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.
Learn your camera's limitations.
There will always be situations where you are either forbidden or just don't want to use flash – at a church, or concert, in a museum, or when shooting a night setting. In those cases, you need to become familiar with the ISO settings on your camera and what your camera can and can't handle when it comes to shooting in dim light. ISO speed is a standard used to denote film sensitivity that has carried over to digital cameras. The higher the ISO setting, the more effective your camera will be for capturing images in low light without a flash. But there's a trade-off: The higher the ISO sensitivity, the more susceptible your shots are to "noise," or digital graininess in a photo. So learning your camera's capabilities is crucial, especially before you try to take a shot in the dark.
Fortunately for those with higher-end, interchangeable-lens cameras such as DSLRs, you can now shoot in near total darkness at a higher ISO setting of 6400 or even 12800 and still capture crisp, bright images with little noise. "We're in a fantasyland with what these cameras can do," Steinmetz says. "The new cameras, the ones with the really good sensors, can take sharp pictures by candlelight. It's unbelievable. I've been able to take great pictures just by moonlight while flying."
Credit: Photograph by Ant Green