A good travel photo tells you something about the place it’s depicting. But a great travel photo reveals some aspect of that place’s true character that, though it may have been hidden, seems to have always been there, waiting for the photographer to illuminate it.
Looking back on a year of stunning pictures from National Geographic contributors, our photo editors were struck by the images’ use of light to capture an authentic and striking sense of place.
Photography is a fickle medium that requires, as photographer Michael Melford explains, an ability to “anticipate and wait.” Many an early morning and precarious perch were involved in the making of these photos. More than three helicopters had to have their doors removed. There were restive bison, unstable caves, and oncoming trains. And despite the amount of planning, none of the photographers could’ve predicted exactly what type of light they’d end up capturing.
It’s this blend of preparation and serendipity that sets these images apart. Take a trip around the world, from Darjeeling to Kenya to Australia’s Great Ocean Road, with our favorite travel photos of 2019.
Cait Etherton is a Virginia-based writer and frequent contributor to National Geographic Travel. Follow her journey on Twitter.