(Joelle Linhoff, age 18, Minnetonka, Minnesota, Photographed July 2005) Linhoff spent three days vacationing at a camp overlooking New Zealand's Tukituki River Valley, getting up mornings "to follow the rising sun." Most days were foggy, says Linhoff, but usually "there were no horses in the pasture." But on the day she took the winning picture, there were many, including a white one featured in Lord of the Rings. (Grand Prize Winner, The Natural World)
(Ezra Millstein, age 34, Washington, D.C., Photographed February 2004) Millstein, who has been taking pictures since kindergarten, was on a year-long trip across Asia when he encountered this religious ascetic, or sadhu, begging in the streets of Madurai, India. "His patience and understated grace were in great contrast to the surrounding bustle," says Millstein, a grants officer. "He seemed almost frozen in time." (Winner, People)
(Trey Ratcliff, age 35, Austin, Texas, Photographed July 2006) Ratcliff says he "was on the side of a bridge" for Austin's Fourth of July celebration above the Colorado River. "It was on the edge of a Texas summer storm, so there was driving wind and rain," says Ratcliff, CEO of an online games company. "I happened to catch this one between wiping down my lens and stabilizing the tripod in the wind." (Winner, Americana)
(Teng Wei, age 40, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Photographed November 2006) When Teng heard that there were "creepy little ants colonized in [a friend's] backyard," he headed to suburban Lukut, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. While shooting some 100 photographs over the space of about an hour, Teng picked up a branch and dropped a smaller ant into a group of larger ones. "The bigger ants started to stand up," he said. "For what reason, I don't know." (Winner, The Natural World)
(Paul Hilts, age 55, Basalt, Colorado, Photographed February 2006) Walking past Wat Chetawan temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand, one day, Hilts, who annually visits Asia with his wife during the winter months, happened upon a monk ordination ceremony open to the public. As incense clouds diffused in the humid interior of the temple, Hilts noticed a monk with a digital camera. The scene, Hilts says, provided an "interesting contrast between modern technology and the ancient ways of traditional Buddhism." (Winner, Travel)
(Nicholas Edens, age 28, Toledo, Ohio, Photographed November 2006) On a visit to the Toledo Zoo with his wife and son, Edens noticed the white lion standing on a rock. "For a majestic and strong creature to take on such a soft and humbled expression was amazing to see," says Edens, a network engineer. Later, at his computer, he selectively altered the lighting, color, softness and detail to further express that ethereal moment. (Winner, Altered Images)
(Damjan Voglar, age 31, Ljubljana, Slovenia, Photographed July 2004) On a photographic expedition to the botanical garden in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Voglar used a macro lens—one of his favorite techniques—to capture this erotic close-up of an agave plant. This image, says Voglar, a graphic designer, is now part of his growing photographic collection of "abstract forms, shapes and structures that we find in nature." (Finalist, The Natural World)
(Jacqueline Cooper, age 59, Ashfield, Massachusetts, Photographed August 2005) Staying at a friend's cabin in Winchester, New Hampshire, Cooper set down her fiddle, picked up her camera and captured this young girl singing, accompanied by her mother on dobro. Cooper and friends gather at each other's homes to perform tunes and ballads, mostly Appalachian: "The roots of cultural heritage are preserved, infused with new life and passed on," says Cooper, an artist. (Finalist, Americana)
(Shea Beebe, age 36, Converse, Texas, Photographed May 2006) Beebe took a photograph of her then-8-year-old daughter, Peyton, layered an image of a tree over it and added "gold tint to give it a more dream-like quality." Often, Beebe, who plans to pursue a photojournalism degree this fall, will look at unaltered photos "and try to imagine what they could be if I added an unusual color or layered them with another photo of mine." (Finalist, Altered Images)
(Diane Kroupa, age 68, St. Louis, Missouri, Photographed October 2006) To take advantage of the early morning light at Canyonlands National Park in Moab, Utah, Kroupa hiked half a mile in the dark "over an uneven trail with loose gravel and slippery footing. But the reward was well worth it," says Kroupa, a former desktop troubleshooter. "As the sun started to rise, everything the rays touched in the canyon began glowing with an orange hue. There were about a dozen other photographers gathered around the arch taking pictures." (Finalist, Travel)
(David Mendelsohn, age 34, Brooklyn, New York, Photographed June 2006) Mendelsohn, an architect, had walked down the stairs from the Manhattan Apple store's "glass cube" vestibule when he looked up and thought, "Ooh, cool!" and shot this photo. "The view through the glass floor, the reflections and texture turn an immediately recognizable subject into something that needs to be studied further to be understood." Mendelsohn adds, "I like the ghostly anonymity." (Finalist, People)

Prize Pictures

Our photo contest attracted thousands of photographers from 86 nations. And the winners are…

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Yes, certain themes recur, such as the joys of the open road: lonely undulating two-laners, neon-basked diners and weathered barns, even an ant's-eye view of Death Valley blacktop. And there are cowboys galore, including, in Times Square, a guitar-playing "Naked Cowboy," or so he advertised himself on the back of what little he did happen to wear. All told, amateur photographers in 50 states, the District of Columbia and 85 other nations digitally submitted 8,447 photographs to our 4th Annual Photo Contest. Thank you, one and all.

We solicited entries in five categories—The Natural World, Americana, People, Travel and Altered Images, for photographs that have been manipulated. A selection of finalists and winners follows, and you'll find all 50 finalists on our Web site, Smithsonian.com. In addition, we add one new photograph from the contest every day.

This year's grand-prize winner is a Natural World entry of the Tukituki River Valley in New Zealand. The photographer is 18-year-old Joelle Linhoff, of Minnetonka, Minnesota. She'll receive a Smithsonian Journeys adventure for two at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in October (or the cash equivalent). Each category winner receives $500. (Click here to see more images from Linhoff.)

In September, Smithsonian.com will announce details of our 5th Annual Photo Contest, and we fully expect to see more terrific shots of the open road, of cowboys, of exotic plants, of native peoples in traditional garb. Helen Starkweather, the editor who coordinates the contest—to be capped by an exhibition in July at the Smithsonian Institution Castle on the National Mall—isn't troubled by the recurring themes. Many pictures, she says, draw on archetypes that "remind us of the experiences, emotions and relationships that we all share, no matter who we are and where we live."

Click here, or on the images above, to read about the winners. Click here to view all 50 finalists.

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