The 10 Best Traveler Photos of 2012

National Geographic Traveler‘s Senior Photo Editor, Dan Westergren, has the distinct pleasure (and sometimes pain) of choosing which photographs run in the magazine.

The award-winning photographers assigned to our stories come back from the field with such a rich variety of images that it can be hard, if not impossible, to make the final cut. So we asked Dan to make an even tougher call: out of all the photos that ran in every single issue of Traveler this year, which ten were his favorites and why?

Here’s the crème de la crème of photography from National Geographic Traveler in 2012:

Jura Island game stalker Gordon Muir blends with his landscape.

Jim Richardson
My Scottish Obsession,” August/September Issue (iPad Edition)

The most surprising thing to me about this photo was the realization that there was in the world an actual job of deer stalking! The fog in this picture subdues the landscape and shows how effective the old tweed fabrics are at helping someone blend into the scene. I was happy to discover the iconic “deer stalker” hat worn by Sherlock Holmes was not a name pulled out of thin air. I also like the way this picture blends the old and new world: witness the ancient walking stick and the state-of-the-art spotting scope and binoculars.

Casablanca locals climb on rocks at the Hassan II Mosque overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Cotton Coulson and Sisse Brimberg

You Must Remember This,” December/January Issue

Successful travel photographs often show how people around the world behave in the same way — how humanity unites us all. You fully expect to see a young boy in sandals playing with a ball near the water, but because of the heavy robe worn by his female companion (mother?) we know this picture was taken in a Muslim country. It is these subtle elements that give pictures what we like to call a sense of place.

Theron Humphrey in Hawaii, the 50th state visited for his project, "This Wild Idea."

Susan Seubert

Travelers of the Year,” December/January Issue

Susan Seubert brought back this engaging portrait of Theron Humphrey, one of our Travelers of the Year, who spent a year traveling across all 50 states and recording the oral histories of everyday Americans. Obviously it take s great deal of energy to pull off a feat like that, and Theron has got it in spades. Susan understood that she needed to show us a bit of his personality. How better to accomplish that than to show him hanging upside down?

Guests receive dance instruction at a ball held by the event company C.C.I. at the Hotel Danieli in Venice during Carnivale.

Dave Yoder
Charlie Chaplin’s Venice,” January/February Issue (iPad Edition)

Dave Yoder used an off-camera strobe to produce a spotlight effect and slow shutter speed to make sure the background wasn’t too dark, then relied on the motion-stopping ability of the flash to render the woman’s mask-shrouded face sharply. The special look of this photo comes from a white balance mismatch. The flash puts out daylight-colored light that makes her face look color correct, but since the flash didn’t hit anything else in the room the rest of the picture is bathed in a warm tungsten. The real mystery is how he managed to get the flash pointed exactly at the dancer’s face.

Hikers along the Appalachian Trail.

Robert J. Szabo

On the War Path,” June/July Issue

When Tony Horwitz wrote a story for Traveler about a road trip visiting Civil War sites I knew immediately that I wanted to have the photos made in the old-fashioned style. I contacted Robert, a Civil War re-enactor/photographer who takes pictures using 19th-century methods. The trick for this story was to find scenes that could only be taken in the modern world. It was too easy for Robert, using his old camera and glass plates, to make pictures that looked simply like they were 150 years old. In this shot, he asked some hikers on the Appalachian Trail in Harper’s Ferry to pose for him. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have form-fitting backpacks and aluminum hiking poles during the Civil War, so those elements wound up giving us the mixed-up-time-machine look we were seeking.


St. James Church, famed for its smoky, mysterious, and ancient beauty, is one of several must-see churches of Jerusalem.

Alexandra Avakian
Jerusalem by the Book,” May Issue (iPad Edition)

The most popular pilgrimage sites in Jerusalem are quite familiar to us. But to me this was something different. Alex was interested in showing Armenians (one of the original Christian communities of the Old City, later augmented by those who fled or survived the Armenian Genocide of 1915) so she photographed the inside of St. James Church during a religious ceremony. Amidst all the gilded grandeur, the way this hooded figure turns to look at her hints at the tortured history of the region in some way. It is a tenuous arrangement, the many religions attempting to share a place they all consider holy, and I think she captured that in this photo.

