When I die, the recipe will be gone for good. Not everything has to last forever; maybe that’s what makes it special.”

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What the judges said: “I love how this atmospheric image transports the viewer to a dimly lit, smoke-filled restaurant. The choice of light complements the scene, the darkness of the room contrasting with brighter smoke and meat. A perfectly timed image, and the composition is spot on.”

Whether it’s Holi Festival in Kerala or surf culture in Devon, your portfolio of up to 10 images of a single destination will tease out different facets of a narrative to create a nuanced and cohesive portrait of the place.

Runner-up: Joshua Akers

Workers often come to the dock early in the morning with their families before the children attend school in the afternoon. I liked the circular aspect of the photo, with the dock workers in fabulously coloured attire chatting and laughing together — a real team effort. 

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Runner-up: Stephanie Pollak

After immersing ourselves in the high intensity of the Carmel Market, we stumbled across this small corner bakery. The minimalist whitewashed walls and monotone baked goods on silver sheet pans stood in stark contrast to the vibrancy and noise of the shuk. 

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From vast, panoramic vistas to drone shots that capture the patterns of a terrain, this category is all about offering unusual perspectives on the world around us.

The winner: Sam Davies

After a stormy 48-hour crossing, a bank of fog lifted to reveal breathtaking views of a field of icebergs. To get to Tasiilaq, our port destination, we had to navigate a 3km stretch of this treacherous, constantly shifting ice. I knew this shot could be special, and I hoped to frame the insignificance of our 70ft yacht between these enormous icebergs. Lining up the moving boat and ice was tricky. As my fingers froze and the drone’s battery drained, it all came together and I had time for just one shot. 

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What the judges said: “Great aerial composition and beautiful layers of blue. I really like the simplicity of the image and the placement of geometric shapes against the negative space of the sea. Had it not been for the sleek contour of the ship, you might not be entirely sure what you were looking at here.”

Runner-up: Andrew Wells

During a US road trip we stayed a couple of nights in Utah. We were sitting on the deck of our cabin, soaking in the view and the ever-changing colours as rain showers moved through the valley, when a bit of rainbow appeared in the sky, just to the left of where we were sitting. We said: “Wouldn’t it be amazing if a complete rainbow appeared right over the Mittens.” Five minutes later, this happened. 

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Runner-up: Juliette Delarue

We were staying overnight in a chalet next to the Latemar range. The night before, while hiking on this mountain, we got stuck in a terrible thunderstorm. We only escaped the wrath of nature after racing back in the dark, and ended up absolutely soaked. The next morning, we came by this lake just in time to see the fog starting to lift, unsure if it was indeed fog or some remaining smoke from the thunder of the previous night. 

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Sometimes, we remember a place as a person or a crowd. Travel portraiture reminds us of the beauty of a strangers and the power of human stories.

The winner: Renato Granieri

After an all-day drive to Mansonia village, in Sierra Leone’s Loma Mountains National Park, we finally arrived at this remote destination. The goal of this journey with the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary outreach team was to provide the local community with training and devices to protect the western chimpanzees and their habitat. 

Mariama and Marah are two of the newly qualified eco-guards who’ve been hired and trained by the outreach team. The team’s presence alone during Covid-19 has made a difference in terms of preventing poaching, deforestation and other illegal activities. A census of the national park was conducted, which confirmed that it holds the highest concentration of chimps in West and Central Africa. 

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What the judges said: “So much happiness in the frame. This well-composed shot of the lady in the house and the one outside is beautifully layered. I love the authenticity of shared laughter; the vibrancy of the colours juxtaposed against the white wall.”

Runner-up: Chris Upton

This image was shot before the morning crowds arrived, as the commuters were passing by. A big part of this was down to luck, as it had rained overnight and a shallow pool had collected in the paved area. This, combined with the beautiful soft early morning light, gave me the reflections of the structure I was looking for. The trick was to get the camera as low as possible: it was almost in the water. 

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Runner-up: Stephanie Pollak

While in Rajasthan, I toured Chhipa Prints, a traditional block-printing factory in the small artisan village of Bagru. The quiet rhythm of the vat churning, fabric dipping and block stamping combined to create a meditative atmosphere. 

I was entranced when I walked into a small brick building to encounter this woman illuminated by the soft light, wearing her fuchsia scarf while she worked. 

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A full photography feature, or ‘photo story’, usually requires around 10 images. Each must uniquely progress the story by revealing a different aspect of the destination. The Portfolio category is judged for the subject and style of the set, and the ways in which individual photos interact to create a cohesive, narrative collection.

The winner: Serge Melesan

A French archipelago in the Indian Ocean, I call Mayotte the lost paradise — people always talk about Fiji, French Polynesia, Seychelles… but Mayotte is still unknown. I’m a big scuba diver, but during my stay in Mayotte snorkelling was the key. You don’t need to go deep here to appreciate marine life. I wanted to show the wealth of the lagoon — but it’s a wealth that needs to be protected due to overpopulation and climate change. This is a way to show people living there they’ve got an incredible area that needs protection. 

What the judges said: “With portfolios it’s no use having a few blinding images, then a lot of fillers — this wins by some distance. Every shot is compelling and a few utterly outstanding. Good variety too. This isn’t easy work, but these photographs make it look so. A fascinating insight to a world below water.”

Runner-up: Renato Granieri

Namibia offers incredible opportunities to understand an otherworldly environment. I focused on the uniqueness of its landscapes, combined with images of those who live there, the Himba people. I spent three days with a Himba tribe in Serra Cafema, in the north of Namibia, alongside the border with Angola. My goal was to capture their way of living, the daily routine, engaging in different activities, from witnessing local women making the ochre the Himba are famous for, to dancing, to more intimate portraits. I also wanted to include the vast, barren landscapes of this area, to show the resilience these people have and the challenges for survival they face. 

