Celebrating Earth from Above

By Peter Schlesinger  •  April 9, 2019

Five aerial photographers share their top shots of our beautiful planet.

“It’s simple and clear—we only have this one earth,” says German photographer Tom Hegen. It’s a message he tries to evoke in all of his photos, which are intended as beautiful reminders of our planet’s fragility. “Aerial photography is a compelling way to document human intervention, because it makes the dimensions of human force on earth visible,” he explains. Hegen isn’t alone. As drones become more advanced and more affordable, photographers are taking to the sky and permitting us unique perspectives on our changing world. “Scientists give us information with numbers and predictions about future scenarios. Photography provides visual information,” says Hegen. Budapest-based photographer Milan Radisics, who posts his aerial shots on the Instagram account @water.shapes.earth, also sees his work as a tool for awareness. “It gives us the ability to observe our landscapes in a new light: We can get an overview, and overviews give us insights, and insights will generate action.”

Here, we take a minute to appreciate the world’s beauty through the lenses of Radisics, Hegen, and other leading aerial photographers.

Tom Hegen

Based in Munich, Hegen has won awards for his world-spanning work, including a spot on The International Landscape Photographer of the Year’s coveted Best 101 Landscape Photographers list. He’s particularly interested in the concept of the Anthropocene, the notion that we’re living in an era defined largely by human actions. “I’m fascinated by the abstraction that comes with the change of perspective,” he explains. “The viewer needs to decode what they’re looking at.” tomhegen.de

Celebrating Earth from Above

Ice Sheets, Greenland

"The surface of the Arctic Ice Sheet is like Swiss cheese, covered with thousands of seasonal rivers and lakes on the surface through which meltwater is able to flow over the ice, enter into the ice, and then flow downstream into the ocean."

Celebrating Earth from Above

Glacial Pools, Iceland

"Glacier Pools occur when a chunk of ice breaks off a retreating glacier, embeds itself in the ground, and then, forming what is called a kettle pond. In freshly deglaciated areas, such as around the melting glaciers in Iceland, there are dozens of small pools in the outwash plains. The lake colors indicate amounts of sediment or depth: the deeper or clearer the water, the bluer the lake."

Celebrating Earth from Above

River Veins, Iceland

“As the glaciers in Iceland melt, ice-blue water veins its way across black volcanic sand, creating peculiar patterns in the landscape. Those scenes have an element of duality—it is hard to tell whether a picture was taken from a macro perspective or from a small airplane around 3,000 feet in the air.”

Gab Scanu

Australian photographer Gab Scanu’s breathtaking aerial views feature an impressive sense of scale—and drama. He chalks that up to being the son of a cinematographer. “It was something that came naturally to me,” the 21-year-old explains. Scanu has harnessed the power of Instagram to reach a global audience of more than 350,00 followers. “It’s amazing to capture and share unique parts of the world that people don’t necessarily know exist, or to share a new perspective on already popular destinations so that we look at them in a new light.” Last year, his photo of Saudi Arabia’s Mada’in Saleh ruins earned him first place at the prestigious Siena International Photography Awards. gabscanu.com

Celebrating Earth from Above

Mada’in Saleh, Saudi Arabia

“For me this place was so unique and barren that it didn't seem real—it's like something out of a movie. It was very isolated and vast and empty, apart from a slight breeze, and I felt as though I was an ant in comparison to the world.”

Celebrating Earth from Above

Red Sea Atolls

"We took a boat from Jeddah out to sea towards Egypt, and landed in pockets of coral gardens amongst the deep blue ocean. I remember feeling the dry heat, and the warm, crystal-clear water. I love that water is constantly evolving and takes on abstract forms. You can photograph the same body of water 100 times and create something different with each shot."

