7 of the best science photo books to put on your coffee table in 2021

Whether you’re an aspiring nature photographer or shopper for a gift for the friend who has it all, these wonderfully illustrated books look perfect on a coffee table or a lab bench – and they’re great to read, too.

Each one has full-color glossy images showing expertly captured weather phenomena, 3D images of cosmic clouds, magnificent birds of prey and even the macroscopic world of mushrooms. To put it in a way, these are the kind of books that will keep your guests entertained while you make them the perfect cup of tea (with a little help from science).

This list is our selection of the best photo 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 photo books for your coffee table

A Portrait of the Tree: A celebration of favorite trees from across the UK

A portrait of the wooden cover

Adrian Houston

This dedication to British trees features favorites from, among others, Joanna Lumley, Alan Titchmarsh and George McGavin. The photographer, Adrian Houston, asked celebrities to answer the question: What is your favorite tree?

Their response inspired the pages of A portrait of the tree. Stunning images pay homage to trees from across the UK – the sweet-smelling magnolia in Regent’s Park, the endangered giant redwoods of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the old bark of West Country roof trees.

Houston’s book asks us to consider our own experiences in nature and to re-appreciate the long-lasting strength of these 370 million-year-old plants.

The Universe: The book from the BBC TV series


Andrew Cohen, with a foreword by Professor Brian Cox

As a companion to the new BBC series, this book tells the story of the creation of the universe in true Professor Brian Cox fashion – detailed space landscapes, glowing galaxies and simple, accessible answers to some of life’s biggest questions.

While there are plenty of great coffee table books in the same way, this recently released title goes right to the edge of our scientific knowledge. It is a must-have for any budding astronaut.

Dinosaurs: New visions of a lost world


Michael J Benton

Do you think the dinosaurs were all big, scaly and camouflage colored? Think again.

Palaeobiologist Michael J Benton has set out to challenge everything we thought we knew about dinosaurs, and dive into the latest research to bring these long-extinct creatures to life.

Of course, this is technically not a photography book, but the illustrations by expert paleo artist Bob Nicholls make this coffee table book a true treasure. It deserves its place on this list and will definitely be loved by every recipient this Christmas.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 31


You can always count on the Wildlife Photographer of the Year to impress us with some of the most amazing and thoughtful images, and this year’s competition was no exception.

Images of astonishing diversity and compelling stories have been collected in this classic coffee table book. Our personal favorites show a group of cheetahs struggling to swim across a rushing river, and a rather frighteningly poisonous spider caught hiding under a photographer’s bed.

At a time when the future of our planet is paramount in our minds, this book is a timely reminder of what is at stake.

Macro photography: The universe at our feet

Cover of Macro Photography: The Universe at Our Feet

Don Komarechka

A more technical book than some of the others on this list, but the guide is supplemented with pictures with incredible details. Whether you want to catch the insects in your garden, or the ripple by adding milk to your coffee, you will find a wealth of advice from macro photographer Don Komarechka available and even entertaining.

Macro photography requires practice and patience! But if you need inspiration, take a look at these fascinating microscopic images from the 2021 Nikon Small World Photography Contest.

The Elements: A visual story of their discovery

Cover of The Elements

Philip Ball

In this fascinating visual history of the elements, Philip Ball spans 3,000 years of scientific discovery from Plato’s classical era to the present day.

Each element and each story behind their discovery has been told in detail with the use of engaging images, including scientific firsts in photography, as well as interesting artifacts and some beautiful historical drawings.

More than this, the book is practically a story of scientific discoveries themselves.

Icon types: A compendium of butterflies and moths

Front page of Iconotypes

Richard Vane-Wright (Introduction)

Admittedly quite specific, this beautiful rendition of William Jones’ unpublished compendium of butterflies and moths is a snapshot of a time when insect collection began to become popular.

Many of the species in this book were described for the first time, and the work done by amateur entomologists such as Jones became a very important source of reference for professional scientists.

With 1,600 illustrations, this lovingly reproduced volume is finally available over 200 years after it was completed.

The best books ever

We reckon this is a fine selection of photography and coffee table books, but if nothing here suits you, take a look at a few more of our book recommendations:

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