Tadpoles swimming against the backdrop of a clear blue sky; a massive school of fish desperately trying to avoid the toothy mouth of a young shark; a bead of water delicately perched on the leaf of a fern. These are the top three winners of Royal Society Publishing’s first photography competition, "Life through a lens: Celebrating science photography," which showcased some of the year’s most evocative images that capture the beauty of the natural world.
Thanks to few common tadpoles, Belgian biologist Bert Willaert has taken home first place in the competition. Willaert snapped the winning shot after catching a glimpse at a group of tadpoles swimming just beneath the surface of a clear canal, inspiring him to dive in and see what the world might look like from their perspective.
“The underwater world is only accessed by a limited number of people, and snorkeling in the fresh water in Belgium I was surprised by the beautiful scenery and the silence,” Willaert says in a statement. “To conserve the natural world I think drawing attention to the beauty of these ordinary moments in our own neighborhoods, including our own backyards, is particularly important. I believe people will only conserve things when they know it exists — and how often will people have had snorkeled in their own garden pond?”
It was that shift in perspective that won Willaert the grand prize, judge and award-winning nature photographer Alex Badyaev said in a statement. Willaert’s photo reminded him that from a tadpole’s point of view, their world isn’t just framed against lily pads and muddy ponds.
“To me the winning photo communicates the power of a common biological phenomenon visualized in a new light, and from a perspective that emphasizes the other half of the ecosystem; the half we usually miss when looking down at a tadpoles’ puddle, but one that is very much part of the tadpoles’ own view — the clouds, the trees, and the sky,” Badyaev said.
Willaert faced some stiff competition. The contest celebrated the 350th anniversary of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and drew more than 1,000 entries. The runners up are both incredible images that document fleeting moments like a gorilla gazing off into the abyss and a desert snake hidden in a sand dune.
Germany’s Claudia Pogoreutz won first-place in the Animal Behavior category for her overhead photo of a young shark trying to nab a mouthful from a school of clupeid fish that were keeping the predator at fin’s length.
The United Kingdom’s Ulrike Bauer won the Evolutionary Biology category for his close-up shot of a water fern "holding" a drop of water with hollow whisks that coat its leaves and help keep it dry.
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Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.