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Focus on Places

National Geographic photographer George Steinmetz is your expert mentor in the Places category.

Photograph by George Steinmetz

Halfway through college, George Steinmetz bought a camera and took off on a “big wander.” Hitchhiking from London to Zaire, he was captivated by the remote regions he passed through. He vowed to go back, to capture these strange, barren landscapes in a way that had never been done before. “It became my long-term dream—to find a way to photograph deserted places from above.” Years later, the motorized paraglider became Steinmetz’s solution. The Sahara, Antarctica, and South America’s Altiplano are among the places he has since documented. “You see unique things from the air,” he says. “Paintings, camel trails, ceremonial locations, little patterns in the early-morning shadows. In Niger we discovered pre-Islamic graves. You must find what is unique in each area, and figure out how to convey it visually,” he says. “Driving across the Salar de Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia is like captaining a small boat on a vast white sea. When shot from above, a photo incorporating a vehicle will give the viewer a sense of scale.”

While wind, sand, and ice shape land in different ways, all desolate places share a surreal, otherworldly quality. “You are stepping into other worlds,” says Steinmetz, “so it’s best to seek advice from locals who know the lay of the land.”

Here on earth

'd like to go by climbing a birch tree, 
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more, 
But dipped its top and set me down again.

That would be good both going and coming back. One could do worse than a swinger or birches.


I must say I’m not too big on collages and photo montages but here’s something that is not only a beautifully raw attempt at it, but also a clever way of showcasing familiar places throughout times.

Just imagine it as a still time-lapse.

“Ultimately, a good photograph is one that brings us face to face with our own existence. It pulls the stranger standing next to us into the intimate radius of our life.”

How’s this for a live Photoshop content aware feature?

John Clang

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