• December 17, 2014

The 2014 National Geographic Photography Contest Winners

National Geographic has long been associated with inspiring photography that tells us something about the world we live in. The grand prize-winning image of this year’s photo contest does just that. It captures a small moment in time that speaks to a much larger moment in history. Says the winning photographer, Brian Yen, “With the advent of mobile communication … a profound change in our civilization” has taken place, and he feels “a bit guilty, more and more, that I’m just like that lady in the middle of the train [who is] lost in her own world.”

Photographers from over 150 countries submitted 9,289 photos that fell into three categories: people, places, and nature. This year’s category winners all had one thing in common: They tell a story. Whether they show a migrating wildebeest taking a dramatic plunge or a thermal spa bathed in blue light, these images say something. They are layered and nuanced and invite the viewer to think.

Letting someone know they just won $10,000 and a trip to Nat Geo headquarters to participate in an exclusive photography seminar is always special. But this year was especially fun because our winner, Brian Yen of Hong Kong, has been a member of our Your Shot photo community almost since it began. We asked Yen to tell us the story behind his winning image, “A Node Glows in the Dark,” and share some insights into his photography.


MONICA CORCORAN: Tell us about the winning photo.

BRIAN YEN: The picture was taken inside a train ride at Hong Kong’s Ocean Park. The train ride only lasts about five minutes; during the ride, the lights dim, and the overhead monitors display various undersea animations.

It was at the end of a long father-daughter day of fun at the park. It was very hot and humid. When the train’s door opened with a rush of cold air, everyone piled in as tightly as possible. I spotted this woman using her smartphone while in line, and she continued to use it throughout the ride. But it was when the lights dimmed that she really stood out—no one else was using their device. I’ve long made observations about how people’s social behavior has changed with the advent of mobile communication. I’ve taken many other images of people finger-skating on their phones. So in the back of my mind, I’ve been hunting for visuals to express this profound change in our civilization.

I feel a certain contradiction when I look at the picture. On the one hand, I feel the liberating gift of technology. On the other hand, I feel people don’t even try to be neighborly anymore, because they don’t have to. The picture is also a reflective one. I also feel a bit guilty, more and more, that I’m just like that lady in the middle of the train, lost in her own world.

Nature Winner Nicole Cambre, Brussels, Belgium The Great Migration Jump of the wildebeest at the Mara River
Nature Winner
Nicole Cambre, Brussels, Belgium
The Great Migration
Jump of the wildebeest at the Mara River

MONICA: You’ve been a member of Your Shot since 2008. Why?

BRIAN: I’ve been a National Geographic fan pretty much all my life, so when the Your Shot images started to appear in the magazine, I immediately signed up online. I joined Your Shot to see what other people thought of my photos. Through their comments I hope to find ways to improve my work. Also, what separates Your Shot from other photo-sharing sites such as Flickr is that I get professional editor’s comments from time to time, and that’s very insightful.

I may appear rather antisocial on Your Shot. I rarely comment on other images and have no favorites on my page. I find that people often use comments and favorites to drive traffic to their own pages. So in order for me to assess the merit of my images in the eyes of my peers, I try to eliminate courtesy favorites and comments. I have another, anonymous Your Shot account that I use to leave comments and collect favorites. Of course, Your Shot does feel more like a close community rather than a huge anonymous photo dump site.

Lastly, I can’t deny that the fact that Your Shot offers me an opportunity to have my pictures published on National Geographic, and that’s a strong draw.

Places Winner Triston Yeo, Singapore Bathing in Budapest The thermal spas in Budapest [are] one of the favorite activities of Hungarians, especially in winter. We were fortunate to gain special access to shoot in the thermal spa thanks to our tour guide, Gabor. I love the mist, caused by the great difference in temperature between the hot spa water and the atmosphere. It makes the entire spa experience more surreal and mystical.
Places Winner
Triston Yeo, Singapore
Bathing in Budapest
The thermal spas in Budapest [are] one of the favorite activities of Hungarians, especially in winter. We were fortunate to gain special access to shoot in the thermal spa thanks to our tour guide, Gabor. I love the mist, caused by the great difference in temperature between the hot spa water and the atmosphere. It makes the entire spa experience more surreal and mystical.
MONICA: Why do you take pictures?

BRIAN: Photography to me is like going on an archaeological dig: It offers me a tool to interpret reality by dusting away the uninteresting bits to reveal the gem underneath. It’s an exciting, creative, and exploratory process. When I frame space and time through the viewfinder, it’s like taking a mini-adventure in a parallel universe. But the ultimate reason is very simple: It makes me happy, creation brings me satisfaction. When I don’t [create], it feels suffocating. 

I don’t have a particular preference in genre. I treat all photos equally. I never saw a reason to concentrate only on a particular genre or style. Everything around us, [during] every second of the day, is a fresh source for interpretation. So if I’m in the woods, I may shoot some landscape; if I’m in a subway, I’ll shoot the people around me; if I’m in a stinky alley with a dying cockroach, heck, I’ll shoot that too. The only constraint is that it be new and fresh (I mean the interpretation, not the cockroach).

What I share on Your Shot is more rooted in reality, biased toward editorial images, nothing too conceptual.

Picture of woman looking at phone in tram
Grand Prize and People Winner
Brian Yen, Hong Kong
A Node Glows in the Dark
In the last ten years, mobile data, smartphones and social networks have forever changed our existence. Although this woman stood at the center of a jam-packed train, the warm glow from her phone told the strangers around her that she wasn’t really there. She managed to slip away from “here” for a short moment; she’s a node flickering on the social web, roaming the Earth, free as a butterfly. Our existence is no longer stuck to the physical here; we’re free to run away, and run we will.

