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Gallery: Amazing desert photographs taken by paraglider
National Geo photog obsessively covers 27 of the world's most hyper-arid landscapes
Of all the bizarre hobbies out there, National Geographic photographer George Steinmetz's is probably the most obscure.
Steinmetz, 56, has spent the last 15 years paragliding over the world's most arid regions.
The most stunning of his desert photographs have been gathered for his latest book, "Desert Air," which is as much a collection of spectacular landscape photography as it is a persuasive argument to take up motorized paragliding.
Steinmetz, who has a degree in geophysics from Stanford, stumbled across the aircraft accidentally -- he flew one as a last resort on a photo assignment when no other aircraft was available -- but says it's now his favorite way to take pictures.
He takes solo trips in a parachute-like glider powered by a motor built into a backpack. As it's considered an experimental aircraft in most countries, including the United States, an operating license isn't required.
The paraglider travels at only one speed -- 48 kilometers (30 miles) per hour -- and allows the photographer an unrestricted view that wouldn't be possible from other types of aircraft.
It also allows him to steer in whatever direction he wants by shifting weight and pulling on lines attached to the glider.
"It's not a particularly easy way to get a picture," says Steinmetz, with a laugh.
But the results are -- as you can see -- amazing.
Usually taking three trips a year for six weeks each -- he covered 27 of the world's most arid regions for "Desert Air" -- Steinmetz says that his favorite moments come when he flies above scenes he didn't expect to find.
"You come across these serendipitous moments -- really beautiful scenes," he says. "On a trip in Bolivia, I photographed two traveling cars that were being mirrored in a lake. It felt like I was flying over heaven."
His favorite photographs are the ones that are the most difficult to get.
Once, trying to photograph an lake in Bolivia, he found himself crashing into birds taking flight beneath him.
To minimize weight, Steinmetz carries as little as possible on each trip -- just a camera, radio, gloves and perhaps a water bottle.
"The whole philosophy is minimalist -- the more you have with you, the less you can do," he says. "It's rock climbing in that way. At some point safety becomes dangerous."
For Steinmetz, the glider represents a sort of divining rod, leading him to beautiful places that have never been documented before.
"One of the things I've learned is that the world is much more extraordinary than we can possibly imagine -- there's this false perception that everything's been seen and everything's been done," says Steinmetz.
"But 90 percent is just showing up and just looking around. That's what this book is -- it's what I've done for 15 years."
More on CNN: A year in the life of a travel photographer