Aerial Photography, Elevated to an Art

A new awards program focused on the genre honors a remarkable collection of images taken from on high.

Placing first in the Aerial Photography Awards’ Wildlife category, “Flying Flamingos” was shot by Chinese photographer Hua Shang from a helicopter over Lake Natron on the Kenya–Tanzania border.

The sky’s no limit for intrepid photographers these days, as the images honored by the first annual Aerial Photography Awards attest. Paris-based founder Christophe Martin says the competition was in part inspired by the work of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, the Frenchman credited with taking the first aerial photos (from a hot-air balloon) back in 1856. More than that, his interest in airborne imagery stems from its ability to “allow us to understand our impact as humans in today’s world.”

While this century’s aerial photogs have it technically easier than Tournachon—no wet-plate collodion process for them—their work still requires considerable skill and imagination, criteria that the competition used to judge thousands of global submissions: images shot from drones, helicopters, planes, balloons, and even kites. In the end, the jury selected 106 winning photos across 22 categories, with the top prize—US$10,000—going to Sébastien Nagy, a young Belgian whose four awarded entries clinched him the title Aerial Photographer of the Year.

“The quality and diversity of the awarded photos demonstrates the evolution of aerial photography and the standards it has reached today,” Martin says. “Aerial photographers prove their ability to amaze us. New visual writings are being built.”

“Forest Path” by Mehmet Aslan captures a herd of sheep on a forest trail in his native Turkey.

Lebanon-born drone pilot Bachir Moukarzel earned first place in the Constructions category for this shot of the 150-meter-tall Dubai Frame poking through a bank of fog.

Another first-place winner, Belgian photog Johan Vandenhecke’s “Tatacoa Desert” provides a surreal bird’s-eye view of the eroded red cliffs and gullies of Colombia’s second-largest desert.

Moscow-based lensman Yura Borschev’s “Through the Woods” captures a 70-year-old steam locomotive hurtling through a dense forest in Germany’s Harz National Park.

This article originally appeared in the December 2020/February 2021 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Lofty Visions”).

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