Stunning photo of dirt tornado wins 2015 National Geographic Photo Contest

The winning photo, ''DIRT,'' captured an anticyclonic tornado near Colorado. (James Smart/National Geographic 2015 Photo Contest)

A storm chaser's captivating photo of an unusual tornado sucking up dirt has taken the top prize in this year's National Geographic Photo Contest.

Appropriately titled "DIRT," the photo was chosen from 13,000 entries from all over the world. It was shot by Australian James Smart on his last day of a storm-chasing trip to Colorado with his brother and friends, who are meteorologists.

A rare and jaw-dropping anti-cyclonic tornado touches down in open farmland, narrowly missing a home near Simla, Colorado.


The photo depicts a rare anti-cyclonic tornado, which means it spins clockwise, the opposite direction from most tornadoes in the U.S. Only about 1 in 1,000 tornadoes spin clockwise, according to the Weather Channel.

Even after discovering the unusual phenomenon, Smart took his time waiting for the right moment, as he described to National Geographic:

"The tornado was slowly getting bigger as it picked up the dust and soil from the ground on the farmland," he said. "It wasn't moving very fast, so we kept getting closer as it tracked next to the home as you can see in the image. Driving down a Colorado dirt road, we were lucky enough to be on the west of the tornado, so it was front lit. This really helped to get great detail out of the image and the perfect light for the sky and foreground."

The photo won both the nature category and the grand prize after being judged by photography experts based on creativity, photography quality and genuineness/authenticity of the content. In addition to nature, there were categories for people and places.

Here are some of the other winning photographs, along with the photographers' captions.

"At the Playground" by Joel Nsadha, People category winner

This photo of a young boy at a play ground in Uganda won the People category.


Photographer's caption:
    "Bwengye lives in a slum called Kamwokya in Kampala, Uganda's capital city. He cherishes his bicycle more than anything and brings it to this playground in the slum every evening, where he watches kids playing soccer."


"Asteroid" by Francisco Mingorance, Places category winner

This photo, which captures radioactive discharges in a Spanish marsh that resemble an asteroid impact, won the places category.


Photographer's caption:
    "While preparing a report on Spain's Rio Tinto from the air, I decided to include the phosphogypsum ponds located in the marshes of red, whose radioactive discharges has destroyed part of the marsh. As an environmental photojournalist I had to report this story, but had to do it with an image that by itself attracts the viewer's attention. On a low-flying training flight, this image caught my attention for its resemblance to the impact of an asteroid on its green waters."


"Colorful Chaos" by Bence Mate, Nature category honorable mention

The photographer used a flashlight to create the colorful effect in this photo of bee-eater birds preparing to sleep in South Africa.


Photographer's caption:
    "White-fronted bee-eaters gather on a bough before going to sleep in their burrows, scraped into a sand wall. I was working on this theme for 18 days, as there were only five to ten minutes each day when the light conditions were appropriate. Ninety percent of my efforts to capture this image were not successful. I used flashlights to light the bee-eaters sitting on the branch, but not the others flying above. At this angle, the backlight generated rainbow coloring through the wings of the flying birds."


"Orangutan in the Rain" by Andrew Suryono, Nature category honorable mention

This photo of an orangutan taking shelter from the rain in Indonesia won honorable mention in the nature category.


Photographer's caption:
    "I was taking photos of orangutans in Bali, Indonesia, when it started to rain. Just before I put my camera away, I saw this orangutan take a taro leaf and put it on top on his head to protect himself from the rain! I immediately used my DSLR and telephoto lens to preserve this spontaneous magic moment."


"Hill of Crosses" by Hideki Mizuta, Places category honorable mentions

A girl in a pink dress runs through Lithuania's Hill of Crosses in this photo, which got honorable mention in the places category.


Photographer's caption:
    "There are many hundreds of thousands of crosses on the Hill of Crosses near Siauliai, Lithuania. It represents Lithuanian Catholicism's peaceful resistance to oppression. Many spirits of the dead are thought to live here on this small hill. When I visited this place, a girl in a pink dress ran through as if she brought peace, hope, and love."


"The Game" by Simone Monte, Places category honorable mentions

This photo of people playing soccer on a beach in Brazil got honorable mention in the places category.

    "Beachgoers kick around soccer balls on Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the nation that is home to la joga bonita-the beautiful game."


"Overlooking Iraq From Iran" by Yanan Li, People category honorable mentions

This photo of female students climbing onto abandoned tanks in Iran got honorable mention in the people category.


Photographer's caption:
    "In October 2014 in Khuzestan, Iran, I came across a group of female Iranian students on the border between Iran and Iraq. Some of them climbed up the tanks left after the war between the two countries and took pictures of themselves. I pressed the shutter when I saw this girl stretch out her arms and turn to face the Iraqi border."


See more of each photographer's work:

James Smart
Francisco Mingorance
Joel Nsadha
Bence Mate
Andrew Suryono
Hideki Mizuta
Simone Monte
Yanan Li

All images used with permission.

Related Topics:
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