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Melbourne photographer James Smart wins National Geographic 2015 photo contest

A Melbourne man who picked up a camera just five years ago has won the National Geographic 2015 photo contest.

Australian man wins National Geographic grand prize

James Smart from Melbourne beats 13,000 other entrants to take out the 2015 National Geographic photo contest.

James Smart, from Balwyn, beat more than 13,000 entries to take out the prestigious competition with his photo of a tornado in Colorado.

The 30-year-old said he entered the competition not even knowing what the prize was – a handsome $US10,000 and a trip to National Geographic's headquarters in Washington.

James Smart from Balwyn beat 13,000 entries from around the world.
James Smart from Balwyn beat 13,000 entries from around the world. Photo: Facebook

Smart, a freelance satellite operator, picked up a camera just five years ago while on holiday in Europe and said he couldn't believe he had won.

"I was surprised, that's for sure. I didn't think I'd win at all to be honest. I didn't even know what the prize was," he said.

"I got an email saying I was a finalist and I thought 'Oh, that's cool', but didn't think it would go anywhere from there.

"I think it was about four or five years ago when I was doing a trip of Europe, I picked up a camera and just started snapping away and thought I'd try and make something out of it."

James' winning photo of the rare cyclone in Colorado earlier this year.
James' winning photo of the rare cyclone in Colorado earlier this year. Photo: James Smart

When asked how he felt beating thousands of professional, well-established photographers, Smart laughed.

"I'm sure there's a lot of people hating me right now."

James photographing a storm earlier this year.
James photographing a storm earlier this year. Photo: Facebook

The photographer said he and his brother, a cameraman, had always been interested in extreme weather, and started travelling annually to America three years ago to chase storms.

The winning photo, called DIRT, was taken earlier this year during a two-week storm chasing trip.

 

Crazy! Thank you National Geographic for selecting my image as the Grand Prize winner 2015!!

Posted by James Smart Landscape Photographer on  Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The pictured cyclone, which was one of two on the ground at the time, is apparently very rare.

"It was actually rotating anti-cyclonic. It was going the wrong way," Smart explained. "It was going right to left instead of a left to right rotation, which is rare."

So does danger ever factor in?

"Adrenalin kicks in and you don't realise until the storm's dissipated and you relax and go 'Wow, that was pretty amazing'."

Smart said the pair always travelled with their meteorologist friends to make sure they were in safe hands.

He is leaving on another storm chasing adventure in a few weeks and hopes to visit the National Geographic headquarters in April.

When asked how he will spend the money, Smart doesn't hesitate.

"It will go towards storm chasing, that's for sure," he laughed.