Scientists across the world were asked to submit their images to the 2017 Royal Society Publishing Photography Competition and they sent in more than 1100 images – our highest amount so far.
We invited entries from the categories of Astronomy, Behaviour, Earth Science and Climatology, Ecology and Environmental Science, and Micro-imaging. These were ably judged by Alex Badyaev, an evolutionary biologist and previous category winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition; Jon Blundy FRS, Subject Editor for Royal Society Open Science; Ineke De Moortel, Editorial Board Member for Philosophical Transactions A, and Ulrike Muller, Editor for Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The works from the winners and shortlisted entrants are now presented. Whether it is a volcano violently spewing lava, the pensive nature of a polar bear or the intricacies of a spider's web, we think you will find something new from the exquisite images taken.
Category and overall winner: Earth science and climatology. "Icy sugar cubes." by Peter Convey. The scale of Antarctica is awesome but hard to grasp. This photo, taken in early 1995 during a flight over the English Coast (southern Antarctic Peninsula) at about 74 degrees south, illustrates the scale of unusual bi-directional crevassing as an ice sheet is stretched in two directions over an underlying rise, with a Twin Otter aeroplane as scale. The photo was taken with a Pentax ME Super camera and 70-300 mm zoom on Kodachrome 64 slide film, with no technical details recorded, and has been scanned at the British Antarctic Survey.
Category winner: Astronomy. "Lunar spotlight, South Pole, Antarctica." by Daniel Michalik. Ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere create a rare optical phenomenon: a light pillar underneath the Moon. The cold dry atmosphere at the Geographic South Pole favours this and similar phenomena (sun/moon dogs, halos, arcs); they are much more often seen here than in the non-polar regions. The light pillar creates a dramatic spotlight on the out-of-this-world appearance of the frozen Antarctic plateau. Three of the telescopes located at the south pole are visible to the right of the picture. A flag line helps finding the way to the telescopes during the five months of continuous darkness. Jupiter is visible as a bright spot left of the Moon. The photographer is currently wintering at the South Pole and working for the 10m South Pole Telescope, the left-most radio dish visible in the picture. The picture was taken as one single long exposure in -60°C with minor contrast and exposure adjustments.
Category winner: Behaviour. "Respiro." by Antonia Doncila. This photograph was taken while crossing the Fram Strait to recover and redeploy mooring equipment near the eastern Greenland coast. Since the Arctic Ocean is warming at double the rate compared with the rest of the globe, it was painful yet unsurprising for us to see that at 80°N sea-ice was sparse. On our journey, we saw polar bears swimming in an ocean of open water with no shadow of sea-ice for them to rest their heavy bodies on. Those polar bears were doomed to die from overheating while swimming hopeless in any direction. The protagonist of this photograph has been lucky. He found a portion of fast ice which rapidly became his home. His gaze into the water represents the product of our societal wrongdoings. It is also a symbol of hope because what has melted can become frozen again. Canon EOS 5D Mark II + Tamron telephoto lens (70-300mm, f5.6); Picture's contrast was slightly adjusted in Picasa Photo Editor.
Category winner: Ecology and environmental science. "Waiting in the shallows." by Nico de Bruyn. Killer whales suddenly enter a small bay at Subantarctic Marion Island, surprising a small huddle of King Penguins busy preening themselves in the water. The penguins on the beach in the foreground are focused on this sudden danger, while an endemic Lesser Sheathbill surveys the colony for edible tidbits, totally unconcerned with the appearance of the killer whales. I was busy censusing elephant seals further up the beach when the sudden splashing by the penguins alerted me to the killer whale appearance. On an island filled with life and with the opportunity for incredible wildlife sightings, you learn to keep your camera close at hand. Your good fortune in getting a good photograph is only surpassed by your constantly developing skill of retrieving the camera from within its waterproof layers! This photo was taken with an old Canon EOS350D, at a focal length of 55mm (Canon standard lens), Exposure time 1/200 with f-stop f/7.1 at an ISO speed of 200.
Category winner: Microimaging. "Olive oil drop family hanging together." by Hervé Elettro. Inspired by the micro-glue droplets produced by the Nephila Madagascariensis spider to trap its prey, we began thinking to ourselves "What if these droplets could do more than just gluing?". Surface tension, the ability of a fluid to oppose deformation, indeed allows droplets to swallow any fibre made slack under compression, thus tightening the web against natural elements. A first step in the understanding of this mechanism was to use a model system for capture silk: drops on a thin soft fibre. The hanging olive oil drop family was born. Taken with a Nikon D300 camera and Phlox backlight at 10000 lux. Rudimentary Photoshop corrections.Runner up: Astronomy. "Diamond ring through thin clouds." by Wei-Feng Xue. The American Eclipse of 2017 seen from the part of the path of totality that went through northern Georgia. This is the diamond ring lighting up some very thin cloud structures, looking almost like space clouds (i.e. a nebula). Also in the photo, the solar corona was dimmed a little by the thin clouds but was still visible, and some Baily's beads and solar prominences that can be seen around the diamond. This photo was taken using a Canon EOS 6D digital SLR camera with a Canon EF 70-200mm + 2x extender at 400mm, and was processed using Photoshop CC.
Runner up: Behaviour. "Breeding." by David Costantini. Arctic terns (Sterna paradisaea) mate for life. They breed on the ground, and males and females share incubation duties. While on a research trip to Svalbard, I came across this couple of Arctic terns that found a clever solution to solve the difficult task of finding a good place to breed in human-modified landscapes: they made their own house on an abandoned shovel. This photo also shows how vocal communication between mates is very important in terns to coordinate parental efforts in order to achieve a successful reproduction. Minor modifications were done in terms of sharpness and saturation.
