“I learned to fly just for this project, what I love to do as a photographer is to show people things that they haven’t really seen before. And these desert environments from the air, they’ve never been photographed that way.” -George Steinmetz

George Steinmetz — National Geographic photographer and more

George Steinmetz has produced more than 40 assignments for National Geographic in a career that began with the magazine in 1986. He has created three Nat Geo covers as well as done 25 stories for GEO magazine. His work has been featured in two National Geographic Explorer programs one in 1998 and one in 2002.

His commercial clients range from Sigma Photo to the Union Bank of Switzerland and General Motor to name just a few.

George Steinmetz and New York City

Steinmetz has been photographing New York City from a helicopter for years compiling over 40 flights. His work covers the 21st-century skyline as it evolves. His photographs have documented the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, the Sept. 11 memorial, moviegoers at an outdoor screening in Bryant Park, the New York Marathon and more.

Recently, he has been photographing the deserted city caused by the COVID-19 lockdown. In a package by Brook Silva-Braga aired on CBS This Morning Saturday, Steinmetz shows images of the deserted city, an empty LaGuardia airport and some before the lockdown photos and the same views during it.


Steinmetz’s first book, “African Air”

Steinmetz compiled work from 10 years of flying in Africa into his first book, “African Air.” Watch a 2-minute video of Steinmetz’s African photography below.

High angles worldwide

The paraglider has been invaluable particularly in countries where aerial photography is constrained Steinmetz has flown and photographed over China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, South Sudan, Morocco and many others. He says the digital cameras have made his work easier. He flies with only one Canon camera body and an image-stabilized zoom lens. Everything has to attach to the harness of the aircraft.

George Steinmetz’s view from above

On Photography: George Steinmetz, 1957-present

In the late 1990s, photographer George Steinmetz took to the air by literally strapping a motor with a propeller to his back then with a running start pulling the parawing into the air, he launches himself into one visual adventure after another. On his website, he explains what the paraglider is and how he uses it.

George Steinmetz and his flying lawn chair

“The wing flies at only one speed, approximately 30 mph,” says Steinmetz. He continues about the advantages of the paraglider, “The motorized paraglider is in many ways the best possible platform for aerial photos, as I have an unrestricted view of 180° in both horizontal and vertical directions, like a flying lawn chair. It’s also relatively quiet in flight, like a moped, and it lets me fly low and slow over the ground with a minimum of disturbance to people and animals below.”

Steinmetz has flown elevations ranging from 14,450 feet to -1,388 feet below sea level. He can gain as much as 6,000 feet on a flight, he finds that 100-500 feet above ground gives him a more intimate view of the landscape, and since he is the pilot, he can search out the precise point in the sky to visualize a picture.

More of George Steinmetz’s stunning photography can be seen on his website.

Photography in this edition of On Photography is courtesy of George Steinmetz.

More inspiring photographs by inspiring photographers are in On Photography.