Aerial series by Chris Sattlberger

Hi Chris, was your first aerial photograph for leisure or assignment? How did you get into aerial photography?

 I have always loved to fly and very nearly became an airline pilot. I cannot remember exactly, but I think I shot my first aerial image on a commercial flight to Lima/ Peru over the Andes in the late 70s. This was long before I became a photographer and was purely for pleasure.

 To you, what sets aerial shoots apart from other shoots?

It is very different. First of all, it really is teamwork between the photographer and the pilot. It helps a lot that I hold a pilot’s license myself, and am thus able to communicate with the pilot in a language he or she understands. That said, some pilots are better than others in understanding the needs of the photographer.

Next is planning. I usually have a thorough briefing with the pilot before the flight, were all aspects and potential problems are discussed. This of course also happens on any other shoot where you have a crew, but the big difference is, that once in the air, you cannot just say ‘stop, let’s discuss this again’. In a helicopter you can do this up to a point (and usually at great cost!), but if you’re shooting from a fixed-wing aircraft, you really have to be on top of everything.

Thirdly, the beauty and the discovery. You always – always! - discover something new from the air, something you didn’t anticipate. This is also the tricky part: you can almost never be 100% sure how something will look from the air, before you see it. You have to be very quick in deciding on composition and what you want to convey with the image.

How do you compose an aerial shot? Are there any difficulties with the constant motion, wind…?

Again, it depends which platform you are shooting from. In a helicopter you can get into the perfect position and shoot exactly what you have in mind. In a fixed-wing airplane, you have to anticipate and be ready – also for the unexpected! What I should mention here is that quite often you don’t have a view out the front, as you may be sitting with your back to the direction of travel or in a door in the back of the aircraft. If that’s the case, then a proper briefing with the pilot is everything. Wind doesn’t matter much, as any aircraft moves through the air like a ship on a river – it moves with the flow of air. What does matter, is turbulence. Another thing that can be difficult is that what you see through the lens doesn’t correspond to what you body sensors feel. This is even worse if you are shooting motion, as I have started to do a few years ago. Your brain cannot reconcile the sensory inputs from you inner ear and body – which feel the aircraft movement – and that from your eyes, which see what the camera sees. You have to learn to overcome that. In short – aerial photography is not for those prone to motion sickness!

© Chris Sattlberger, Human settlements in northern Namibia

© Chris Sattlberger, Human settlements in northern Namibia

Are there any particular landscapes that you enjoy photographing from above? What has been the most awe-inspiring view?

I don’t really have any particular landscapes or scenes I like more than others. I simply love the Earth from above. That said, there are two views I had the privilege to photograph from the air, interestingly both deserts, that really stand out:

-      Antarctica, more precisely the pack ice and the icebergs surrounding the continent

-      the Namib desert in the Sossusvlei region

Flying over places like these simply make you realize how amazing our planet is and how small and insignificant we humans are.

Who was your greatest influence that inspired you to start photography?

Any National Geographic photographer

How do you find your inspiration?

In beauty and in nature

What are you doing to get your vision out to the buying audience?

Not enough!

© Chris Sattlberger, Pack ice and icebergs off the coast of Antarctica

© Chris Sattlberger, Pack ice and icebergs off the coast of Antarctica

Thank you so much for your time today Chris and here’s our last question. If we were to send you to a desert island and allowing you to take with you only one picture taken by another photographer. What would this picture be?

Taken by another photographer, I’ll have to say Peter Beard, little girl with rhino; saw it years ago in a Peter Beard show in Paris. As all of his work, an amazing image.

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