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.
Keep your shots RAW.
Most people capture photos as JPEGs, which is the default digital file format in most cameras. While shooting JPEG images can result in nice-looking photos, doing so means that the camera is automatically digitally compressing the shots to make them smaller, while also tweaking them to change color, sharpness, and other effects. This isn't a bad way to go if you don't plan on editing your shots in Photoshop, and it's fine for many people. If, however, you plan to control how your final images will look or have thoughts of using them professionally, then you'll want to shoot RAW images, which are uncompressed files – sort of like a digital negative with all the picture information intact.
"RAW allows you to clean up your pictures later, fix exposure issues, and make all the necessary adjustments," Steinmetz says. "It's a little more work on the back end, but you want to have control over the final result if you're going to improve your photography." Notably, RAW images are massive (about seven or eight times the size of a JPEG file) and also require extra software for you to even view them, much less process and edit them afterward. It all depends on your ambitions, but if you plan to "own" your images, you'll want to go RAW.
Credit: Photograph by Ant Green