A dramatic photograph of an erupting volcano hit by a bolt of lightning has been lauded in the 2017 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year contest.

The image was taken by Sergio Tapiro Velasco of Mexico, who had been carefully tracking the volcano's activity for almost a month before he captured the prize-winning image.

Taken outside of Colima, Mexico, Velasco aptly titled the photograph "The Power of Nature".

While shooting on a completely clear night just 12 kilometers away from the crater, Velasco heard a booming noise and witnessed the biggest volcanic lightning he'd ever seen. Until he reviewed the photos he'd taken, Velasco had no idea if he'd actually captured the spectacular event.

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"When I looked on the camera display, all I could do was stare," he said. "What I was watching was impossible to conceive, the image showed those amazing forces of nature interacting on a volcano, while the lightning brightened the whole scene. It's an impossible photograph and my once in a lifetime shot that shows the power of nature."

The National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year contest recognises the best photographs taken in the last two years, under three categories: Nature, People and Cities.

Levels of Reading by Norbert Fritz of Hungary. Photo / Norbert Fritz, National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year
Levels of Reading by Norbert Fritz of Hungary. Photo / Norbert Fritz, National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year

Top photos were selected in each of the three categories, with Velasco's photo also chosen as the winner in the Nature category.

Norbert Fritz of Hungary took top honors in the Cities category for his photo titled "Levels of Reading," taken in the modern interior of the city library in Stuttgart, Germany. "Worship" by F. Dilek Uyar of Turkey won the People category, which shows the Sema dance of the Whirling Dervishes, a symbol of the Mevlevi culture in Konya, Turkey.

"Worship" by F. Dilek Uyar of Turkey won the People category. Photo / F. Dilek Uyar, National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year

The competition was judged by Molly Roberts, senior photography editor at National Geographic; Benjamin Lowy, award-winning adventure and underwater photographer; and Jody MacDonald, award-winning adventure sport and documentary photographer.

Blessings at Besakih by Michael Dean Morgan. Photo / Michael Dean Morgan, National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year
Blessings at Besakih by Michael Dean Morgan. Photo / Michael Dean Morgan, National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year

"The quality of submissions in the 2017 Travel Photographer of the Year contest was wonderfully eclectic," said Roberts. "I was inspired by the variety of locations and creativity of the photographers in their quest to make compelling images."

Walled City #08 by Andy Yeung. Photo / Andy Yeung, National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year
Walled City #08 by Andy Yeung. Photo / Andy Yeung, National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year

Other highly commended images included "To Live" by Hiromi Kano, which shows swans taking off out of mud, "Blessings at Besakih" taken by Michael Dean Morgan at Bali's "Mother Temple" on the southwestern slopes of Mount Agung, and "Walled City #08" by Andy Yeung, an aerial shot of the Kowloon Walled City in China.

"To Live" by Hiromi Kano. Photo / Hiromi Kano, National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year

As the grand-prize winner, Velasco will receive a 10-day trip for two to the Galápagos Archipelago with National Geographic Expeditions, as well as a US$2500 prize.

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