Sometimes you have to step back to appreciate what is right in front of you. Aerial photography shows landscapes, even ones that you are very familiar with, as you have never seen them before, revealing colors, patterns and shapes that you might never have noticed. The 30 incredible images below represent the very best in aerial photography. Taken from planes, helicopters, hot air balloons and rooftops, you’ll find views of everything from urban sprawl to rolling hills, deserted beaches to erupting volcanoes.

Milltimber (Ian K. Hardie)


Image: Geograph

You don’t need to hire a helicopter or use expensive equipment to get amazing aerial photographs. This one, showing an area surrounding the River Dee in Milltimber, Scotland, was taken on a commercial KLM flight from Aberdeen to Schipol.

Palouse (Will Simpson)


Image: Will Simpson

Elevating a camera high above Palouse in the nonwestern United States reveals incredible, undulating patterns in the landscape.

Palouse hills northeast of Walla Walla (Lynn Suckow)


Image: Wikipedia

In this, the second image depicting the natural landscape of Palouse, a small yellow plane is just visible to the top right of the photograph. The colors and shadows are truly stunning.

Mostar City (Cesar Rodriquez)


Image: Wikimedia

This aerial image shows a dirtied, ravaged Mostar following the end of the troubles in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Port-au-Prince (United States Navy)


Image: Wikimedia

In 2008, Hurricane Ike wreaked havoc over Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince. As evidenced by this photograph, much of the area was left submerged.

South Bay (Doc Searls)


Image: Wikimedia

This bizarre landscape can be found in the South Bay area of Los Angeles. Salt water, trapped by levees, is home to various micro-organisms which turn the water a dark, red color.

Mount Komaga (NASA)


Image: Wikimedia

Taken during an STS-99 space shuttle mission, this image clearly shows Mount Komaga, an active volcano located in Hokkaido, Japan.

The Pinnacle (William Cho)


Image: adforce1

Unusually, this aerial photograph was taken from the 50th floor of a building – The Pinnacle@Duxton to be precise – which is located in Singapore.

Jurong Island (William Cho)


Image: adforce1

Not all aerial photographs are as they first appear. This one of Jurong Island, Singapore, is actually a composite of two different images with the sunset taken from a different location. Nevertheless, it’s subtle and stunning.

Fraser Delta (Ecstaticist)


Image: ecstaticist

The colors in this shot are incredibly vivid. Each field is defined by a different tone as light, patchy cloud shadows dance over the ground’s surface.

Hot Air Balloon


Image: Wikipedia

Photographer and location unknown, this image was obviously snapped from a hot air balloon- the basket still visible in the bottom of the shot.

Pyramids (Eduard Spelterini)


Image: Wikipedia

Aerial photography is not a new phenomenon. This image of the pyramids of Gizah was taken in 1904 and shows the region free from mass tourism.

Madrid East (Coolmonfrere)


Image: seibi

In this shot, trees are dotted across the landscape in uniform formations, indicative of man’s influence on an otherwise rugged and natural looking terrain.

Desert (ritab38315)


Image: ritab38315

Beautiful is the only word to describe this photograph of camels migrating across honeycombed sand dunes.

Shipwreck (ritab38315)


Image: ritab38315

Rising into the sky uncovers places and spaces that one would never find at ground level. This beach, unreachable by foot, is home to a ship, washed up on the shore.

Harvest (ritab38315)


Image: ritab38315

In general, man’s impact on the land is a negative one, but sometimes human interaction with natural landscapes can have stunning results. Take this image, for example. Harvesting creates an almost animal print-like pattern.

Flowers (ritab38315)


Image: ritab38315

Yet another example of the beauty of agriculture, this time bands of multi-colored crops.

Giant’s Causeway (Star Spunkinator)


Image: spunkinator

The Giant’s Causeway’s interlocking columns, which are such a powerful symbol of the Irish landscape, do not feature in this aerial shot. Instead you get a view of the green, lush coastline in the area on a delightfully sunny day.

The Grand Canyon (Arild Anderson)


Image: ariander

Unmistakably the Grand Canyon, banded rock formations and geomorphology of the region are really clear in this image.

Hong Kong (Dennis Wong)


Image: denniswong

This breathtaking view of Hong Kong was taken at night using a Canon 40D at a window seat on a commercial flight.

Caracas (Globevisins)


Image: globevisions

This photo perfectly represents the expanse of urban sprawl surrounding Caracas, the Venezuelan capital.

Sarychev Volcano (NASA)


Image: gsfc

In this superb shot, the Sarychev Volcano can be seen mid-eruption in June 2009.

Autumn Treetops (Denis Giles)


Image: denisgiles

In autumn, our forests become a rich tapestry of reds and browns. Denis Giles has captured this seasonal delight perfectly here.

Glacial Lakes from Retreating Glaciers (NASA)


Image: Source

Global warming is causing glaciers to retreat at an alarming rate, as shown in this NASA image.

Stanley Park (Ecstaticist)


Image: ecstaticist

Shrouded in cloud, the trees and lake of the majestic Stanley Park in Vancouver are just visible.

Big Sur (Rskoon)


Image: 68137880@N00

Plumes of smoke rise off the Big Sur region of central California as a devastating forest fire rages out of control.

Light Sources (Coolmonfrere)


Image: seibi

This completely un-doctored image shows beams of light breaking though a cloudy sky onto a lush, green land below.

Golden Flight (Ecstaticist)


Image: ecstaticist

This is the kind of view that people fight over a window seat for – a moody sky, a ship floating solo on the water and a glorious sunset.

Dupnitsa (Boby Dimitrov)


Image: bobydimitrov

Shot with an Olympus E-P1 camera, the road junction at Baikal in Bulgaria has never looked so good.

Mount San Jacinto State Park (Bossco)


Image: bossco

Bossco captures the first snow in Southern California in this 2008 photograph.

Tom is a blogger and designer who works at an online ink cartridge supplier to the creative industry. Much of his time is spent reviewing the latest hardware releases like the CLT-K4092S and writing posts about art and design for their blog.