National Geographic has become synonymous with photography, with the magazine always showcasing the outstanding beauty and wonder of our planet. So naturally, their annual photo contest is a prestigious and hotly-contested event, with judges having thousands of breathtaking images to narrow down, to find the eventual winners.

This year's grand prize winner was Jassen Todorov, a violinist and professor of music at San Francisco State University, whose aerial shot shows a vast boneyard in Southern California's Mojave Desert. The area is well known for storing retired aircraft, where the dry air keeps corrosion away before they are eventually dismantled and scrapped for parts. What many are unaware of, however, is the huge stretch of land nearby that is set aside for recalled vehicles and is filled with row-upon-row of Audis and Volkswagens that cheated emissions tests between 2009-2015. “I have flown and explored the Mojave Desert area quite a few times,” Jassen told Bored Panda about the winning shot. “There are several airports in the Mojave and at least 3-4 of them have large boneyards, which I have explored and photographed. It was my first photo flight over Southern California Logistics Airport. I had done some research using google maps, so I had a general idea of the position of the cars in relation to the airport.”

Combining his 3 loves of flying, music and photography  Jassen has really gotten into his aerial photography. Using a Nikon D810 with a 70-200 mm lens, he flies his single-engined Piper Warrior aircraft while listening to everything from classical music to country.  “Music has a lot to do with structure and composition, colors and patterns, moods and characters - when I am looking at a photo, I am thinking about the same things,” he told us. “By capturing scenes like this one, I hope we will all become more conscious and more caring for our beautiful planet.”

Having previously had his photographs published in a variety of publications, from the Guardian to the Washington Post, this award is the highlight of Jassen's photography career so far. “To me, National Geographic has always been a very influential organization. I have always admired the mission, high professionalism and dedication of all people working there. I often doubt my own work, so having this type of recognition from National Geographic is not only very inspiring but also really meaningful.”

Other winners in the contest included Pim Volkers' epic capture of wildebeests crossing Tanzania’s Mara River, which took the Wildlife prize, while Mia Collis' portrait of a Kenyan photographer took first place in the People category. You can scroll down below to check out all the winners below, and don't forget to vote for your own favorites! For more breathtaking photos from National Geographic photo contests, check out these here and here.

#1 Breathing, Bence Mate

Breathing, Bence Mate

A brown bear growls a warning of his presence to an interloper, his breath vanishing slowly in the windless forest.

National Geographic/BENCE MATE Report

CCL_2018 1 week ago

Ursa Major, come to life

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#2 Enduring Spirit, Derek Jerrell

Enduring Spirit, Derek Jerrell

The iconic American Bison is a symbol of strength, freedom and endurance. This shot captures the daily struggle bison face during the winter; extreme temperatures and deep snow. Their thick skin and heavy coat protect them from the frigid temperatures and their large heads allow them to push snow back and forth so they can forage for food. This shot wasn’t easy to capture, it was -15f and I had... Read More

The iconic American Bison is a symbol of strength, freedom and endurance. This shot captures the daily struggle bison face during the winter; extreme temperatures and deep snow. Their thick skin and heavy coat protect them from the frigid temperatures and their large heads allow them to push snow back and forth so they can forage for food. This shot wasn’t easy to capture, it was -15f and I had to wade through waste deep snow to find a vantage point that wouldn't alter the bison's behavior.

National Geographic / Derek Jerrell Report

Yvonne Bernal 1 week ago

Bison once roamed the plains throughout North America, but after settlers moved west, they were pushed to near extinction. In the 1800’s, the government paid hunters to kill bison because they would be in the way of the new railroad system. Today remaining herds can only be found on wildlife refuges and private ranches.

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#3 Firefall In Yosemite Valley, Sarah Bethea

Firefall In Yosemite Valley, Sarah Bethea

Each February, the sunset hits the right angle over yosemite valley to light up horsetail falls, resulting in a spectacular effect looking something like a lava-flow. we were fortunate enough to see this event two years ago during a clear break in an otherwise rainy day.

National Geographic / Sarah Bethea Report

Kjorn 1 week ago

Secret way to Mordor

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#4 People's Choice, Places: Cotton Candy, Fog Waves, David Odisho

People's Choice, Places: Cotton Candy, Fog Waves, David Odisho

Waves of fog sweep through Marin County on a summer day, blanketing of Mount Tamalpais.

National Geographic / David Odisho Report

Maria Gorbacheva 1 week ago

Wow! It looks like a painting

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#5 Night Statics, Hernando Alonso Rivera Cervantes

Night Statics, Hernando Alonso Rivera Cervantes

Volcanic eruption of the volcano of fire of Colima, the most active in Mexico and one of the most active in America during a cold winter night

National Geographic/ HERNANDO ALONSO RIVERA CERVANTES Report

Kann 1 week ago

Anyone else see a lion's head by the volcano? Or is it just me?

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#6 People's Choice, Wildlife: Baby Teeth, Yaron Schmid

People's Choice, Wildlife: Baby Teeth, Yaron Schmid

We spotted a pride of lions sleeping on top of the kopjes in the Serengeti. As we approached the rocks, we saw quite a few cubs. The best moment was when three young cubs started playing and biting their mother’s tail—like kittens playing with yarn. I can't remember a time I laughed so hard!

National Geographic / Yaron Schmid Report

Bob Beltcher 1 week ago

Have kids they said! They bring joy they said!

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#7 Under Ice, Viktor Lyagushkin

Under Ice, Viktor Lyagushkin

Diving in White sea. Russia

National Geographic/VIKTOR LYAGUSHKIN Report

Bob Beltcher 1 week ago

Looks like lasagna noodles. Where's Garfield.

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#8 Grand Prize Winner: Unreal, Jassen Todorov

Grand Prize Winner: Unreal, Jassen Todorov

Thousands of Volkswagen and Audi cars sit idle in the middle of California’s Mojave Desert. Models manufactured from 2009 to 2015 were designed to cheat emissions tests mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Following the scandal, Volkswagen recalled millions of cars. By capturing scenes like this one, I hope we will all become more conscious of and more caring toward our beautiful planet.

National Geographic / Jassen Todorov Report

Lios 1 week ago

How tight is security there? Seem like a good place to 'shop' for a car.

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#9 Halfway Home, Cameron Black

Halfway Home, Cameron Black

An elephant wades through crocodile infested waters to reunite with the herd at the end of the day. The waterlines temporarily staining her body could not emphasize her progress any better as she steps onto shore and into the neighboring forest.

National Geographic / Cameron Black Report

Kjorn 1 week ago

he's not finished downloading

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#10 Best Friends, Heather Nicole

Best Friends, Heather Nicole

In July 2017, I had the incredible opportunity to spend a week in lake clark national park. I immediately fell in love with the lush, pristine landscape of alaska. one of the many highlights of the trip was watching these adorable cubs run, play and wrestle with each other. I was lucky enough to snap this shot as they took a very brief break from playtime to enjoy a moment... Read More

In July 2017, I had the incredible opportunity to spend a week in lake clark national park. I immediately fell in love with the lush, pristine landscape of alaska. one of the many highlights of the trip was watching these adorable cubs run, play and wrestle with each other. I was lucky enough to snap this shot as they took a very brief break from playtime to enjoy a moment of peace. Don't worry, momma was very close by watching their every move.

National Geographic/HEATHER NICOLE Report

Laugh Fan 1 week ago

They look so peaceful.

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