September 22, 2014 4:00 AM EDT

Kacper Kowalski aerial photography often looks like something a designer might dream up. What with all that efficiency of line and structural balance. Indeed, at first glance, much of his work might be mistaken for a pixel-perfect rendering or even as a series of photographs of dioramas.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Kowalski trained as an architect for five years and worked as a designer for four. “Architecture was a big part of my life,” Kowalski tells TIME. “It was a huge passion of mine, and still is.”

But in 2006, after years at the forefront of the Polish architecture world, he got bored. And so he took a leap of faith: he quit his job and decided to embrace two other life-long passions: flying and photography. Now, the trained pilot and lensman spends his days making images high above lakes, orchards, and beaches. His love of design, however, still has a huge impact on how he works, and what his work looks like.

“When you’re designing any architectural structure, the first step is to understand the location and context,” Kowalski says. “And as a photographer, I use the language of drawing — and just like with architecture, my audience is wide and my subject is civilization.”

While most of these aerial photographs are straight up aerial documentation, his new working method has evolved into a more structured endeavor: Much like an architect, he now plans what a photo will look like, and has even started cutting up individual photographs and constructing a new composite image with the parts.

“Documentary was easy, it was just simple observation,” Kowalski adds, “but I’m not neutral any more, and I feel good with it.”


Kacper Kowalski is an aerial photographer based in Poland. His work is on show as part of Photopoland, an exhibition of new Polish work at Photoville in Brooklyn, New York, from September 18 to 28, 2014.

Richard Conway is reporter/producer for LightBox.


Contact us at letters@time.com.

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