Photographer George Steinmetz has won numerous awards for his distinctive photography. As a regular contributor to 'National Geographic' magazine, he is almost constantly traveling somewhere new. Unlike many photographers who take pride in being extremely close to their subjects, however, Steinmetz prefers to shoot from above the fray. Really far above it, in fact, using a custom-designed, motorized paraglider. The resulting images (which have been collected in three books: 'African Air,' 'Empty Quarter,' and 'Desert Air'), are stunning and feature utterly transporting, rarely seen perspectives of our planet, with a particular focus on the beauty and danger of the world's extreme deserts.
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The technology of photography has completely changed since Steinmetz first began shooting professionally 30 years ago; the techniques haven't, according to Steinmetz. For him, photography is less about the tools and more about passion, point of view, and craft. "There's a language to photography and you have to be in control of it," he says. "You may have a zoom lens, but that doesn't mean anything. What are you trying to say as a photographer?" Before you can dream big, though, you have to learn the fundamentals of your tools. We asked Steinmetz to offer his insights. He took time off from a shoot in China to guide us through a mini master class of what it takes to snap great photos.
Add drama with depth of field.
Understanding the concept of depth of field is essential to becoming a better photographer. If you're unfamiliar, depth of field refers to the areas of a photograph that are in focus. Images with a shallow depth of field have only a small range in focus while the background or the foreground is blurry. "By using a minimum depth of field, the petals on a flower will stand out. It can be a very strong effect, just like total depth of field can be," Steinmetz says. "But you want to use these things with meaning. It can't just be schtick."
For instance, a lens with a big f/1.4 aperture will create a shallow depth of field in a portrait, so your intended subject really pops. Landscape photographers, on the other hand, may want everything in their sweeping panoramas to look sharp and so instead will opt for an f/22 setting with a wide depth of field.
Credit: Photograph by Ant Green