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.
Don't waste cash on a zoom lens.
When shopping for a lens for your new DSLR or mirrorless, compact system camera, the natural inclination is to go for a long zoom lens to help you get close to the action from far away. Steinmetz, however, suggests buying a fixed focal-length lens (also called a prime lens). It'll not only help you learn the basics – you're forced to "zoom with your feet" and so have a closer relationship with your subject – but you'll save cash, too. "Using a fixed focal-length lens is really great training. It's as if you used a computer to write and then switched to writing in longhand," Steinmetiz say. "It forces you to think more about each sentence, so you write more clearly."
For instance, you can get a 50mm or 35mm prime lens with a "fast" aperture (one with a larger opening in the lens) for a fraction of the price of a zoom lens with a similar aperture. A fast or wide aperture lens lets you capture brighter, sharper images in dim light. They're also great for portraits, because they blur the background to bring attention to the subject's face.
Credit: Photograph by Ant Green