03/09/2015 12:15 pm ET | Updated Mar 10, 2015

These Photo Contest Finalists Remind Us How Stunning The Natural World Really Is

Smithsonian Magazine announced the finalists of their 12th annual photo contest last week and they are nothing short of spectacular.

Photographers in 93 countries submitted more than 26,500 photos. Smithsonian editors chose 10 finalists in six categories -- Natural World, Travel, People, Americana, Altered Images and Mobile. Voting is now open for a people's choice award and Smithsonian will decide a winner from each category along with a single grand prize photograph.

Winners will be announced on March 31, the same day that Smithsonian will begin accepting entries for next year's contest.

Check out the 10 finalists from the Natural World category below and find the People category finalists here. Be sure to vote for your favorite image at

  • Nicolas Reusens / Smithsonian Photo Contest
    "During my latest trip to Costa Rica I managed to photograph this beautiful snake in the worst of all situations (for the frog of course)," says Reusens. (Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica, May 2014, Canon 5D Mark III)
  • Kevin Morgans / Smithsonian Photo Contest
    A brown bear walks across an estuary. (Lake Clark National Park, Alaska, July 2014, Canon EOS-1D X)
  • Ray Collins / Smithsonian Photo Contest
    Light refracts through the curves of a breaking wave. (New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, July 2014, Nikon D4)
  • Anthony Smith / Smithsonian Photo Contest
    A wave strikes an elephant seal pup. "Young elephant seals were sprawled all over the upper beaches in a remote sub-Antarctic region of the Atlantic, but for some reason this youngster had chosen to lie down to rest right within the surf!" says Smith. (South Georgia Island, January 2014, Nikon D4)
  • Álvaro Cubero Vega / Smithsonian Photo Contest
    The caracolera is a common, but restless snake. "Getting a photograph of his whole body was the challenge," says Cubero Vega. (Selva Verde Lodge, Sarapiqui, Costa Rica, September 2014, Canon 5D Mark II)
  • Eng Siong Yeo / Smithsonian Photo Contest
    Young cheetahs learn to hunt by chasing down a fawn. (Ngorongoro National Park, Tanzania, February 2013, Canon EOS-1D X)
  • Ramesh Chandar / Smithsonian Photo Contest
    A female golden silk orb-weaver rests on her nest. "I was out in the countryside [of Hong Kong] photographing birds mainly, but had the macro lens with me in case something came up. It started raining lightly. On the way out, I noticed this huge web shimmering in the evening light, so rain or no rain, this was an opportunity not to be missed," says Chandar. (Hong Kong, November 2012, Canon EOS 5D Mark III)
  • Lorenzo Mittiga / Smithsonian Photo Contest
    A green iguana surfaces for air. "I had decided to take some over/under water photographs of the sunset from inside one of my favorite Bonaire caves. There I was, fully equipped with my wetsuit, fins, mask and snorkel and my camera...when a curious friend interrupted my solitude," says Mittiga. (Bonaire, Netherlands, June 2014, Canon Eos 7D)
  • Kristhian Castro / Smithsonian Photo Contest
    A vicuña, one of four South American camelids, wanders from its group in the Ecuadorian Andes. (Chimborazo Volcano, Ecuador, January 2014, NIKON D600)
  • Michel Labrecque / Smithsonian Photo Contest
    Mobula rays gather to feed on plankton attracted by dive lights. "The light coming from above the mobulas gives this frame a divine aspect, as if the light was coming down from the heavens, ironic since these animals are sometimes mistakenly called 'devil rays,'" says Labrecque. (La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico, October 2013, Canon EOS 60D)


Animal Eyes Close Up