Snap Judgments

The winners (and some runners-up) of SMITHSONIAN’s annual photo contest take a bow

It’s been said that good photography involves a collision of the new and the known: a fresh take on an ancient ritual, say, or an intimate portrait of a stranger. Our grand prize winner—an image of a sumptuous statue shaded by umbrellas—is a photograph of a cremation rite in Bali.

For the first time, contestants submitted their work exclusively on-line. We received some 7,500 entries from all 50 U.S. states and from 74 foreign countries (including Bahrain, Myanmar and Pakistan). As in years past, our judges selected 50 finalists, in 5 categories: The Natural World, People, Travel, Americana and, new this year, Altered Images. The Natural World and Travel are perennial favorites—together they received more than half the entries. Children remained favorite subjects—as did close-ups of insects. Hmmmm.

Nearly a third of the finalists come from outside the United States, a notable increase from past years. Most live in urban areas, though small towns such as Millersburg, Indiana (pop. 868), were also represented. Entrants range in age from Generation Y to baby boomer. When asked their occupation, nearly two-thirds listed "amateur photographer" rather than a day job. (Professional photographers are ineligible.) You can see all 50 finalists' photographs on our Web site at That's also where we’ll publish, in September, the rules for our Fourth Annual Photo Contest. To all who participated, and particularly to the finalists and winners, thanks, congratulations and happy shooting.

In Bali, Indonesia, cremation is believed to liberate the souls of the dead so that they can reincarnate. In this photograph, Pang records a tribute to the ancestors of people living in Bali's Sanur region. "All the offerings to and belongings of their ancestors are gathered around a nearby beach," he says. After prayers, "the offerings are then released into the ocean, signifying the ending of mourning and loss." Grand Prize Winner, Travel:
Raheb, a composer of jazz music, felt a connection to Segundo, a retired percussionist Raheb encountered within the old quarters of Havana. Segundo personified the elegance of Cuba's colorful past, says Raheb, and he "had charm and class even though his clothes were old and frayed." Segundo "carried himself with confidence and pride even in the face of poverty." Winner, People:
Says Arnao of this photograph of a Long Island snowdrift: "The sun broke on a 20-degree morning with howling winds to create amazing fusions of sand and snow. As a kid I was fascinated by the wind sculptures in the wake of a blizzard. In the morning, I would rush out just to watch the blowing snow sparkle in the morning light and form snow dunes that seemed replicas of the great deserts of the earth." Winner, The Natural World:
One day Bauzo ran into a barbershop eight blocks from his home. "As I was leaving, a boy resting on his bike lost in thought -- along with the individuals in the background -- caught my attention." Winner, Americana:
"I combined the petals, the stem and the bud of three different lilies," says Kotowski. "The flower bud is a cross section. I cut the actual flower bud down the middle with a razor to get this unique view of the amazing flower." Winner, Altered Images
While traveling through coastal Vietnam, Mack spent several days observing this fisherman. "Three to four times a day he lowered the net, then hours later raised it and retrieved his catch. On this occasion, he caught only seaweed ... but the net became a golden lasso" in the sun. Winner, Travel:
Lanmam visited a preschool during a trip to the Dominican Republic with Habitat for Humanity: "As we were leaving, the children were standing in the doorway saying goodbye ... Each child's facial expression tells a uniquely different story, which contrasts with the uniformity of their school clothing." Finalist, People:
Says Sheridan of this survivor of a 1994 massacre in which 60,000 Rwandan Tutsis were killed: "He was shot and thrown into a mass grave. Miraculously, he did not die." When the man came to, Sheridan says, he scrambled out of the grave and walked to neighboring Burundi. Finalist, People:
After Hurricane Katrina, Peppercorn met a man who showed him an antique bed that had been his grandmother's. When she died 15 years ago, the family decided that he should inherit the bed because he was an artist and would take good care of it. "Now look at it," said the man. "It's ruined." Finalist, Americana:
It was a quiet, misty day, says Bitir of a visit to Paris. "I saw a horse flying and my dreams followed him up into the sky." Finalist, Travel:
Says Olsen of this atmospheric portrait of his son Mason, 12, facing the camera: "I had to jump a security fence to get close enough to properly frame the players and coach." Finalist, Americana:
The Antactic penguin, says Sucher, "appeared to be stuck above the ocean with no way to get down....He scurried back and forth on the ledge, appearing completely perplexed. Finally, a second penguin called from the other side of the iceberg, and the penguin scurried off the way it came." Finalist, The Natural World:

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