Follow Renato on Instagram.

Runner-up: Polly Rusyn

Southern Spain’s Andalucia region has always held a fascination for me. And after a few visits — including a week of training at a Sevillian flamenco school, where I discovered I was a terrible flamenco dancer — I fell in love with all things Andalucian, especially the numerous ferias (fairs) that take place in several cities, mainly in the spring. The ferias bring together communities in an explosion of colour and tradition. The Feria del Caballo (‘horse fair’) in Jerez, where these photos were taken, is an annual event that imbues the entire city with an atmosphere of celebration. 

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From skyscrapers to street shots, the ‘Urban’ category offers photographers a chance to take a closer look at city life.

The winner: Richard Quirke

Friends had recommended the Museo Nacional de Antropología as a must-see, so we went to check it out on one particularly hot afternoon. On entering, you immediately walk into a large courtyard surrounded by the exhibits, with a huge central water feature, El Paraguas (‘the umbrella’) standing over 30ft high. Getting this photo involved a lot of luck. As we entered, I noticed some kids running a race around the water feature and figured it could be a playful way of capturing the scale of the architecture. I ran over and quickly framed it, shooting into the sun to light up the water, while silhouetting the kids in the foreground.

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What the judges said: “It’s a great dedication to seek out unusual angles within our urban environments. The patience to wait, then capture the perfect moment, as shown here.” 

Runner-up: James Maloney

During a recent visit to London, I explored Canary Wharf. I was amazed by the modern architecture which contrasted with the ancient areas of the city. The bridge with its surrounding high-rise buildings really stood out to me. I placed my tripod on an overhead walkway and aligned the scene. As I waited for the perfect moment, a distinct figure walked into the frame.

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Runner-up: Chris Byrne

Faced with the challenge of how to photograph one of the most recognisable buildings on the planet in a unique way, I decided to use my drone to capture the towers from above. After stitching together a seven-shot panorama, I was left with this image. The towers make everything else look small in comparison, and the patterns and compositions that the drone can provide have left a creative image I’ll cherish for years to come. 

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Wildlife photography connects people to the systems of nature that exist outside of our human-centred world. It’s an essential tool to inspire the desire to protect wildlife and spark important change.

The winner: Ed Hasler

I decided to head to London’s Richmond Park in October, as the autumn colours would be at their peak, and also it was rutting season for the deer that live in the park. Getting there before dawn involved an early start, two trains and a short walk. As the sun rose, the morning mist gave an atmospheric feel to the scene.

After walking around the park for a while, I found a group of deer and tried to find a composition that I liked. Eventually, this stag moved into position, with his fur catching the warm glow from the sun. During rutting season, it’s dangerous to get close to the deer, so I took this photo with my 100-400mm lens at 400mm.

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What the judges said: “I love the classic composition, the soft lighting and the beautiful colour palette of this serene, intimate scene.”

Runner-up: Donna Joyce

The vast, desolate landscape of shingle is a love-it or hate-it location with a scattering of abandoned boats and homes made from old railway carriages — all in the foreboding shadow of the nuclear power station. On this particular evening, I went to locate a family of foxes I’d previously seen. As the sunset began to glow a beautiful orange, this youngster sat down in the perfect spot for me to capture him. It was a magical moment. Instagram: 

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Runner-up: Shivangi Mehta

We were on a morning drive, heading towards the Mara River, and spotted a lioness walking across the plains. Scanning the horizon in front of her, she blended in perfectly with the tall grass. Then we were treated a magical sighting: she stopped to pick up her new cub. Our guide repositioned the vehicle so as not to obstruct her path. With a telephoto lens, I was able to capture this moment from a respectable distance.

The Grand Prize

The winner: Renato Granieri 

Submitted to the ‘People’ category, Granieri’s portrait of two newly qualified eco-guards, hired and trained by the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary outreach team in Sierra Leone, was a firm favourite with the judging panel.

Mariama Turay (left) and Marah Hawa engage in conversation. Mansonia village, Loma Mountains National Park, Sierra Leone.

Photograph by Renato Granieri

The judging panel

Becky Redman
Art director, National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Oliver Puglisi
Picture editor, National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Brian Siambi
Fashion and travel photographer

Jordan Banks
Travel, landscape and adventure photographer

Karolina Wiercigroch
Food and travel photographer and writer

Lauryn Ishak
Lifestyle and travel photographer

Paul Goldstein
Award-winning photographer and Exodus Travels tour leader

Richard James Taylor
Freelance photographer specialising in location photography, portraiture and travel features

The prizes 

The Grand Prize 

Renato Granieri receives a week-long adventure for two on one of Exodus Travels’ small-group trips to Jordan. Packed full of unforgettable highlights, the itinerary offers travellers unique experiences in the vast desert at Wadi Rum, camping like the Bedouin at an exclusive Exodus Travels camp; the opportunity to snorkel in the Red Sea; and guided tours of the ancient cities of Petra and Jerash. With 45 years’ experience, Exodus Travels excels in curating extraordinary group trips and was voted winner of the National Geographic Traveller (UK) Reader Awards 2021 & 2022 prize for Best Operator. 

Category winners 

All category winners receive a year-long subscription to National Geographic Traveller (UK) and tickets to a full suite of Masterclasses travel photography panel discussions in 2023. 

Exodus Travels helps travellers reach incredible destinations on 600+ itineraries across over 100 separate countries.

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