Above & Beyond with George Steinmetz

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"A self-portrait over Shibam, Yemen as seen from a remote-controlled camera on the wing of my paraglider. The tower homes of Shibam are built with mud and palm wood coated by a thin skin of plaster. The city was once a vital trading center on the frankincense caravan route between the mountains of Oman and the Mediterranean." - George Steinmetz

Angry Birds, beware – a new iPad photography app has cracked the top-40 most popular downloads list in the iTunes Apps store.

Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz offers an interactive behind-the-scenes look at the work of George Steinmetz, a veteran National Geographic photographer known for his breathtaking aerials of the natural world. Above & Beyond showcases Steinmetz’s 25 years of work produced from a motorized paraglider. According to iTunes, the app is the first in a series that serves as “an inspirational story for photographers and non-photographers alike about what’s possible when people push themselves to go above and beyond.”

Joe Zeff, a designer and illustrator who regularly produces work for TIME, collaborated with Steinmetz to produce Above & Beyond. Zeff attributes the app’s mainstream popularity to the irresistible nature of Steinmetz’s imagery, as well as the stories behind the photographs.

“This app is so much more than a gallery of pictures. It is a story about a photographer in a flying suit. It is a story about a world that people barely know exists. It is a story about what happens when an individual pushes himself to his limits,” Zeff told TIME.

Over five months, Zeff worked with Steinmetz to produce an interactive story, using the unexpected patterns and majestic landscapes of Steinmetz’s photos to pique users’ curiosity.

“We have provided opportunities for people to interact with photography rather than simply look at it,” says Zeff, noting that the app creates an active dialog that both educates and entertains. Each of the app’s 40 images allows users four options: a zoom function, allowing a full screen, hi-res view of the image; an audio narration by Steinmetz; a link to the actual location of the photograph on Google Maps Satellite View; and a detailed caption that includes information about camera and lens type, ISO, F-stop, and shutter speed. The app offers videos of Steinmetz in action as well as an exploded view of the portable 72-pound paraglider.

Zeff is proud of the final product: “Above & Beyond literally describes the types of imagery we present as well as the quality of the photography and the overall experience.”

—Reporting by Andrew Hinderaker and Vaughn Wallace

Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz is available through the iTunes App store at an introductory price of $1.99.


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