Michael Davie leaps across lichen-coated rock formations in the Bay of Fires.

Palani Mohan
“In Search of the World’s Cleanest Air,” November Issue

Palani did everything right in making a photograph of the amazing boulders on the beach at Bay of Fires, Tasmania. He chose a low camera angle to make sure these huge boulders looked as big in the photograph as they are in real life. He also made sure to be there in the late afternoon when the low-angled sun would make the orange lichens shine and the clouds stand out in the sky. But the most important thing he did to make this a great photo was a decision he made months earlier. When you travel with Michael Davie, the energetic journalist who wrote this story,  you never know what’s going to happen, but you better be ready with your camera.

A chef peers from the kitchen of Filippo Oste, a restaurant in Albaretto della Torre.

Clay McLachlan
“The Slow Life in Italy,” October Issue (iPad Edition)

The main quality of this photograph is the light that somehow enters this restaurant in the late afternoon and bounces around to softly illuminate the chef’s face. This person is not the famous face of the restaurant, she is simply the one who does all the work to make that front-man look good. Judging by her expression I doubt she harbors any ill will about that. I like to look at pictures and pretend to know what the person is thinking. In this case I think she’s glad that when the dinner rush hour comes she can be safely hidden in her kitchen, only pausing to take a peak at the outside world when she chooses.

View from the driver's seat: Peter McBride maneuvers his Royal Enfield motorcycle through the narrow streets of Rishikesh.

Peter McBride
Here Comes the Sun,” October Issue

When Peter McBride told us about his desire to tour India astride a newly manufactured post-WWII motorcycle we said he should go straight away. Secretly I wanted to go with him. So, as I was looking through the pictures I was happy to see this, a driver’s point of view, showing some of the color and chaos of the street. It almost made feel like I had joined him on the ride.

A surfer duck-dives his board under a wave in Fiji.

Lucia Griggi
Lens Craft Winning Images from Traveler’s 24th Annual Photo Contest,” December/January Issue

I had a feeling that it must be a magic place under the waves. But until I saw this picture I realized I had no idea! The composition is good, the lighting is fantastic, but look at that background! That is one of the most menacing, yet beautiful things I have ever seen. It makes me want to grab a mask and head out into the surf to have a look for myself.

More Best of National Geographic 2012:


  1. stephen
    August 15, 2013, 7:56 pm

    I agree with the very few negative comments about most of these images. They are, in my opinion, ordinary, lacking in artistic composition, depth, and uniqueness or professional – esp the first one which looks like a snap shot of my grandfather; could have been taken by anyone…..”blends old and new????” An image needs to “work” visually first. And then………. I think Mr Wintergren needs a refresher course in photo compo and to relearn photo tricks number 5-11……

  2. saleh
    April 24, 2013, 8:46 pm

    Beautiful pictures

  3. Santoshpratim Bhuyan
    Mysore, Karnataka, India
    April 9, 2013, 5:06 pm

    It’s an awesome collection of stunning pictures. Really loving it !!! :)

  4. mallik putta
    india hydrabad
    April 7, 2013, 11:52 am

    i like very much

  5. Aphreu
    April 1, 2013, 12:16 am


  6. James Gao
    March 7, 2013, 1:44 am

    Love these pics! Fantastic!

  7. Barry Muller
    Hawker South Australia
    February 26, 2013, 10:43 pm

    Photos like these give me very itchy feet.

  8. Renee — RambleCrunch
    World traveler currently in Mexico
    February 20, 2013, 11:29 am

    That last one is absolutely stunning. By far the best.

  9. Corey Slockbower
    oklahoma city, oklahoma
    January 20, 2013, 2:05 am

    Great photos. I hope I get to travel to some of these places this year.

