Earth’s Most Striking Scenes, As Seen From Above

Photographer Bernhard Edmaier's aerial landscapes are a celebration of color, form, and the wonders of geology.

Twenty-three years ago, German photographer Bernhard Edmaier was working as a geologist. He was fascinated with the Earth and its ever changing structures, but something about spending his life doing research underground just didn’t sit right. Edmaier decided to combine his burgeoning love of photography with his obsession with crust, mantle, and core. His solution? Aerial photography.

From the aerial perspective I can most effectively tell the narrative of a landscape,” he says. “When it comes to large structures such as mountain ranges or a chain of volcanic cones on a fissure in the Earth’s crust, it is much better to shoot them from the air than from the ground. So it is a really reasonable practice to get airborne and direct the pilot to the right position for my aerial work.”

Edmaier approaches his work meticulously, using his geologist smarts to research and stake out a location for the perfect shot. Instead of spending hours in the air looking for the right location or composition, Edmaier already has his photographs planned out. He uses tools such as Google Earth and satellite images and reaches out to local scientists and commercial pilots.

“Quite often, I already have the eligible picture of the selected motif in mind, which also means that I do not shoot hundreds of photos with the option to select one good shot among the unusable ones,” he says. “So I think many of my images are somehow anticipated compositions.” Whether his compositions are expected or not, the sheer impressiveness of the landscapes is enough to make you stop in your tracks.

Having a detailed plan also helps the project in other ways.

“Knowing the ‘right’ location allows me to keep the flight time as short as possible—an important aspect, as my photo projects have been predominantly self-financed so far,” he says. “Especially since the charter rates for helicopters are enormous. During my photo flights there is something like a running counter in my brain.”

As to why Edmaier thinks aerial photography matters, he says that for him it is “the technical means to create a better understanding of natural processes on our planet. Only from a bird’s eye view I can manage to depict these phenomena accordingly to my vision of an ‘ideal’ composition.”

He hopes that his work will help people see the Earth’s shape and structures in a new light.

“Generally speaking, my photo projects have always been supposed to provide a window to geological processes,” he says. “In our imagination, the Earth or the Earth’s surface is something eternal or with very little changes. But the opposite is true. Infinite processes are continuously remodeling the surface and interior of the Earth.

“In showing fractures, rock folds, erosional patterns, coastlines, and of course volcanoes and glaciers, etc., I have been trying to visualize these geological and geomorphic processes and make them a bit more comprehensible to all.”

View more of Bernhard Edmaier’s photographs on his website. You can purchase his most recent book, WATER, here.