Luck doesn't always figure in a Niwa scientist's vocabulary, but that's exactly what Crispin Middleton describes how he took his prize-winning picture for the Special Award in this year's Niwa photographic competition.

"Despite the squid only being around 10-15mm long, my wife spotted it from the boat as we were driving along the coast of the Poor Knights. By the time we anchored I was sure it would have made a getaway but as soon as I backward rolled into the water, the little thing was right there in front of me posing for photographs. I wish more marine critters would behave like this."

Hamish Sutton tramped for three days, crossed three gorges and negotiated a long section of boulders to get his shot of the Ivory Glacier.
Hamish Sutton tramped for three days, crossed three gorges and negotiated a long section of boulders to get his shot of the Ivory Glacier.

The judges - photography professionals Ross Giblin of Fairfax Media and Gerry le Roux from Science Lens - said the squid looked like ballet dancers on stage. "The more you look at this photo the more details you see. We love the subtle, translucent detail against the very dark background."

The remote and extreme environments in which the scientists work provide perfect backdrops for some amazing photography, but other award winners had their work cut out.

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Environmental monitoring technician Hamish Sutton tramped for three days, crossed three gorges and negotiated a long section of boulders to get his shot, which won the Our Places category of the competition.

Jennifer Beaumont took her photo of a brittle star hiding in an anemone when snorkelling in Okianawa, Japan.
Jennifer Beaumont took her photo of a brittle star hiding in an anemone when snorkelling in Okianawa, Japan.

For some, it was more like being on holiday: Jennifer Beaumont took her photo of a brittle star hiding in an anemone when snorkelling on a reef at the Sesoko Marine Station in Okinawa, Japan, while Jochen Bind's photograph of Fox River was taken during a road trip down the West Coast of the South Island. They won the Our Work and Freshwater awards.

However and wherever the pictures were taken, these images show that Niwa staff are more than meets the eye.