The year's most spectacular photos taken from drones

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A website dedicated to the growing field of photography via drones has once again chosen some of the best photos taken by drone enthusiasts around the world, and they show some spectacular vistas from unique angles.

The top choices in Dronestagram's third annual International Drone Photography Contest include shots of a foggy Italian basilica, a stark winter forest, and an adventurous climber tackling a sheer cliff.

"For each photo reviewed, we always tried to keep in mind: What makes a great drone photo?" explained Guillaume Jarret, Dronestagram co-founder. "A good drone photo is a picture that you immediately identify as a drone photo: it is taken at a low altitude, near the target of the picture, and you must see on the picture that it is impossible it has been taken with another device than a drone. Drones can capture images in places that are impossible to reach with another flying device, as you can see with the hiking picture."

That hiking photo won first place in the sports and adventure category.  Photographer Max Seigal took the shot of a climber in Moab, Utah.  His view down the cliff face is enough to send chills down the spine of anyone afraid of heights.

"I spent the day filming a couple friends of mine who were trying to put up a first ascent on some epic offwidth climbing routes in the desert," he recalled.  "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!"

Other winners in the contest were selected from 6,000 entries by a panel that included a photographer and editor from National Geographic and members of the Dronestagram staff.  They awarded fantastical and fun shots showing everything from crowded beaches to the view straight down into a volcano.

"This picture was very difficult to catch because off ascending hot air and 50 Km/h [31mph] wind," volcano photographer Jonathan Payet offered. "There was also sulfur next to the volcano so I needed to have a mask while piloting."

LINK: See the full-size photos and read more from the photographers

Several of the photographers expressed a common interest in moving their craft forward, and hoped regulations would one day be loosened.

"Unfortunately, the laws regarding drones are very, very restrictive and you can't fly freely. I welcome the adoption of the directive aiming to introduce new rules about this," added Francesco Cattuto, whose photo of an Italian basilica won first place in the travel category.  "Can [you] imagine how it could be magical to fly freely over the skies of Rome, Florence or Venice?"