Published: August 2008
Focus on Places
National Geographic photographer George Steinmetz is your expert mentor in the Places category.

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."