The shortlist for the annual Hilda Canter-Lund competition to find the best algal photograph has just been uploaded to the British Phycological Society website and here is a quick guide to the images. No less than three previous winners have made it to the shortlist again, along with three newcomers, so it looks like being a particularly intriguing year.
2013 winner Chris Carter has made it to the shortlist for the fifth time with an apical view of the desmid Pleurotaenium coronatum var. robustum with an image that combines aesthetics and technical ability in his own inimitable manner (above left). The desmid genus Pleurotaenium typically has cylindrical cells several times longer than wide, so getting a good image of one end of a cylinder that is about 1/20th of a millimetre in diameter is quite an achievement. He is joined on the shortlist by 2016 winner Tiff Stephens, who switches style this year to offer a macroscopic view of female reproductive cells of the subtidal red seaweed Bonnemaisonia clavata, collected off the coast of Vancouver Island in Canada (above right). The prominent branchlet in the centre-right with its own side branches is 1.5 mm long.
John Huisman shares with Chris Carter the honour of being the most shortlisted photographer in the competition, with five nominations including the winning entry in 2014. His image this year shows the green alga Ulva stenophylloides, at the centre of a diverse assemblage (above left), photographed whilst snorkelling off the coast of Western Australia. Heather Spalding, by contrast, makes her first appearance on the shortlist, with a view of Chara zylanica beds in a brackish lagoon in Hawaïi (above right). Note the small snail making its way across the plants in the foreground, reminding us of the important role that macroalgae play in structuring ecosystems.
We go back to Australia – the D’Entrecasteaux Channel in Tasmania actually – for the next entry: Luis Henriquez’s image of a young plant of the brown alga Carpoglossum confluens emerging from a bed of Caulerpa trifaria (above left). As well as providing a striking image, Luis’ image also tells a story of marine eutrophication as the slow growing brown algae such as Carpoglossum are struggling to compete with the fast growing green algae such as Caulerpa. Finally, Alizée Mauffrey brings a completely different style to the competition, with a collage of images of seaweeds exhibiting different functional traits (above right). As well as telling a story about how different morphological, phenological and physiological traits combine to equip each species to inhabit a particular niche, Alizée also creates a pleasantly abstract composition. She is also the first person to submit an image produced using a flatbed scanner rather than a camera (for more examples of this technique, see An Ocean Garden by Josie Iselin).
This shortlist is unusual in that there is only a single true micrograph and a single freshwater alga (both represented by Chris Carter’s image). A number – using both the light microscope and scanning electron microscope – were submitted but the judges who selected the shortlist felt that most did not quite make the grade. It was a close call in a couple of instances (and, in at least one case, some minor adjustments to contrast might have persuaded us) but that is the sad truth. It may simply be that taking a really good image using a high power microscope is a more technically demanding task than photographing macroalgae in situ? If nothing else, this does show just how good a photographer Hilda Canter-Lund was.
The final step in the competition is for the council of the British Phycological Society to vote for the winning entry. After that, a second (but equal) prize will be awarded for the best of the shortlisted entries in a contrasting style (i.e. a micrograph is a photo of a macroalga wins and vice versa). Both winners should be announced within the next couple of weeks so keep an eye on www.brphycsoc.org for the announcements. And, while you are there, browse through the archives of pictures that we’ve accumulated since the competition started in 2009 and enjoy some of the remarkable and beautiful organisms that they portray.