American photographer John Stanmeyer won the World Press Photo of the Year award for 2013 on Friday with a moonlit shot of African migrants in Djibouti holding their cellphones to the sky, seeking a better reception signal.

The 19-person jury chose 53 winning photographers in 18 categories out of nearly 100,000 submissions from around the globe for one of photojournalism's most prestigious awards.

Syria tank shell

This photo is one in a series of 12 that won for "Spot News Stories." Reuters photographer Goran Tomasevic captured rebel fighters in Syria preparing for an attack on a government army post, losing their commander to a sniper and coming under tank shelling (pictured). (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

Stanmeyer, of the VII photo agency, was working for National Geographic. The photo has a mysterious, eerie quality as the phones held by the men in the picture glow the same colour as the moon. The signal from neighbouring Somalia is cheaper, and they are hoping to send and receive messages from relatives abroad.

Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, is a common stopping point for migrants attempting to reach Europe or the Middle East.

'Not so much romantic as dignified'

One jury member, Jillian Edelstein, said the photo raised issues of "technology, globalization, migration, poverty, desperation, alienation, [and] humanity." Another, Susan Linfield, said it stood out for its portrayal of migrants. "So many pictures of migrants show them as bedraggled and pathetic, but this photo is not so much romantic as dignified," she said.

The Associated Press won first place in single-shot "Observed Portraits" for Markus Schreiber's picture of a disappointed woman in Pretoria, South Africa, who had just learned she would not be able to view Nelson Mandela's casket.

Among other standouts were a series by photographer Goran Tomasevic of Reuters of a rebel attack on a government checkpoint in Damascus, Syria, on Jan. 30 that won first place in the "Spot News Stories" category. One black-and-white image captures the instant after a shell has landed and a fleeing man is engulfed by dust and rubble.