Between earth and sky
© Ulrich Beinert

Between earth and sky

  • TEXT LASLO SEYDA
  • PHOTOS ULRICH BEINERT

Lufthansa Pilot Ulrich Beinert is a passionate photographer. His impressive aerial shots of cities and landscapes are taken from the cockpit at a height of at least 10 000 feet.

Ulrich Beinert can remember exactly what it was like in 1997 when the Hale-Bopp comet passed by the earth. For several weeks, this incredibly bright object shone up in the sky, visible all around the globe. This was young Ulrich’s very own big bang, the start of his enduring fascination with everything in the sky: the stars, the constellations, the whole universe. His deepest wish was to understand, to make obscured objects visible and capture their essence.

When he was 15 he was given a proper telescope through which he photographed the sun, the moon and planets with his battered viewfinder camera, bringing them in close enough to touch. Later, with the advent of digital cameras, he took pictures of stars, glowing gas nebulas and space dust pierced by rays of light. “All the things that are difficult to put into words,” says Beinart, who studied aviation systems technology at Bremen University. For his final thesis he sent a research balloon with a camera up into the middle stratosphere, taking pictures far above the clouds. “It was the closest I’d ever been to space.”

Beinert is now 34 and a Lufthansa pilot and his is possibly the best vantage point from which to view the world. He takes many of his pictures from the cockpit during flight: pictures of sunsets, Alpine glaciers, Brussels by night with a crescent moon, or the Northern Lights dancing on the horizon. But wait, shouldn’t he be navigating the plane rather than snapping pictures? Beinert laughs, it isn’t the first time he’s been asked this. “At cruising altitude when the autopilot is on and a copilot is at the controls to keep an eye on things, I have time to look out the window for things to take a picture of.”

 

Between earth and sky: The setting sun over a sea of cloud, shot from the cockpit of an A320

The setting sun over a sea of cloud, shot from the cockpit of an A320

© Ulrich Beinert
Between earth and sky: The A320 neo’s new engine increases its range by almost 1000 kilometers

The A320 neo’s new engine increases its range by almost 1000 kilometers

© Ulrich Beinert
Between earth and sky: Luck and skill came together for this shot of a Boeing 737 against a full moon, taken just after leaving Frankfurt Airport

Luck and skill came together for this shot of a Boeing 737 against a full moon, taken just after leaving Frankfurt Airport

© Ulrich Beinert

I can’t photograph most motifs, I can only store them in my mind

Ulrich Beinert, Lufthansa pilot

  Otherwise, Lufthansa has an ironclad rule for captains and first officers: below an altitude of 10 000 feet, the focus is solely and exclusively on flying. “I can’t photograph most motifs,” says Beinert, “I can only store them in my mind.” Is there any one picture he is particularly proud of? “My favorite shot is of a vintage Airbus, standing on the runway in a storm, framed by lightning in the distance. You can’t plan pictures like these; they’re real snapshots – simply magical.”

And ever since colleagues described having seen it, he has dreamed of also spotting the Soyuz capsule over the Caspian Sea as it returns to to earth from the ISS station. “I would gladly sign up for an extra shift just to see that spectacular arc of fire trailing across the night sky,” he says.

Between earth and sky: Star light, star bright - the night sky over Milan as seen from the cockpit of an A320

Star light, star bright - the night sky over Milan as seen from the cockpit of an A320

© Ulrich Beinert
Between earth and sky: The Great Aletsch Glacier in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland

The Great Aletsch Glacier in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland

© Ulrich Beinert
Between earth and sky: Beinert took this shot of “Mainhattan” (Frankfurt) from the right side of the cabin as an off-duty passenger

Beinert took this shot of “Mainhattan” (Frankfurt) from the right side of the cabin as an off-duty passenger

© Ulrich Beinert