From on High: The Aerial Photography of George Steinmetz

Maasai herders pose for a photo with aerial photographer George Steinmetz after he landed near their flock of goats near the shore of Lake Natron in Kenya. Steinmetz was using his motorized paraglider to take aerial photos for National Geographic Magazine.

George Steinmetz is literally a ‘flying photographer’, famous for his stunning low altitude aerial photography. His images from the skies effortlessly convey the scale of a story, pulling you to take notice layers of details on the incredible terrains that cover this planet. George’s tool for getting these aerial shots is his ‘flying lawn chair’ – a light powered motorised paraglider that’s essentially a seat, a sail, a tank of gas, a propeller. That contraption and his trusty camera have given him a different perspective of some of the most remarkable places on earth. A more detailed bio of Steinmetz follows after the photo gallery.

Photo Gallery

Airplane shadow over Lake Natron, Tanzania. The lake is known for its deep red color due to the high alkalinity of its waters.
Late afternoon over the terraced fields of the Loess Plateau in Ningxia Province. The plateau is composed of silty dust deposited by thousands of years wind, and then carved into fertile terraces for farming.
Elephants grazing in Lake Amboseli, Amboseli National Park, Kenya.
Eastern margin of Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
A flock of herons wading in blackened waters lend an abstract feel to this image.
Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson is a 1970 earthworks sculpture of a 1,500 foot long spiral made of 6,650 tons of black basalt on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point in Utah. The spiral is only visible when drought lowers lake levels to the point where this once-submerged artwork comes back to the surface, encrusted in salt.
Shibam, the ancient trading capital of the Yemeni part of the Empty Quarter.
Aerial view of the volcanic peaks of the Hoggar, just east of Asakrem. The massif of the twin peaks seen here is known as “Tezouaï” and is one of the highest points in the Hoggar, higher than the Hermitage du Pére Charles Foucauld at 2780m on Asekrem.
Salt caravans pass each other in the enormous plain of the Ténéré Desert. A year of good rains to the south made unusually large numbers of camels healthy enough for the two month-long round trip to the oasis of Bilma, where local Tuareg traders buy salt to sell in Southern Niger and Northern Nigeria.
The spectacular Bet Giyorgis church in Lalibla, Ethiopia.
Colony of some 30,000 Cape Fur Seals on the beach near Cape Fria on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast. This is the Northern-most colony of Cape Fur Seals, that have congregated here to take advantage of the abundant fishery that relies on the last big upwelling of the Benguela Current in the Atlantic Ocean. This is one of the most remote sections of the Skeleton Coast, and access here is tightly controlled to protect wildlife and the delicate surface of the thin desert soils.
Pinnacles of sandstone rise through the orange dunes of the Karnasai Valley, a few kilometers from Chad’s border with Libya. The orange sand is formed by the erosion of Nubian Sandstone, which itself was formed from ancient sand dunes millions of years ago. Thus the sand is being recycled, from dune to rock to sand and back to dune again. This is one of the most remote parts of the Sahara. Except for one or two families of goat herders who come here once a year, it is uninhabited and otherworldly.
Thousand year old dwellings cling to the base of the Bandiagara Escarpment in Mali. This ancient village, Ireli, was once inhabited by the Telem people, but their homes and graineries are now used for burial of the Dogon people who live in a village at the bottom of the cliff.
Wheat harvest in the Palouse, a region of rolling hills that spans the border between Idaho and Washington.
Zebra herd in Namib Rand Nature Reserve in Namibia. The thin grasses here have a rare speckled pattern known as “fairy circles”, a phenomena that is poorly understood.
A steaming fumarolic ice tower above “Sauna Cave” at 3,550 meters on Mt. Erebus, Antarctica. Heat from magma (molten rock) in the volcano melts the snow and ice beneath the ice towers forming caves and tunnels. As the air temperatures are typically colder than -30°C the water vapor freezes into towers of ice. At this latitude and altitude, the ice never melts. The towers can grow over 15 meters high until they become unstable and collapse under their own weight or are blown over.
Spanning a quarter of the Arabian Peninsula is the world’s largest sand and sea, and one of the hottest places on earth – the Empty Quarter a desert area bordering Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen and the UAE. Rarely has this land and its people being photographed.
A group of herdsmen gather over campfire as nightfalls in the Empty Quarter.
Salt works, Teguidda-n-Tessoumt, Niger.


George Steinmetz: Detailed Biography

Born in California in 1957, George Steinmetz graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Geophysics. He began his career in photography after hitchhiking through Africa for 28 months. He spent fifteen years exploring the world’s deserts, much of it while piloting a motorized paraglider, enabling him to capture images of the world otherwise inaccessible by other modes of transportation. In his 35-year career, Steinmetz has won numerous awards for photography, including three prizes from World Press Photo, the Environmental Vision award from Pictures of the Year, a citation from the Overseas Press Club, and was named National Geographic’s Adventurer of the year in 2008. In 2006 he was awarded a grant by the National Science Foundation to document the work of scientists in the Dry Valleys and volcanoes of Antarctica. His current projects are documenting climate change and the global food supply, primarily with professional drones.

Steinmetz has just published his latest book, The Human Planet: Earth at the Dawn of the Anthropocene, a visual chronicle of how humans have come to be the dominant force shaping our planet, as seen through his 30 years of aerial photography across all seven continents. George’s images are accompanied by authoritative text by renowned science writer Andrew Revkin.

Leave a Reply