Runner up: Ecology and environmental science. "Invincible ants." by Thomas Endlein. Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants, which draw nutrients from trapped and digested insects. The species shown here (Nepenthes bicalcarata) secretes sweet nectar on the rim and fang-like structures, which are very slippery for most insects except for one specialised ant (Camponotus schmitzii). The ants live in the curled hollow tendrils of the plant and manage to climb in and out of the pitcher without any difficulties to steal a bit of nectar, as shown here. Moreover, the ants can even swim in the digestive fluid to feed on trapped insects. It is still not fully understood what the benefits are for the plant and how the ants can cope with the slippery surfaces. Canon EOS 5DM2 with 2.8/100mm macro lens and macro twin flash; 1/60sec and f16 at ISO 100. Processing used: slight increase of exposure (+0.3stops) and added clarity (+23) in Adobe Lightroom.
Runner up: Microimaging. "Water bear embryo." by Vladimir Gross. Tardigrades (aka water bears) are tiny invertebrate animals that are able to survive extreme environmental conditions. This image depicts a 50-hour-old embryo of the species Hypsibius dujardini, taken with a scanning electron microscope at a magnification of 1800x. The embryo in the image is approximately 1/15 of a millimeter in length.
Runner up: Earth science and climatology. "Bow first." by Giuseppe Suaria. The Russian research vessel Akademik Tryoshnikov leans the bow against the Mertz Glacier's snout in Eastern Antarctica. The photo was taken moments before deploying ROPOS, a Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle (ROV) under the glacier tongue to investigate the melting of the ice-sheet after a piece of ice protruding 100 kilometres (62 miles) out into the Southern Ocean broke away from the main body of the tongue in 2010. These scientific investigations were taken during the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition, an unprecedented three-month expedition organized by the Swiss Polar Institute, aimed to gain a better understanding of Antarctica and of the Southern Ocean as a whole. 22 scientific projects and more than 150 researchers were present onboard, covering a wide range of fields, including glaciology, climatology, biology and oceanography. Minor contrast and tone regulations were applied in post-processing.
Honourable mention: Earth science and climatology. "Pele's fire." by Sabrina Koehler. I had the unique opportunity this year to capture nature's creation, the 61G lava flow at the current Pu'u O'o eruption site of the active Kilauea volcano in Hawaii's Volcano National Park. Hawai'i, or the Big Island, is the last of a series of islands created by this volcano, and still growing landmass every year. I went there by boat since it's the way to go if you want to get very close. It was stunning. I had my 55-300 mm Tele lens and didn't even need the full extend to capture the image. That's how close we were.
Honourable mention: Astronomy. "Within reach." by Petr Horálek. The skies above ESO's Paranal Observatory resemble oil on water as greens, yellows and blues blend to create an iridescent skyscape. The rocky, barren landscape below evokes an alien world, complementing the cosmic display above. The main feature: our beautiful home galaxy, the Milky Way, arching across the Chilean night sky and framing the observer on the left. The light from billions of stars combine to create the Milky Way's glow, with huge clouds of dark dust blocking the light and creating the observed mottled pattern. A natural effect, airglow, is responsible for the swathes of green and orange light that appear to be emanating from the horizon. ESO's Very Large Telescope can be seen as a speck in the background to the right. Its neighbour, slightly lower down, is the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy.
Honourable mention: Behaviour. "Toss the scorpion - Indian roller playing with the kill." by Susmita Datta. It was an early morning safari drive at Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, India. When everyone was busy tracking the tiger movement, this little moment happened on a tree branch, giving me the chance to shoot the sequence. Though light was poor (that was dealt with, in the processing part), it was still great to witness the natural history moment of survival between the prey and its predator. This Indian roller is establishing its superiority and showing off the kill (a scorpion) before finishing it off by thrashing it against the tree branches. The shot was taken at Tadoba, India. Canon 60D, Lens – Sigma 150-500.
Honourable mention: Ecology and environmental science. "The rainy season, the green tree frog and the maintenance of life." by Carlos Jared. The small tree frog Phyllomedusa nordestina lives in the Brazilian semi-arid desert (Caatinga) and remains, at least for 8 months of the year, totally hidden, protecting itself against desiccation. Early in the year, after the first summer rains, the dry, brown and cactaceous landscape of the Caatinga gives rise to a magnificent green scenario, awaking the dormant flora and fauna. The apparent fragile tree frogs follow this same tendency and change their usual brownish colour to the fresh summer green. With this new garment, they mate within the flowers and leaves that also colour the scenario, often (as in this case), with natural pomp. Reproduction usually occurs in puddles or on the shores of small temporary swamps. Everything must be very fast because drought will ruthlessly return. Camera: Nikon D3 Lens: AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105 mm. ISO 250, f/45, 1/60. Flash: Nikon R1C1 wireless close-up speedlight.
Honourable mention: Microimaging. "Acari trapped in spiderweb." by Bernardo Segura. The spiders of the genus Austrochilus build some very conspicuous webs in Chilean temperate forests, and it's impossible to not be amazed by the gigantic horizontal sheet of spiders up to a meter long. After taking some photos of it near Nahuelbuta National Park, I discovered that some threads have some incredible beautiful bluish tones. I also realized that those threads are probably specialized in prey capture, and the spring-like structure that can be seen inside the threads probably has something to do with the elasticity. While taking photos of this amazing structure I saw a small acari hanging from the web, which may have fallen into the web and the spider didn't notice.