Stas Bartnikas: Bird’s-eye view

Aerial photographer Stas Bartnikas, capturing surreal sights from the skies

by Edel Cassidy
Words Edel Cassidy

When I first discovered the work of aerial photographer, Stas Bartnikas, his amazing images appeared to look a lot like spectacular abstract paintings. The Moscow-based former journalist has a passion for capturing stunning aerial shots of the earth’s surface, revealing the wonderful abstract patterns that are found in a mix of volcanic formations, winding rivers swirling icy streams and sand dunes. His love of travel and aviation has brought him to over twenty countries, where he flies in small planes and helicopters to photograph the world’s natural landscapes, capturing their beauty from above. 

His dramatic images have won many prestigious awards and his work has been exhibited widely, including recently at the Avivson gallery, London and Beyond the Lens photo exhibition in Siena, Italy. 

I spoke to Stas about his work in photography, his process and his love of nature.

How would you describe your style?

I call my style of photography ‘aero-art’. I am convinced that Mother Nature is the most sophisticated painter and I see it as my mission to capture this beauty in its perfect form. Aerial photography allows us to see places that are inaccessible on foot and to show the landscape from a very different perspective.  It allows me to capture beautiful and unique patterns, shapes, and colours in their full glory. I like to think that beautiful images portraying our planet invoke deep feelings of love, admiration and respect for nature. I also believe and hope that people will be inclined to protect what they love.

On Top of the Glacier – Iceland, summer 2018. A close-up of the surface of the glacier from above.
How did you get started and what is your earliest memory of taking photographs?

When I was thirteen years old, I was given a gift of my first camera, a Smena 8M along with equipment to develop film. I can’t say that I fell in love with photography straight away but I did find the process of developing pictures in the darkroom very fascinating.

My passion for photography came years later. I had planned a trip to Lake Como and a friend offered me his camera, suggesting that I take aerial shots of the lake.  

This experience made me realise that it is possible to take beautiful and unusual shots from the sky. I developed a passion for travel and flying which allows me to capture beautiful aerial landscapes.

Is there any particular location or country that is your favourite to photograph? 

Definitely Iceland. It has always been my favourite place to fly over and photograph. I believe it is one of the most photogenic countries when looked at from above: the combination of ice, snow, volcanic formations, glacial rivers, beaches and ocean are all great material to make spectacular images.

‘I am convinced that Mother Nature is the most sophisticated painter and I see it as my mission to capture this beauty in its perfect form’

Stas Bartnikas
What other interesting places has your work taken you?

Each place I fly over and photograph fascinates me in its own way but I found the Colorado River Delta in Baja California a fascinating experience. It is absolutely surreal when looking from above.

Has your work been influenced by other photographers? 

I try not to look at the work of other photographers so that I can create my own unique style. I like to rely mainly on my perception, senses and vision. So I specifically avoid extraneous influence to keep things fresh for my eyes. 

Stas Bartnikas Dunes of the Namib Desert
Dunes of Namib Desert – Namibia, May 2015 The intricate patterns in this photo of Namib Desert constantly change as the wind impacts their formation. 
How do you plan and set up the project that you shoot?

I start by looking at maps and from them choose my location. Then I carefully study the area and look for the nearest flight schools or companies that offer private or sightseeing flights in small aircraft in that region. Because I rarely use drones, I am somewhat limited to places that are in the vicinity of flight schools or aero sightseeing tours. Once I have my plans in place, I book my tickets and am ready for new experiences and adventures. 

Do you have a favourite camera? 

I prefer to use a Medium Format Phase One XF camera with 100-megapixel sensor and 75-150mm lenses. I also sometimes use a Sony a7R II with Zeiss lenses.

  • ‘Stas Bartnikas: Bird’s-eye view’ is published in Anthology Volume 13. Read more features from this volume or buy it now.
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