  10. Martin
    January 14, 2013, 2:07 pm

    The last one is absolutely great.
    All the others go from boring to gimmicky to just plain bad. When I see a photo, the first thing I ask myself is “would I hang it on my wall?”, I’d suggest Mr Westergren do the same.

  11. Debbie Dakeyne
    January 14, 2013, 10:45 am

    Beautiful collection of photographs

  12. noman yousaf
    January 14, 2013, 7:37 am

    Mineapolis MN

  13. fahad younas
    punjab pakistan
    January 12, 2013, 10:41 am

    very nice good amazing pics , its great pics i saw and in future im big fan geo . ilike 2nd one.

  14. mukhtar
    January 9, 2013, 3:13 am

    fabulous dude!

  15. Lata Mehta
    Mineapolis MN
    January 4, 2013, 11:09 pm

    very prtty pictures.

  16. Lata Mehta
    Mineapolis MN
    January 4, 2013, 11:08 pm

    love your photography,

    very lovey photoes,lovf it

  17. Sharon
    December 30, 2012, 3:29 am

    The last one is fantastic, and I also like the one with large boulders.

  18. Joss
    December 27, 2012, 10:09 pm

    That last pic is truly a heartstopper, congrats to the photographer, and thanks for showing it to the world!

  19. Nishant
    December 24, 2012, 9:17 pm

    I like the 8th photograph of chef peers from kitchen, other too are nice but not best

  20. Herman Gagnon
    Québec Qc. Can.
    December 24, 2012, 2:57 pm

    Good shots in several countries of the world

  21. Jack
    Bradley, IL
    December 19, 2012, 3:15 pm

    The only good shot is the last one. Most of the rest hardly qualify as best.

  22. Vajira1201
    Sri Lanka
    December 19, 2012, 1:12 am

    Last is awesome . The rest are ordinary photo but beautiful

  23. Sarala Rao
    United States
    December 17, 2012, 8:20 pm

    Most exhilarating pictures all! Such a pleasure to go through them one by one at one’s own pace!

  24. Tammy
    Hong Kong
    December 17, 2012, 2:05 pm

    All very beautiful pictures!

  25. Amparo Carrera
    San Luis Potosi, Mexico|
    December 17, 2012, 1:26 pm

    AMAZING photography. thank you for sharing your eyes and lenses with me…

  26. Francisco
    December 17, 2012, 12:31 pm

    The last photo was fantastic. Amazing! The lighting, the moment was excellent!. Whauuu.

  27. H.V.Venkataramaiah.
    India. Bangaluru.
    December 17, 2012, 2:22 am

    best and nice photos I have never seen.

  28. Geetha
    alexandra Avakian
    December 17, 2012, 12:12 am

    I like it

  29. raniele Cedrik De Vera
    December 16, 2012, 10:09 pm


  30. Krishna Murthy
    December 16, 2012, 9:42 pm

    Like aii photos

  31. Krishna Murthy
    December 16, 2012, 9:37 pm

    Happy Christmas to all Birds Lovers

  32. sunil ratnayake
    December 16, 2012, 7:18 pm

    It looks like an angel flying from heavon

  33. sunil ratnayake
    December 16, 2012, 7:15 pm

    It looks like a angel flying from heavon

  34. Nuri Shtewi
    Tripoli / Libya
    December 16, 2012, 1:59 pm

    The one is more than wonderful

  35. Wendy Murdoch
    December 16, 2012, 12:30 pm

    The last picture left me longing for an experience that I didn’t think was possible for anyone. When I watch surfers fall off their boards and disappear under the water I find myself holding my breath. The picture of the menacing waves in the background is what I imagine it looks and feels like after the surfer has fallen beneath the surface of the water. The surfer, in the photo, appears to be trapped between two worlds: the one immediately behind him and the one he is in–tranquil, free, effortless. I think it takes great skill to be able to capture those two worlds in a single moment. Thank you for the sharing the journey.

  36. abdulmusawir
    December 16, 2012, 10:35 am

    Jim richardson & Dave Yoder are really nice. My favourite concept and activity.