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Milan Radisics

Budapest-based photographer Milan Radisics’s years in advertising have given him a keen understanding of proportion and aesthetics. He turned to nature photography, and the walks it demanded, as necessary personal time. “It helps me be in the present,” he explains. It’s also led to a new career, contributing to a dozen National Geographic stories, plus more in BBC Wildlife Magazine and Terra Mater. Recently, he has turned his attention towards the planet’s water crisis. His Water Shapes Earth campaign explores the evolution of our waterways and shows, in vivid color, “where water comes from, how it is spreading, how beautifully it shapes the planet, and, in the end, what lays ahead as water retreats”—as in the photograph of a shrinking pond in Hungary at the top of this article. water.shapes.earth; milan.hu

Celebrating Earth from Above

Salt Pans, South of France

"This Rothko-like abstract aerial image shows salt pan evaporation ponds at a working salt mine lagoon in the Camargue. The colors are real, and they come from a special algae that forms in the ponds, and is then extracted to become an ingredient in food coloring."

Celebrating Earth from Above

Tide Zone, Cadiz, Spain

"These brain-like formations take shape in the contact area between marine and terrestrial zones, thanks to the easy circulation of the waters, good lighting, and characteristic soil components. They’re revealed twice a day at low tide."

Celebrating Earth from Above

Affal River Estuary, Iceland

"Where the Affall River meets the Atlantic Ocean, there is a confluence of three colored tributaries that wind through various farmlands. Together they casually flow to the ocean across the black sandy beach."

Dany Eid

Born in Lebanon, Dany Eid moved to Dubai in 2014 and left his corporate job to pursue life as a professional photographer. When he’s not capturing the ever-changing skyline of his new home, he’s leading workshops around the world, including to Tuscany’s Val d’Orcia. “I miss nature in Dubai, and that’s why Tuscany became a favorite location for me,” says Eid. “Everywhere you look, there’s an interesting subject to shoot, with the light and colors altering so much during the different seasons.” danyeidphotography.com

Celebrating Earth from Above

Val d'Orcia, Tuscany

“I've been to this very same spot many times, and I was aiming to shoot the trees and their shadows during the sunset...I’ve read that cypress trees were brought to Europe ages ago from my home country. It’s a pity that the cypresses in Lebanon are becoming fewer in number each year. Here in Tuscany, they’ve become part of the region’s heritage.”

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Anders Carlson

Inspired by the “life and energy in water,” Anders Carlson uses his drone to capture cerulean shots of his home in Kona, Hawaii that land- and sea-lubbers can’t see from eye level. He typically gets to the beach just before sunrise for his shots. “There’s rarely anyone else around, the light is the best, and everything is just so peaceful. All you hear is sound of the waves breaking, and birds waking up,” he explains. The father of two is also committed to raising awareness for Climate Change, living off the grid and relying on solar energy to power his home. “We grow our own vegetables, have nine chickens for eggs, and try to buy locally whenever possible. Most people understand that climate change exists and that humans continue to have a negative impact on it. The hardest thing is to convince people to take action.” andersimagery.com

Celebrating Earth from Above

Dolphins Off the Coast, Kona Hawaii

"Sometimes dolphins get so close to shore, you can hear their spouts and splashes. They're very playful, and usually move pretty quickly. I only have about half an hour before they are too far away to safely film with a drone."

Celebrating Earth from Above

Shoreline, Kona, Hawaii

"Images of waves from above almost become abstract. I love the shapes and patterns that get created on the water surface, the foam, and in the charred up sand."

Irenaeus Herok

Based in Sydney, Australia, Irenaeus Herok travels the world landscape and portrait photography shoots for the likes of Der SpiegelVanity Fair, Vice, and The Guardian. With a background in design and the fine arts, he takes inspiration from the Old Masters and classic cinema. Using a drone, he likes to highlight  “the relationships and scale between objects, and people’s intrusion in the landscape.” This is particularly true in the UAE, where he’s taken to shooting sand-covered roads from above. His work “illustrates how nature still dominates in this harsh environment…The desert has its own calming and soothing disposition.” iherok.com

Celebrating Earth from Above

Outside of Dubai, UAE

"Wandering sands are a pretty known phenomenon here. The main roads get maintained regularly, but the roads in my images are not being used that often. It's just a matter of scouting to find the roads."

Celebrating Earth from Above

Outside of Dubai, UAE

"The Arabian Oryx was almost extinct in the wild by the early 1970s, but was saved in zoos and private preserves. It was reintroduced into the environment in 1980s. I'd heard stories that you can spot them from time to time, but I was still surprised to see so many of them wandering the dunes in the desert."


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Written By: Peter Schlesinger


Locations: Jeddah, Tuscany

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