The winners of the 2015 World Press Photo contest have been chosen, and the images are nothing short of breathtaking. The devastation of the Syrian war, the refugee crisis in Europe, and clashes between police and protestors in the United States have all been beautifully and dramatically documented on camera.
But the natural world also provided photographers with a surreal source of inspiration. At times inspiring, and occasionally terrifying, here are some of the very best examples.
The main image depicts a nocturnal fireworks display at the peak of Colima volcano in Mexico. It’s one of the most active volcanoes in the region, having erupted more than 40 times since the mid-16th century. Apart from the iridescent, fiery ballistics rocketing out of the vent, spectacular volcanic lightning can be seen.
Although this isn’t a rare sight, it is incredibly difficult to capture on camera. Volcanologists are still debating as to what causes it, but most think that it’s something to do with the positive charge much of the fresh ejecta has when it’s launched skywards.
“Whale Whisperers” by Anuar Patjane Floriuk, Mexico 2015
This stunning monochrome image depicts divers surrounding a humpback whale and her newborn calf in the Revillagigedo Islands in Mexico. Humpback whales can be found all over the world, and can reach lengths of up to 16 meters (52 feet) and masses of 36 tonnes (39.7 tons).
“Storm Front on Bondi Beach” by Rohan Kelly, Australia 2015, Daily Telegraph
A vast “cloud tsunami” can be seen looming over Sydney’s Bondi Beach in this image, juxtaposed with a completely indifferent sunbather. This type of cloud is known to meteorologists as an “arcus” cloud; these form at the leading edge of a thunderstorm where the up and downdrafts of the storm intermingle. This example was several kilometers in length.
“Tough Times for Orangutans” story image by Tim Laman, USA 2015
One of a series of images highlighting the lives of wild orangutans, this Bornean example is seen clambering over 30 meters (roughly 100 feet) off the ground in the rainforest of Gunung Palung National Park in Indonesia. Orangutans, both the Bornean and Sumatran types, are severely threatened by huge wildfires, the illegal animal trade, and violent human villagers.
“Chameleon Under Pressure” story image by Christian Ziegler, Germany 2015 for National Geographic
Remarkably, Madagascar alone contains over half the world’s species of chameleons – but thanks to deforestation, over half of them are now classified as endangered. This particular critter, a Furcifer ambrensis female, was caught in the act of foraging for insects on Mountain d’Ambre.
“Avalanche, 25-27 April, Everest Base Camp, Nepal” story image by Roberto Schmidt, Germany 2015, Agence France-Presse
The cataclysmic earthquake in Nepal last year killed nearly 9,000 people and more than 23,000 were injured. A huge avalanche on Mount Everest was also triggered, which this photographer managed to capture on camera. He was lucky not to have been killed during the avalanche, unlike 17 others who were. Disconcertingly, recent studies suggest that another similar tremor may occur in the near future, with a still-quiet zone becoming more likely to violently rupture with each passing year.
“Ivory Wars” story image by Brent Stirton, South Africa 2015, Getty Images for National Geographic
This melancholy image shows a container filled with tonnes of illegal ivory, captured at the port of Lome, Togo. This ivory funds the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group and cult that operates in Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They’re infamous for abducting children and forcing them to kill innocent, defenseless civilians.
More spectacular, award-winning photographs can be seen on the World Press Photo 2015 website.