Whether you’re an aspiring wildlife photographer or shopping for a gift for that friend who has everything, these stunningly illustrated books look perfect on a coffee table or a lab bench – and they’re great reads, too.
Each one has full colour, glossy images that show expertly captured weather phenomena, 3D depictions of cosmic clouds, magnificent birds of prey and even the macroscopic world of fungi. To put it one way, these are the kinds of books that will keep your guests entertained while you’re making them the perfect cup of tea (with a little help from science).
This list is our pick of the best photography books for your coffee table, but for even more great titles to add to your reading list, check out our list of the best science books or the best science books for kids.
The best science photography books for your coffee table
A Portrait of the Tree: A celebration of favourite trees from around Britain
This dedication to British trees features favourites from Joanna Lumley, Alan Titchmarsh and George McGavin, among others. The photographer, Adrian Houston, asked celebrities to answer the question: What is your favourite tree?
Their answers inspired the pages of A Portrait of the Tree. Stunning images celebrate trees from around the UK – the sweet-smelling magnolia in Regent’s Park, the endangered giant redwoods of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and the ancient bark of West Country yew trees.
Houston’s book asks us to consider our own experiences in nature, and to appreciate anew the long-lasting strength of these 370-million-year-old plants.
The Universe: The book of the BBC TV series
Andrew Cohen, with a foreword by Professor Brian Cox
Companion to the new BBC series, this book tells the story of the Universe’s creation in true Prof Brian Cox fashion – detailed spacescapes, glowing galaxies and simple, accessible answers to some of life’s biggest questions.
While there are lots of large coffee table books in a similar vein, this recently published title goes right to the edge of our scientific knowledge. It’s a must-have for any budding astronaut.
Dinosaurs: New visions of a lost world
Michael J Benton
Think that dinosaurs were all big, scaly and camouflage coloured? Think again.
Palaeobiologist Michael J Benton has set out to challenge everything we thought we knew about dinosaurs, diving into the latest research to bring these long-extinct creatures to life.
Of course, this isn’t technically a photography book, but the illustrations by expert palaeoartist Bob Nicholls make this coffee table book a real treasure. It’s thoroughly deserving of its place on this list, and sure to be loved by any recipient this Christmas.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 31
You can always rely on Wildlife Photographer of the Year to wow us with some of the most stunning and thought-provoking images, and this year’s competition was no exception.
Images of stunning diversity and compelling stories have been collected in this classy coffee table book. Our personal favourites show a group of cheetahs struggling to swim across a raging river, and a rather scary venomous spider caught hiding under a photographer’s bed.
At a time when the future of our planet is uppermost in our minds, this book is a timely reminder of what is at stake.
Macro Photography: The Universe at our feet
A more technical book than some of the others on this list, but the how-tos are complemented by images of incredible detail. Whether you want to capture the insects in your garden, or the ripple made by adding milk to your coffee, you’ll find the wealth of advice from macro photographer Don Komarechka accessible and even enjoyable.
Macro photography takes practice, and patience! But if you’re in need of inspiration, take a look at these mesmerising microscopic images from the Nikon Small World photography competition 2021.
The Elements: A visual history of their discovery
In this fascinating visual history of the elements, Philip Ball spans over 3,000 years of scientific discovery from the classical era of Plato to the present day.
Each element and story behind their discovery has been told in detail with the use of engaging images including scientific firsts in photography, as well as interesting artefacts and some beautiful historical drawings.
More than this, the book is virtually a history of scientific discovery itself.
Iconotypes: A compendium of butterflies & moths
Richard Vane-Wright (Introduction)
Admittedly quite specific, this beautiful reproduction of William Jones’s unpublished compendium of butterflies and moths is a snapshot of a time when insect collecting was beginning to become popular.
Many of the species in this book were being described for the first time, and the work done by amateur entomologists such as Jones became a very important source of reference to professional scientists.
Containing 1,600 illustrations, this lovingly reproduced volume is finally available over 200 years after it was completed.
The best books of all time
We reckon this is a fine selection of photography and coffee table books, but if nothing here takes your fancy, take a look at a few more of our book recommendations: