My Day Job is a Geoscientist: Winners of the EGU Photo Competition

My Day Job is a Geoscientist: Winners of the EGU Photo Competition

The European Geoscience Union is the second largest group of geoscientists in the world. So what happens when you throw open a photo competition at its annual conference to over 16,000 participants from 113 countries? Meet two of the winners to find out.

The EGU has been running a photo competition since 2010 in conjunction with their annual conference — submissions simply need to be on "any broad theme related to the Earth, planetary, and space sciences." That's a wide remit, but then the EGU itself covers a vast array of science and the photo competition is designed to reflect this. It actually grew out of Imaggeo, EGU's open access image library where material is submitted using a Creative Commons license to enable the wide use of photos on geoscience topics.

In terms of the competition, it pays to remember that it is not a photo competition - OK, it is a photo competition, because you submit photos to it, but it's actually a science competition. So in the same way that writing a science book isn't about a piece of literary work, so it is with the photo competition. It's about presenting the best science, the most interesting stories, and, of course, aesthetically and technically good images. A panel of judges shortlists the ten finalists before the images are displayed and put to a public vote by the conference participants. Ultimately, there is not a single winner, but the three most popular images. I caught up with two of the winners, Professor Dr Stefan Winkler and Dr Vytas Huth.

Stefan Winkler: Temporary Pond within Ice Fall of Fox Glacier

Professor Dr Stefan is a researcher working at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg in Germany. From 2007-2009 he was a German Research Foundation research fellow on a project that investigated glacier chronology in the Southern Alps of New Zealand over the past 6000 years. Whilst based at Fox Glacier Township he took regular helicopter flights up to the moraines (large masses of sediment at the end of the glacier) at Fox Glacier. I asked Stefan how his winning photo came about: "On one of the flights, we ascended along the Fox Glacier tongue into its higher glacier area and eventually crossed the Main Divide to see other glaciers. The photo was a "side-product"… I took many photos during that flight, but almost all others were purely scientific and not aesthetic."

Stefan picked this photo because it is aesthetically pleasing showing the subject of his work (textural and color changes) as well as depicting how dynamic glaciers are. The crevasses show the breakup of ice, whilst the meltwater pond demonstrates the impact of climate. The real acid test? Stefan has actually displayed this image in his flat.

Stefan is a regular entrant to the competition and placed 6th in 2017 (Nor'Wester in the Southern Alps of New Zealand). This particular image was shot back in 2007 with a Canon EOS350D which he still uses. Other than the addition of the EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5 it's still in active service. The other key element of gear… was the Hughes 500 helicopter! The pilot removed the side door enabling Stefan to shoot directly on to the glacier.

I asked Stefan if there were any photographers he was inspired by. Rather than any individual, and as a geoscientist, he responded:

I am inspired by the landscape and natural objects I am taking photos of

That said, he likes the images of Craig Potton, a Kiwi photographer.

Thinking to the future, I finished by asking if there was a place he would most like to photograph. Being a glaciologist, he is naturally attracted to Greenland, Antarctica, and the Himalaya. The science comes first, with photography a happy byproduct.

Dr Vytas Huth: Meet Me at the Lighthouse (Article's Lead Image)

Vytas is currently a funded researcher working at the University of Rostock in Germany where he works on guidelines for restoring peat bogs. Whilst "Meet me at the lighthouse" is an night-sky shot, his research area isn't space science. Rather, he has long pursued astrophotography. As Vytas says

I just really like it and I'm also a little proud of the outcome

Staying true to yourself and promoting the images you love will produce results you are proud of. It's obviously a huge bonus when other people love them too!

The image itself was taken on Bruny Island, Tasmania where Vytas was visiting a friend in Hobart. Vytas was shooting with a Nikon D610 which has since been stolen and replaced with a D750, both great night-sky cameras. The D610 was also used for his 2016 winning photo of "There is never enough time to count all the stars that you want", another night-sky shot!

In terms of other inspiring photographers Cartier-Bresson is up there as a dominating historical figure, however a contemporary inspiration includes Mark Gee whose tutorials first got Vytas started. Vytas also cites inspiration in the form of local surf photographers Felix Gänsicke, Lucas Günther, and Dan Petermann. And the future? The Arctic or Antarctic hold a special allure, however one thing holds back a tourist visit: "the CO2 footprint must be insane!"

Competitions and Winners

The EGU Photo Competition provides a useful microcosm to think about competitions and winning images. There are three things to bear in mind when viewing competitions and, perhaps more importantly, entering them. Firstly, it is probably a general truth that it's not the best technical image, most spectacular subject, or most compelling photo that will win a competition. It might well be, but it is not necessarily the case. Secondly, every competition has a subject area that it is focused upon. Finally, judges are real people, no matter what you might think!

When you enter a competition these points might help you focus upon what you submit. Firstly, competitions are about stories because that is what the human psyche responds to. Let your images tell tales that let the viewer's imagination run riot. Secondly, make sure your photo is on-point for the competition you've entered. Finally, play to the desires of the judges. Get to know who they are so that you can, at least in part, help choose your images. And, to take a leaf out of Vytas' book... stay true to yourself! Go back and look at the EGU's winning images again to see, read, and understand the stories they tell.

Lead Image by Vytas Huth, Copy Image by Stefan WInkler. Used under Creative Commons.

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