Travel + Leisure photo editor Whitney Lawson evaluates five snapshots from finalists of our monthly photo contest and explains why they work.

This shot of Prague is set apart by its aerial perspective, which makes the people and buildings look almost like toys. Most European cities have churches or clock towers that you can climb for a couple of euros—it’s the easiest way to capture the streets below from a unique vantage point.

The shooter used a center spot filter to focus on the middle of a London stairwell. The result is dreamlike and intriguing. To create a similar effect digitally, upload your photo onto, a website that will simulate the technique.

A storm over the Gulf of Mexico in Sanibel, Florida, provided the wonderfully dramatic light in the image here. The small silhouetted figure adds mystery to the scene. For night shots, use high speed settings (1600 or 3200 ISO), which are more sensitive to light and register more detail.

The Grand Canyon is a familiar icon, but the light dusting of snow at the top of the canyon adds an otherworldly quality. Try shooting during the off-season to capture a classic view in an unexpected way.

I love this glimpse of a girl in Israel lost in thought. You wonder where she’s going—or where she’s coming from. When capturing local flavor, candid photos like this can be a welcome change from posed portraits.