George Steinmetz, renowned National Geographic photographer and author of African Air, Empty Quarter and Desert Air, is famous for capturing vast landscapes from above ground. He has published images of the Arabian landscape and wildlife, and has a striking portfolio featuring the world’s most extreme desert landscapes. Such deserts have included the Gobi Desert, the Death Valley and the Sahara. Steinmetz utilizes a unique mode of transportation for taking his photographs: he travels by way of a “motorized paraglider.” Here is a part of his story.
Soaring over the Libyan Deserts
Steinmetz first engineered his own aircraft years ago, when Libya was still under the rule of Muammar Gaddafi. Kept under wraps at the time, this personal transport was made so that he could look at the surrounding landscape in a new way. The aircraft was constructed to be small and lightweight, and didn’t need airfields or the help of air traffic signals. The finished air vehicle was a portable motorized paraglider that allowed him to fly hundreds of feet in the air.
Steinmetz would hide the apparatus under tarps in the back of a Land Cruiser. He would drive the car into the desert and take off there. The beauty of the region is captured thoroughly in his photographs: stretches of mountains, diverse wildlife, vast nature patterns. His main goal is to make people look at desert environments in a way they haven’t before.
A love for all the world’s deserts
Steinmetz first started by taking pictures of deserts in Niger and Chad in Africa. Then came the Taklamakan and Gobi deserts in Asia, and the Atacama Desert in South America. What captivated Steinmetz was the incredible and significant ecology of the landscapes he witnessed. People and animals in these remote corners of the world survived in “the very limits of existence,” subsisting on scaled resources.
The motorized air vehicle weighs less than 100 pounds, and does without fuselage, windshields or wheels. Steinmetz latches himself on with a parachute wing, attaches a motor on his back, and runs for takeoff. Up in the air, the machine is just like a big “leaf blower with a parachute.”
Going forward, Steinmetz envisions taking photographs with more advanced technology. He just bought a drone, which he hopes will aid him as he explores the earth from above in a paraglider.