You’ve probably seen your fair share of drone photography of late – you’ve probably had enough of drones too following the whole Gatwick flight path debacle – but have you heard of aero-art? Well, that’s the phrase that Russian aerial photographer Stas Bartnikas likes to coin for his craft. Essentially, aero-art sees Stas take an array of magnificent photos of the natural world from a light aircraft to capture what he considers to be ‘the most sophisticated painter’ – Mother Nature. Not a drone in sight. In doing so, Stas captures the natural beauty of a variety of landscapes from a viewpoint that none of us have access to.

The result, as you have probably already noticed, is a surreal and captivating series of images that will be sure to perk up your Instagram feed. Anyway, this week we caught up with Stas to find out how he does it, what he looks for and where’s next on his flight plan.

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Stas Bartnikas, I am 46 years old and I am an aerial photographer based in Moscow. I graduated from Moscow State University with a degree in journalism. I worked as a correspondent in one of the largest newspapers in the country. After the collapse of Soviet Union, I pursued a career in the development of various business projects in advertising and sales.

Photography became a serious hobby that combines my love of travelling with a passion for aviation. In the past few years, I’ve been actively engaged in aerial photography while flying in light aircrafts and helicopters in different parts of the world. During this time, I have been lucky enough to visit over 15 countries. I am convinced that Mother Nature is the most sophisticated painter and I see it as my mission to capture its beauty in its perfect form. I call my style of photography “aero-art”.

Who was your childhood hero?

There were quite a few heroes when I was growing up. The most prominent of course was Yuri Gagarin. The first human who journeyed into outer space. The whole country admired him and was proud of him. Maybe it was then when I started thinking about flying myself.

What are your earliest memories of photography?

When I was 13, I was gifted my first film camera Smena 8M accompanied with bunch of devices to develop the film. I can’t say that I fell in love with photography then but the process of developing pictures in the dark room was definitely fascinating. The love happened much later when my friend offered me his camera and asked me to take pictures of Lake Como where I was heading, from above. This is when passion for traveling and flying married with photography when I realised that you can see and capture beautiful and unusual scenery from above.

What was the location that made you fall in love with photography?

Definitely Iceland. It was and remains my favourite place to fly and photograph. I believe that Iceland is one of the most photogenic countries when looked from above: combination of ice, snow, volcanic formations, glacial rivers, beaches and ocean makes for absolutely surreal and stunning sight.

Who were your early influences?

I tried not to look at other photographers in order to create my own unique experience. I wanted to rely mainly on my own perception, senses and vision. So, I specifically avoided extraneous influence to keep things fresh for my eyes.

What’s the best place that your photography has taken you?

If you allow me, I would rephrase it as the most interesting place. Because each place I fly the world over and photograph fascinates me in its own way. So, if you ask me of the most interesting place, I took pictures of it would be Colorado river delta in Baja California. It is very surreal looking from above.

How do you set up or approach each project that you shoot?

I look at the maps and pick my next location. Then I carefully study it and look for nearest flight schools or companies that offer private or sightseeing flights in small aircrafts in that area. Because I rarely use drones, I am somewhat limited to areas that are in the vicinity of flight schools or aero sightseeing tours. Once all is done and ready, I book my tickets and be on my way towards new adventures.

What is the one place you want to visit before you die?

Most of the world became pretty accessible nowadays. I hope I will visit all the places on my list before I die. There is probably one place I most likely won’t make – outer space – but nonetheless it is on my list. You never know, though.

What other Instagram accounts do you look to for inspiration?

I follow pretty much every aerial photographer that can be found on Instagram. To name a few: @airpixels, @abstractaerialart & @spathumpa.

Keep up with all of Stas’ work by following him on Instagram, @Stasbart.

Looking for more in the ‘Who We’re Following’ series? Then check out our exclusive interview with one of our favourite lifestyle photographers, Matthew Johnson.