Behold the breathtaking best drone photos of 2016

The world looks so much more stunning from a drone's-eye view. Here are nine award winners that prove it.

Eric Mack
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Eric Mack
1 of 9 Michael B. Rasmussen

Drone spies living Danish 'emerald'

Over the past few years, breathtaking aerial photos that used to require the assistance of a helicopter pilot have become possible thanks to drones. Dronestagram, a social network for drone photographers, this month unveiled the winners of its third annual photo contest.

This stunner of the Kalbyris forest, shot by Michael Bernholdt of Denmark, won first prize in the nature and wildlife category.

"That was the very first dedicated photo trip I planned with my drone," Berhnholdt said in a release. "I had been spending hours on Google maps, in satellite mode, trying to locate interesting patterns and places. I all ready had a pretty good idea about what I should expect when I arrived at the location. To my luck it had snowed all day so that the pine wood really stood out."

Keep browsing this gallery to see the other award winners.

2 of 9 Max Seigal

Threading a needle in Moab

Drones have enabled some shots that would have been difficult or dangerous to pull off in the past, even with a helicopter. Max Seigal won first prize in the sports category with this picture taken in the unparalleled outdoor playground around Moab, Utah.

"I spent the day filming a couple friends of mine who were trying to put up a first ascent on some epic off-width climbing routes in the desert," Seigal said. "We hiked for miles looking for the perfect line, and then spotting this amazing crack that was about 400 feet off the ground. Using the drone, I was able to capture images that would have never been possible before."

3 of 9 Francesco Cattuto

Holiday mists

Great drone photos can be as much about the moment as the place, like this winning photo in the travel category from Francesco Cattuto of Italy. It shows the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, Umbria, on the day after Christmas.

"It was a foggy day, nonetheless I decided to go up in the sky to see more from above, and after the drone came out from the clouds the view was spectacular," Cattuto said. "I had the time to take some shots before the sun went down and the cloud got higher, hiding everything."

4 of 9 Szabolcs Ignacz

Romanian countryside

This shot by 25-year-old Szabolcs Ignacz of Romania captures a little of traditional Romanian life. It won second place in the nature and wildlife category.

"We were travelling by car and suddenly along the road from the distance I've spotted the sheep herd. 99% of the time I'm travelling with my drone," Ignacz explained. "(I) Did a quick setup and in under 2 minutes I was ready to fly and launched my (DJI) Inspire 1. The sheep herd had a really unique formation, so i took the shot."

5 of 9 Todd Kennedy aka DragonEye

Cable Beach, Australia

This second place travel photo winner was captured at Cable Beach, Western Australia, by Todd Kennedy. Look closely at the shadows and you can tell that the line of figures moving down the beach is actually a sunset camel tour.

6 of 9 JuanPablo Bayona aka Losmanesdeldrone

Stay in your lane

This shot was taken by journalist Juan Pablo Bayona while covering swimming competitions in Colombia where he works for a local newspaper called La Opinión. It won second prize in the sports category.

7 of 9 Jonathan Payet

Piton de la Fournaise volcano

Jonathan Payet of Reunion Island sent his very brave drone overhead Piton de la Fournaise volcano in this third prize winner in the nature and wildlife category.

"This picture was very difficult to catch because of ascending hot-air and 50Km/h (31 mph) wind. There was also sulfur next to the volcano so I need to have a mask while piloting," recalled Payet. "The picture was taken after the sunrise, at 5 degrees with...authorizations to access next to the most active volcano in the world."

8 of 9 TJ Balon

Alaskan lines

TJ Balon of Australia traveled to Alaska to capture guide Jason Bilek making some turns in the Chugach Mountains on a Heli-skiing excursion. It earned a third place win in the sports category for best drone photograph.

9 of 9 Karolis Janulis

Beach life

Drone photographer Karolis Janulis, originally from Lithuania, captured this unique view of a popular beach on Spain's Gran Canaria Island. It earned third prize in the travel category.

For more information on the contest and the winners, check out Dronestagram.

If you have taken some breathtaking drone shots of your own that you think rival these, tweet them at us @Crave and we might even highlight them in a readers' gallery of our own!

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