Sergio Tapiro Velasco of Mexico was awarded the prestigious grand prize for his awe-inspiring image of the moment an erupting volcano was hit by a bolt of lightning.
National Geographic also awarded prizes for photographs in three categories -- Nature, Cities and People. Velasco's image snagged first prize in the Nature category as well.
Norbert Fritz of Hungary took top prize in the Cities category for his photo titled "Levels of Reading," while "Worship" by F. Dilek Uyar of Turkey won the People category.
The prize-winning photos, as well as several honorable mentions, are featured in the above gallery.
Creative and compelling
The second prize in the "People" category is this intriguing image of Amsterdam museum visitors.
"I was inspired by the variety of locations and creativity of the photographers in their quest to make compelling images," says judge Molly Roberts, senior photography editor at National Geographic.
The eclectic subjects of the photographs range from swans flying over water in Japan, to tourists observing a Rembrandt painting at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Velasco's grand prize photograph features the Volcán de Colima, in Mexico's Jalisco state. The photographer says he took the image after tracking the volcano's seismic activity for nearly a month.
"The image showed those amazing forces of nature interacting on a volcano, while the lightning brightened the whole scene," he says. "It's an impossible photograph and my once in a lifetime shot that shows the power of nature."
The award of a lifetime
Once there, he will snorkel amongst exotic sea creatures and visit the Charles Darwin Research Station.
First, second and third prize winners in each category receive $2,500, $750 and $500, respectively -- plus a subscription to National Geographic Traveler magazine.