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Travel Photo of the Year: behind the lens

Wanderlust wanted to know more about the winning shots from our Travel Photo of the Year competition. Here, the photographers reveal what, why, when and how

The winners reveal the stories behind their award-winning shots

Icon Winner – Kestutis Balciunas

Road to the Past
Kestutis is a scaffolder from Buckhurst Hill, Essex

"I have taken hundreds and hundreds of pictures in Brighton – Beachy Head, shots of the seaside, The Royal Pavilion – but my favorite place in Brighton is the West Pier. I must have taken thousands of pictures of the pier – night and day, sunrise and sunset, and even in a storm.

"One evening I decided to try and take night pictures of West Pier. I spent nearly three hours (from 9pm onwards) by the pier. Night photography is very slow, because of the low light. I could hardly see, but I just kept trying to take good quality and interesting shots. Strange, but my best picture was the last one I took."

Take a look at Kestutis' image – full size – here.

Landscape winner – Gary McParland

The Dark Hedges
Gary is a graphic designer from Newry, Nothern Ireland

"This location is known locally as The Dark Hedges. The beech trees are about 300 years old and coming to the end of their natural life. I have been to this location on numerous occasions but have yet to experience anything like the wonderful light and mist from that morning. A friend and I got up a few hours before sunrise to travel up in the dark and some thick fog. As the sun began to rise the fog started to burn off and we were treated to some beautiful light. This particular image was taken about an hour after sunrise and the mist was still lingering. I wanted to get an image pulling all the wonderful branches together so I used my 500mm lens from the far end of the avenue. It almost gives the illusion that the branches are entwined.

"I’m very pleased I have these images in my portfolio as I was back at this location a couple of weeks ago and unfortunately some of the trees have now fallen and are lost forever. As far as I’m aware they are re-planting more, which is great news that they want to conserve the avenue. Unfortunately, I don’t have another 300 years to wait to get another shot.

"I was overjoyed that my picture won the Wanderlust Landscape category. Hopefully it will inspire more people to visit Northern Ireland and experience some of the wonderful locations it has to offer."

Take a look at Gary's photo – full size – here.

Wildlife winner – Christopher Marsham

Magic of Antarctica
Christopher is retired and lives in Newton Abbot, Devon

"These Emperor penguins had leapt out of the hole in the ice made by the ship and stopped for a brief moment before embarking on a 12 mile 'hike' to their colony to feed their chicks. The iceberg made a perfect backdrop and is properly grounded, forming a permanent feature of this part of the Weddell Sea. Blizzard conditions made photography difficult but through the bleakness, tender moments like this could be captured on camera regardless of the cold.

"This image would probably never have been taken if the Russian icebreaker, Kapitan Khlebnikov, hadn’t got stuck in the ice deep into the Weddell Sea. After seven days of blizzards, the snowfalls finally reduced, allowing photographers an opportunity to walk on the ice.

"Once seen, Antarctica becomes an obsession."

Take a look at Christopher's photo – full size – here.

People winner – Johnny Lawlor

Khulna Kitchen
Johnny is a teacher from Cork, Ireland

"Khulna is the gateway to some rather unique adventure opportunities in Western Bangladesh. I settled down for some lunch after a morning of arranging trips into the Sundurbans mangrove forest and the 'otter fishing villages' of Narail. I was having a rather tasty meal of something with vegetable curry, when the owner came over for a chat. It seems that the novelty of a lone western tourist was not to be ignored.

"After chatting for a while I asked if it was OK to go up to the roof to see the views and take some photos. He happily obliged. On the way up we passed through his kitchen where, much to his bemusement, I became totally enthralled by the setting. The workers seemed happy with the attention though the warmth of their friendly smiles belied the smouldering furnace-like conditions in which they worked.

"After some surprisingly meaningful non-verbal exchanges, I tentatively gestured towards my camera, which, to my delight allowed me to get some candid shots. They were too busy to contrive a pose but happy to be subject of a foreigner's curiosity, thankfully! It was a fleeting but genuine exchange, which helped stamp Khulna as a rather special travel experience in my memory. The food was tasty too!"

Take a look at Johnny's photo – full size – here.

Portfolio winner – Richard Taylor

Buddhism on the Roof of the World
Richard is a working photographer based in London

"I have always been fascinated by Buddhism, and, for a photographer, it makes for an incredibly interesting subject matter. The iconography of the religion is very photogenic. There are the rituals of prayer, the characters, pilgrims and monks, young and old in timeless dress, the ancient architecture of stupas and pagodas and of course the image of Buddha himself. All very appealing to the camera lens.

"This particular set of images were taken in and around Lhasa, the so called 'Forbidden City' as it was for many years closed off to foreigners and tourists. My trip was a personal project, aimed at photographing the rituals of Buddhism on the roof of the world.

"I spent a fair amount of time researching the subject, as I do for all my projects. I believe it is important to fully understand all aspects of what you are going to shoot in order to understand the significance of what is happening around you.

"I had to travel from Beijing to get to Lhasa, the only way at the time of getting there independently, without joining a tour group. It was on this journey I met the two novice monks you can see in the first image. They were on their way to Tibet to begin their studies in a monastery outside of Lhasa. After a while of sitting with them they got used to my presence and my camera and eventually I managed to take this shot of them looking out onto the vast Himalayan plateau. It was a good start to my journey.

"Once in Lhasa I realised what an atmospheric and visually interesting city it was, especially in the old quarter, near to Barkhor Square. At all times of the day and night pilgrims would be prostrating themselves outside the Jokhang Temple. The shot of the pilgrim prostrating in traditional dress appealed to me because of the amazing patchwork of colours on her dress and the fact that her shoes were lined up neatly by her side. The shot of the pilgrim praying in smoke was also taken in Barkhor Square.

"Every morning enormous incense burners are stuffed with juniper and cedar branches, resulting in a mass of smoke drifting across the square. In the early morning light the scene is very evocative, and probably hasn't changed much in hundreds of years. The shot of the pilgrim proudly showing me his pendant is a small but very significant one. Displaying the image of the Dalai Lama within Tibet is banned by the Chinese authorities. This man was risking a fine and possible imprisonment by showing me his prized possession. It was a quite a moment to be trusted in this way, and displayed perfectly the strength of faith the people of Tibet have in their religion.

"The final image came about quite unexpectedly. Exploring the city one evening I found myself in a rather unattractive side street with very little happening. However there was a tea stall, so I decided to call it an evening and treat myself to a cup. After a few minutes these young novice monks appeared on a rooftop and started to play around with their robes. Fortunately I had my 200mm lens on and I managed to take ten or so frames before they disappeared out of view. They came and went in under a minute and I was fortunate to be in the right place with the right lens. I put it down to that most fundamental of Buddhist beliefs, good karma."

Take a look at Richard's portfolio – in full – here.

All 46 finalists' photographers are available to buy online through Photobox – with prices from as little as £3.60. Browse through the online galleries here

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