© Paul Zizka
© Paul Zizka
© Paul Zizka
© Paul Zizka
© Paul Zizka
© Paul Zizka
Travel and Adventure

Paul Zizka is an award-winning mountain landscape and adventure photographer based in Banff, Canada.

4 minute read

Having photographed in and around Banff for many years, Paul has a unique take on the area and it’s magic. We tracked Paul down and asked him some questions about his work, and the special relationship he has with Banff.

1. Tell us your background.

I’m originally from Quebec City and made a permanent move to the mountains of Western Canada back in 2008. I didn’t take up photography until I moved to the mountains. At first, photography was a way to document the incredible beauty I was surrounded by and the experiences I was having – a way of simply showing my friends back home what I was up to.

Eventually, the camera became an increasingly important tool in my life, and I discovered I really enjoyed the process of creating images. I began to teach myself the technical side, from camera settings to editing techniques. Over time, my experience in the field and experiments with compositions and combining the elements of nature has helped me to develop a more signature style. I don’t know exactly what I do differently, but I don’t mind being uncomfortable – wet, cold, tired – to get the images I’m visualizing, so perhaps that’s part of it.

I’m just grateful to know that photography has an effect on people and can cause them to care more about our natural world, and that keeps me very motivated to keep creating.

A moment of exquisite light high up on Mount Robson, king of the Canadian Rockies. Mount Robson, British Columbia, Canada

2. Why Banff? Why the mountains? What draws you there?

To me, Banff is the ultimate playground, with incredible access to the wilderness and a national park status to preserve a large amount of it. There is so much to do and see here and my list of areas to explore is never-ending. We have the privilege of stunning landscapes and incredible mountains to climb, as well as pristine dark skies, perfect for astro and aurora photography. I get so much inspiration from the ever-changing landscape here and never seem to run out of new ideas for images.

3. What is it about Banff and the surrounding area that keeps you engaged? What keeps you there? What do you see?

No two days are the same in the Rockies. Conditions change so drastically, not only with the seasons but also day to day. One week, we might be covered in 20cm in snow and, the next, it has all melted again.

Many people are drawn to Banff for the iconic views, but there is so much more to see if you just venture a little further, especially away from the road. There are areas of the park which may only be seen once every 20 years! I just love the endless possibilities and the excitement of heading out to find something I haven’t seen before.

Navigating through the mighty Robson Glacier during our descent. Mount Robson, British Columbia, Canada

4. What do you look for in a perfect shot?

I previsualize a lot of my images so I often have an idea in my head of what I want to create. Of course, you are also dependent on conditions and what you are given. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

A perfect shot for me is one that shows the scale of the place, captures the beauty of the landscape, and tells a story.

5. What is one of your favourite photos taken in the mountains? And why?

It’s too had to choose just one, but some of my favourite images were taken on a mountaineering trip up Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 3,959 m (12,989 feet). It was thrilling to climb Mount Robson, and to also document the experience. The scale of that landscape is magnificent!

First light illuminates the frozen land beyond, just as we gained the ridge. Mount Robson, British Columbia, Canada

6. Any message you are trying to send?

To answer this one, I’d like to quote a passage from my book Summits and Starlight: The Canadian Rockies:

“Growing up in suburbia, but having lived in close proximity to mountain wilderness for years now, it has become increasingly apparent to me that humans have become disconnected from the natural environment, from where we originated eons ago. We have, essentially, walked away from nature. From this emerges a new sense of purpose for me: the possibility to invite people to go back to the wilderness through my images, and to be reminded of what the natural world adds to one’s life. I have no doubt that reconnecting with nature is a big part of solving our common world issues. And by extension, I feel that I can play a role in preserving these special places so that this crucial connection will remain strong for generations to come.”

7. How would you dedcribe what you do?

I would say I’m a professional mountain landscape and adventure photographer, though if you were to look at my image library, there is a lot more to it than just that. I’ve photographed penguins in Antarctica, nomads in Mongolia, and pretty much everything in between. I would say my drive is to explore the undiscovered, far-flung corners of the world and my camera is a tool that allows me to do that.

Watching icebergs parade through the Ilulissat icefjord under the dancing aurora. Ilulissat, Greenland.

8. How much effort / time goes into a particular photo?

Of course, with any image, it completely varies how much effort is involved. Some images take months of planning before I even step foot outside! There are so many considerations that come into play, such as weather, moon cycle, aurora forecast, and a model’s availability. Just getting these things to align can be the biggest challenge. I do always treasure the images that have taken more physical effort to get, however. Even if they aren’t my strongest images, I also enjoy looking back on those ones and remembering the days of camping in the backcountry, sleepless nights, freezing temps and peaks climbed to achieve them. It’s always worth putting yourself through a little discomfort for a more memorable image. It’s perfectly normal for me to be out for a full day and come home with two or three images that I’m really happy with.

9. What do you want people to take away from seeing one of your photos?

Just that there’s so much beauty and magic out there in the world. People spend so much time indoors in front of screens now and I truly believe the answer to so many current issues is to get back outside in nature.

I spend a lot of time at high latitudes and live in a place that is heavily glaciated. Therefore, I am often reminded of the impact that global warming has on our planet. I believe the role I can play is to bring the beauty and magic of the planet to others. Once people appreciate, they start caring, and they start wanting to take action. I believe my role is to inspire people to care.

A fantastic night exploring an ice canyon we discovered from the bottom of which I set up this self-portrait. Greenland Ice sheet

10. How would you rate Banff and the surrounding area in terms of landscape compared to other parts of the world? What makes it unique… special?

Every time I’m travelling home to Banff from other parts of the world, I pinch myself that it’s not only a place people spend their savings to visit, but it’s “home.” The landscape, to me, has it all: stunning mountains, vibrant lakes, abundant wildlife, and gorgeous wildflowers. Plus, it has four distinct seasons. I have yet to find a place as dynamic and spectacular as Banff, in terms of the opportunities it presents to photographers year-round.

11. What is next for you? How would you like your personal journey/story to unfold from here?

I have a young family, and my goal is to keep pursuing my work, but also being a very present father. I love to spend time with them outdoors, taking them on hikes, and ice skating on frozen lakes. But I also like to learn alongside them, read books, and teach them about the world. So, for me the professional possibilities are exciting, and always balanced with my responsibilities towards my family. That being said, I have exciting travels coming up to Bhutan, Easter Island (which I visited with my family last year), Iceland, and Botswana. And some fun book projects also in the works, to be released in the next few years.

If you wish to learn more about Paul and his work, please check out these sites:

www.zizka.ca

facebook.com/paulzizkaphoto

instagram.com/paulzizkaphoto

Exploring the icy depths of hidden caves in ancient glaciers. Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Canada.