  37. frank r lagera
    calgary,alberta canada
    December 16, 2012, 10:21 am

    The last photo was fantastic. The lighting, the composition was excellent!.

  38. rodolfo romero
    maracaibo, venezuela
    December 16, 2012, 9:12 am

    Do not you hear the roar of the wave?

  39. saurav singh
    ranchi india
    December 16, 2012, 8:07 am

    snap of cotton coulson is best

  40. Henry Mweemba
    December 16, 2012, 6:46 am

    Michael Davies’s leap accross the rocks is amazing, you would think he is hooked to a helicopter.

  41. anto buric
    December 16, 2012, 5:34 am

    last one photo – for the remembrance

  42. Lincoln Faria Junior
    São Paulo - Brazil
    December 16, 2012, 5:14 am

    Fotos espetaculares para alegrarem quem se encontra só. Obrigado

  43. Gary Perrott
    December 16, 2012, 4:48 am

    That last photo; under the wave is amazing!!

    December 16, 2012, 1:33 am


  45. jagath
    Galle,Sri Lanka
    December 16, 2012, 12:53 am

    2nd photograph is emotional.

  46. iftekhar
    December 15, 2012, 11:21 pm

    i saw all pic are wonderful

  47. Pedro Goyenaga
    Costa Rica
    December 15, 2012, 10:30 pm

    A surfer duck-dives his board under a wave in Fiji
    the best photo

  48. Pedro Goyenaga
    Costa Rica
    December 15, 2012, 10:15 pm

    Last picture under wave,- photographer is real good.

  49. Joe Koenig
    December 15, 2012, 9:34 pm

    Two pictures stand out for me: In both cases it is the human figure that makes these photos so memorable. The smal figure of the person jumping on top of those giant orange rocks is unique and something one cannot forget–superb! The surfboarder amid the waves is also an extraordinary moment in an overwhelming setting.
    and memorable.

    December 15, 2012, 9:22 pm

    Apart from the under wave photo, the others are fairly ordinary. I’ve seen many better “10” s than these!

  51. lylian reis
    December 15, 2012, 8:51 pm

    last picture, wow, extremely beautiful

  52. zuber
    December 15, 2012, 6:26 pm

    a big tree its a beautifully picture

  53. Kath
    December 15, 2012, 3:39 pm

    Totally Amazing! Thanks for sharing :)

  54. Varshaan
    December 15, 2012, 2:33 pm

    Yes the pic is so perfectly taken n the best of them all.

  55. Amy Proctor
    United States
    December 15, 2012, 1:50 pm

    Fantastic images!

  56. Eric R. SInnaya
    Langkawi, Malaysia
    December 15, 2012, 1:40 pm

    I would Give Palani Mohan’s in search of worlds cleanest Air
    thebest of the 10 photos.
    The right lightings , and glow on the boulders ,the right composition and the man jumping potrays Freedom, Independence. A combination of Earth, man and sky also despicts our belonging together with nature and its belonging. Well donepalani.

  57. Glenda Collins
    Canton, Ohio
    December 15, 2012, 12:43 pm

    Beneath the waves!!! Mother Nature is totally awesome!

  58. Alice
    December 15, 2012, 11:23 am

    The last photo was AMAZING!!

  59. Harendra
    December 15, 2012, 10:21 am


  60. miki griskie
    florida , usa
    December 15, 2012, 9:41 am

    These are beautiful pictures, some take your breathe away

  61. David Sadngrund
    Brooklyn, NY
    December 15, 2012, 9:31 am

    Sorry, but if these are the best travel shots you got, i am very unimpressed….

  62. Ashley
    December 15, 2012, 12:57 am

    I just have one question for the last photo: how? That is an amazing photo, and I would like to know how the photographer took it.

  63. Anita Moriarty
    December 13, 2012, 9:27 am

    I have to say the last photo taken under the wave has to be the best photo I have seen in a very very long time.

  64. yudi Sufiadi
    December 12, 2012, 6:09 pm

    last one picture, nice pic great moment…..

  65. arnel rosaot
    December 12, 2012, 5:20 pm