MONICA: Do you shoot every day?

BRIAN: At the moment, I’m a stay-at-home dad. I have a degree in physics, so I worked primarily in technology in the past. I typically only get a couple of days each month to shoot, but I carry a compact camera with me almost all the time, so if there’s something interesting I won’t miss the opportunity. A few times a month, I just take a few hours to ride the tram or walk the street in a new area to dig for fresh perspectives. You’ll notice that many of my shots are at night; that’s when I have the time, after my daughter falls asleep. Since I get very little time to shoot, when I do shoot, I shoot a lot. Even for a couple of hours walk around town, I can easily net well over a thousand images.

In short, I find some cracks in my daily schedule to squeeze in some shooting if possible. I’m not picky with what I shoot, and when I do get to shoot, I go crazy with the trigger.

View more winning images here. This year’s judges were National Geographic photographers John Stanmeyer and Erika Larsen, and Keith Jenkins, our General Manager of Digital.

Follow Monica Corcoran on Twitter and Instagram.

There are 30 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Truong Trung
    June 30, 2015

    Great. Thanks for posting. I like it.

  2. Zikri Teo
    January 15, 2015

    Hello! In which issue of Nat Geo magazine will the winning images be published in? Thanks!

  3. Juan Ramon
    January 6, 2015

    Es una maravilla de ver esto fotos que viene de diferente parte del mundo. Increible que el fotografo puede a sacar un foto en ese momento.

  4. Dibyendu Dey
    January 6, 2015


  5. Alexis Chique
    December 29, 2014

    Cada vez que observo una fotografía, me dio cuenta de que cada fotógrafo en el mundo, es un creador de SUEÑOS.

  6. Tom B
    December 29, 2014

    NG photos have captured moments and places for generations and have inspired people to seek and find all those special places. Thank You

  7. F.Santos
    December 23, 2014

    Photography is a world of dreams taken from reality, moments in which we want to stop in time and share with others. Each one of these images prolong our life for a few moments.

  8. percy
    December 22, 2014

    amzing and fantastis shots..Its a double wow.

  9. Camelia Nahlik
    December 22, 2014

    Beautiful colors, love it !!!,a good picture like this needs no words, the photograph it self said it all.

  10. Karen
    December 22, 2014

    Love, love the Nature winning photo! I just experienced The Great Migration with my husband in 2013 and watching the Wildebeest plunge off the banks into the crocodile infested Mara River was breathtaking! I have images of one not so lucky wildebeest who breaks three legs in the jump and is crocodile food after that. The circle of life continues!

  11. Jo Ellen Pearman
    December 22, 2014

    It’s amazing how such a simple subject of a photograph, can take you so many places. I loved it.

  12. Douglas
    December 21, 2014

    Same as Paul… Awesome photo but…have the photographer the releases for all the persons and the train company? If not, then why you put that on the rules?

  13. Surya
    December 20, 2014

    we go thru same places everyday…. but only god knows how u people get idea about this or that is best

  14. Paul Byrne
    December 19, 2014

    Great stuff, but why not show all the photos? I see other websites getting all ‘your’ traffic. You guys need to use your online content more effectively.

  15. Takuma Sutan
    December 18, 2014

    I missed to contribute to you. Next year I will do. Please inform me your advertising.

  16. awesyarif
    December 18, 2014

    The photos talk much. So powerful

  17. M.MANNA
    December 18, 2014

    really good compositions..

  18. Julian
    December 18, 2014

    @madhu. Images in the magazine have been edited, and color corrected for years. Surely you understand these images need to appear as professional. They are cleaned, and corrected as necessary. Those animals were not ‘Photoshopped’ into the frame, the photographer was there taking that photo, at that time. That is the true beauty of photography.

  19. Sabine Kindschuh
    December 18, 2014

    Congratulations to all winners! And thank you very much for the beautiful and inspiring photos.

  20. Apostolos
    December 18, 2014

    I would give it to the Nature Winner. Very powerful! 🙂

  21. madhu
    December 18, 2014

    So much of Photoshopping, Paritcularly in the Black and White image, How does a magazine like National Geographic accept such images, is it fine working on the images to such an extreme extent,

  22. JK
    December 18, 2014

    Great picture Nicole! We are so proud of you!

  23. Mojtaba Najafy
    December 18, 2014

    Congratulations and splendid Shot! The way the woman’s yellow dress against others who are mostly dressed in white, her tilted head and of course her staring at her cell phone has made her extraordinarily stand out among others is really amazing.

  24. Mark Ulit
    December 17, 2014

    I could not write a better caption for the grand prize winning picture. It’s very ethereal yet chaotic in its own way.

  25. scott parmer
    December 17, 2014

    Pretty amazing

  26. Jack Holzgraefe
    December 17, 2014

    I agree what Brian Yen’s comment in his own photo,sometimes we just lost in the mobile world or social realtionship in Internet.I ever read someone wrote,we also lost in the world of pictures which taken by our phones or cameras rather than spend more time to enjoy the scenery or view by our own eyes without camera.So this thing make me contradiction and confuse sometimes,should we spend more time to enjoy the world by our own instead of by our camera??

  27. Larry Maier
    December 17, 2014

    Good work. Keep going.

  28. Paul Tomkins
    December 17, 2014

    Dear Nat Geo, This is a fab shot but in the rules of the comp it seems that one needs to have releases for all the people in the picture – or at least will be required to obtain them. Please could you confirm that this is the case for this image.

  29. Liselle S.
    December 17, 2014

    Awe-inspiring! Very well deserved! Congratulations!

  30. Gustavo
    December 17, 2014

    Amazing pictures…

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