Some photographs are happy accidents, others the painstaking result of careful planning and even years of practice. Some are intimate portraits, some sweeping landscapes. But each successful photograph is a personal take on the world. As you'll see in these pages, the range of subjects that caught our readers' eyes is almost as varied as the photographers themselves.
When SMITHSONIAN held its first-ever amateur photo contest last year, the more than 12,000 entries convinced us we were on to something. This year's response is even more exciting. Right before the contest deadline—New Year's Eve—our Web site was logging up to 26 submissions per minute. All in all, we received more than 30,000 photographs, from all 50 U.S. states and 92 countries—California to Kyrgyzstan, New York to New Zealand.
From this wealth of images, our editors chose 50 finalists and 100 runners-up in five categories: The Natural World, Travel, Culture and the Arts, People, and Americana. (It wasn't easy!) The finalists are teachers, students, lawyers, retirees, engineers and actors, ages 19 to 85. Most are passionate about photography. Their work, along with that of the runners-up, can be seen on our Web site. And the 50 finalists' photographs are on display through September 5 in a special exhibit at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.