These are National Geographic's favorite images of the yearS

After sorting through 7,000 images taken by photographers from over 150 countries, National Geographic has chosen the cream of the crop for it's annual photo contest. As always, the year's best are simply sensational.

All photos and captions via National Geographic.

Above: Julie Fletcher gets honorable mention in the places category for this photo taken at Menindee Lake in remote New South Wales, Australia. She writes:

I cannot describe the eery feeling I had when I walked in on this scene. I followed a massive storm front several 100 kilometers hoping to capture something special but this blew my mind. The surreal milky green water is a natural phenomenon caused by electomagnetic activity from the lightning hitting the waters surface. There was no rain where I was and not much wind either but in the distance the sky was charged and angry subjecting its wrath over the graveyard of dead trees in this normally very dry lake bed. I was able to capture a series of unique images this being one of the best.

Polar Bear Surfacing

Paul Souders takes the grand prize for this photo of a polar bear he took in Hudson Bay, Manitoba, Canada:

These are National Geographic's favorite images of the yearS

He writes:

A polar bear peers up from beneath the melting sea ice on Hudson Bay as the setting midnight sun glows red from the smoke of distant fires during a record-breaking spell of hot weather. The Manitoba population of polar bears, the southernmost in the world, is particularly threatened by a warming climate and reduced sea ice.

Egrets of the Danube

Réka Zsimon gets honorable mention in the nature category for this photo of Great Egrets taken in a tidal area of the Danube in Hungary.

These are National Geographic's favorite images of the yearS

An Indian rhino, "far from home and stuck inside with late-winter blues at the Toronto zoo."

These are National Geographic's favorite images of the yearS

The photo won photographer Stephen De Lisle an honorable mention prize in the nature category.

Crazy Crows Nest

These are National Geographic's favorite images of the yearS

Yosuke Kashiwakura gets an honorable mention for this photo, who writes:

The crows that live in Tokyo use clothes hangers to make nests. In such a large city, there are few trees, so the natural materials that crows need to make their nests are scarce. As a result, the crows occasionally take hangers from the people who live in apartments nearby, and carefully assemble them into nests. The completed nests almost look like works of art based on the theme of recycling.

An Old Chinese Town Bathed in Mist

Adam Tan gets top prize in the places category for this photo taken in Yuanyan, China:

These are National Geographic's favorite images of the yearS

Tan writes:

Realizing this old town (Laocheng, means old town in Chinese) would soon be transformed into a new town through the speedy economic growth in China and perhaps lose its raw beauty in no tome, I was pleased to capture this working mother carrying her child in her basket walking through the thick mist in a very early foggy morning, 2012.

Parasailing in the Desert Among the Sunbathing Cattle

Andrew Lever gets honorable mention in the places category for this photo taken at Tarifa Beach, Andalucia, Spain:

These are National Geographic's favorite images of the yearS

He writes:

I was driving along the beach highway when i noticed the bulls sunbathing on the empty beach. I initially thought i was seeing things,but no it really was sunbathing cows !! I had to park my car a fair distance away and that meant a long walk along the beach in 35 degree heat. It did not matter because i had to get the shot ! When i got closer to them i was careful not to spook them so i crawled on my stomach on the hot sand to get a good picture of them. Mission Accomplished! It was worth the effort!

Related: 2012 winners | 2013 travel photo contest