Photographer: Kevin Dillard

See the World Through Smithsonian’s Staggering Photo Competition

Some 46,000 submissions, 168 countries, one astonishing journey around the globe. Smithsonian’s annual photo contest is a highlight for inveterate travelers and armchair jockeys alike. Here are 15 of our favorite finalists, whose raw talent offers an incredible peek into parts unknown.

“The photo contest provides our viewers with an exciting visual archive of the world through an amazingly diverse lens,” said Molly Roberts, chief photography editor of Smithsonian magazine, via e-mail. Since 2003 the publication has collected 329,880 images, then geotagged more than 265 thousand of them to 231 countries/territories and 16,481 cities.

Through 11:59 p.m. on March 21, 2016, readers can vote for their favorites among 70 finalists spread across seven categories, such as the American Experience, Natural World, or (new this year) Sustainable Travel. Winners will be announced on March 22. Cast your vote here.

  1.  Spider Man

    Spider Man

    This was taken during a festival parade in Nice, France. A little Spider Man was not afraid of the monster.

    Category: Travel | Location: Nice, France.

    Photographer: Adam Wong

  2.  Remaining on the Slopes of Mount Sinabung

    Remaining on the Slopes of Mount Sinabung

    Volcanic material flowing from Mount Sinabung, as seen from the village of Jeraya, North Sumatra, Indonesia on June 26, 2015. Indonesia's Mount Sinabung intermittently spewed burning ash and gas, a week after authorities told residents to evacuate the danger zone that lay within a radius of seven kilometers (4.4 miles).

    Category: Natural World | Location: North Sumatra, Indonesia

    Photographer: Albert Ivan Damanik

  3. Orient Express

    Orient Express

    One of a series called Leave Only Pawprints: Urbex Adventures With My Bull Terrier Claire.

    Category: Altered | Location: An Abandoned Train in Belgium

    Photographer: Alice van Kempen

  4. Young Love in Mexico

    Young Love in Mexico

    A couple embraces on a carnival ride at La Fería de Guanajuato, a state fair held annually and attended by half a million people on some nights.

    Category: Travel | Location: León, Guanajuato, Mexico

    Photographer: Eric Burg

  5. Under the Aurora

    Under the Aurora

    Canoeing under a star-filled sky splashed with the aurora borealis is one of the most enjoyable and memorable experiences of a wilderness canoe trip. Day 191 of a seven-month solo canoe journey taken by the photographer. 

    Category: Sustainable Travel | Location: Quetico Provincial Park, Atikokan, Ontario, Canada

    Photographer: Gary L. Fiedler

  6. Impossible Loneliness

    Impossible Loneliness

    In China, the subway is the most impossible place to be alone.

    Category: Mobile | Location: Shanghai

    Photographer: Jungeng Wang

  7. The Washing Machine

    The Washing Machine

    Taken from a quadcopter over the start of the three-mile La Jolla Rough Water Swim, otherwise known as the Gatorman, one of the top ocean races in the United States. Swimmers line up in the cove shoulder-to-shoulder. At the sound of the horn, they all jump into the water and swim as fast as they can to distance themselves from the group.

    Category: Altered | Location: San Diego

    Photographer: Kevin Dillard

  8. Festive Preparation

    Festive Preparation

    Two girls prepare for the Gajan festival, at which they will perform a play based on Indian mythology.

    Category: People | Location: Baghnapara, Bardhaman, West Bengal, India

    Photographer: Krishnasis Ghosh

  9. Trucker Chapel

    Trucker Chapel

    Truck driver Ben Blackburn, 46, participates in a Bible study session at the Transport For Christ  mobile chapel on Oct. 23, 2013. TFC chaplains helped Blackburn enroll in trucking school after he lost his job during the recent economic recession.

    Category: The American Experience | Location: Lodi, Ohio

    Photographer: Lauren Pond

  10.  Synchronous Fireflies

    Synchronous Fireflies

    Lightning bugs blinking synchronously in almost complete darkness in an image taken using the latest low-light camera technology. 

    Category: Altered | Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tenn.

    Photographer: Radim Schreiber

  11. Wildebeest Leap

    Wildebeest Leap

    A scene from the annual wildebeest migration.

    Category: Sustainable Travel | Location: Maasai Mara National Reserve, Narok County, Kenya

    Photographer: Ricardo Cisneros

  12. Ross Sea Pancake Ice

    Ross Sea Pancake Ice

    Pancake ice viewed from a vessel during late summer in the Ross Sea.

    Category: Natural World | Location: Antarctica

    Photographer: Sam Edmonds

  13. The Frame of Creativity

    The Frame of Creativity

    The craze for theater is still alive in Kolkata, where an actor prepares for a stage performance.

    Category: Travel | Location: Cooch Behar, West Bengal, India

    Photographer: Sujan Sarkar

  14. My Time

    My Time

    A school in Likoni, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Mombasa, Kenya, that provides opportunities for 150 children, as well as a building for 30 orphan kids to sleep in. Here is the school director's daughter on a break in a classroom in spring 2014.

    Category: Sustainable Travel | Location: Likoni, Mombasa, Kenya


  15. Three Black Cows

    Three Black Cows

    After evening rain is followed by a foggy morning, the sun rises over the autumn plain to reveal three black cows through the mist.

    Category: Travel | Location: Staraya Erikla, Ulyanovsk, Russian Federation

    Photographer: Valery Romanov