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.
It's not about the camera.
The first assumption of any budding shutterbug is that the magic comes from the equipment. There's certainly an ounce of truth to that – great lenses do take great shots – but Steinmetz cautions that you can't buy your way to photographer status. "I find this obsession with camera brands persistently astounding," Steinmetz says. "Nobody ever asked a great writer, 'What software do you use? What keyboard do you use?' Because it really doesn't matter. The important thing is to be in control of your medium first, and that means learning the craft."
Steinmetz says that whether you stick with a point-and-shoot or upgrade to a more advanced camera, you should be sure to get one with manual controls for shutter speed, ISO rating, and aperture. Then actually take the time to learn how to use them comfortably. "It's important not to get something where there are just a whole lot of automated features. It's nice to use those from time to time, but you want manual control."
Credit: Photograph by Ant Green