on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

End Frame: Lake Baikal from Space by National Geographic and NASA

Joe Cornish chooses one of his favourite images

Joe Cornish

Joe Cornish

Professional landscape photographer.


This End Frame features one photograph, from a 1996 book, Orbit, published by National Geographic and NASA. The majority of images within were shot from the Space Shuttle in the 1980s and ‘90s. There are some earlier ones from the Apollo programme as well. Most of the images are of the earth’s surface, with just a few concentrating on ionospheric meteorology, like auroras.

Seen from the perspective of space, the cartographic topography of earth is visually filtered by the weather, any pollution presence, and the prevailing lighting conditions in the atmosphere. Well-composed, these images can have all the colour and textural effervescence of abstract painting, while remaining grounded in the exquisite reality of what they are. This example showing Lake Baikal carries an additional jolt of significance when we read the accompanying caption that reminds us it contains one fifth of all the fresh water on our planet. But really, any number of the images within Orbit would justify inclusion here.

This one photograph is a reminder of the millions of scientific photographs which have not only informed and educated us, but also astounded us with their beauty. For ground-breaking science to continue to find funding, communications with those outside the science community are fundamental. Quite simply, the photographic output of NASA and related organisations do a lot of the heavy lifting in science outreach. And if these images were not beautiful, awesome or inspiring, would they work? At some deep level we recognise a beauty, power and wonder in these photographs that cannot be adequately described in words. This is where science depends on art.

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