Spectacular winning images from Nat Geo's 2013 travel photo contest

The winners of the 2013 National Geographic Traveller's photo contest have been announced — and they're absolute stunners.

There were over 15,500 photos submitted for this contest, with major prizes awarded to the three best images, along with 7 merit prizes. The photos, taken from around the globe, spanned four categories: travel portraits, outdoor scenes, sense of place, and spontaneous moments.

The image above, a portrait of an Eastern Screech Owl, was taken by Graham McGeorge at Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia, USA. It won one of the merit awards.

Third place was awarded to Yanai Bonneh:

Spectacular winning images from Nat Geo's 2013 travel photo contest

Called "Say Cheese," the dramatic photo was taken at Masai Mara national park, Kenya. Here's what Nat Geo Traveler Director of Photography Dan Westergren had to say about it:

I've seen a few different pictures of cheetahs on tourist vehicles. Apparently they like to use the cars as a higher vantage point to look around. But, this picture of the cheetah skirting the open roof of this Land Cruiser brings a new vision of danger to the safari experience. It's a fun photo to look at because of all the secondary activity. The photographer in the front seat is turned around with camera to eye, but then there's the woman in the middle row, trying to capture a selfie with the cheetah in the background. Danger and subtle humor combined in one picture. What could be better?

Second place went to Max Seigal for this photo taken in Utah and titled, "Thunderstorm at False Kiva."

Spectacular winning images from Nat Geo's 2013 travel photo contest

"I hiked out to these ruins at night hoping to photograph them with the Milky Way, but instead a thunderstorm rolled through, creating this dramatic image," said Seigal.

And first place was awarded to Wagner Araujo. It was taken at Rio Negro, Ponta Negra Beach, Manaus, Amazon, Brazil and is dubbed "Brazil Aquathlon."

Spectacular winning images from Nat Geo's 2013 travel photo contest

The sense of motion and energy is palpable. And I love the natural granulating effect caused by the water splashes.

A merit award went to Hideyuki Katagiri for this photograph of cherry blossoms, called Sakura in Japanese.

Spectacular winning images from Nat Geo's 2013 travel photo contest

Some fantastic submissions that didn't make the cut:

Spectacular winning images from Nat Geo's 2013 travel photo contest

Cape Town Fog by Eric Nathan.

Spectacular winning images from Nat Geo's 2013 travel photo contest

Great white shark of Guadalupe island by Marc Henauer.

All images via National Geographic.