Paul Zizka is an incredible landscape and adventure photographer. Based in Canada’s Rocky Mountains, Paul has taken some of the most iconic mountain images around. His starlight images of mountain landscapes convey a perspective of how large the universe is and how lucky we are to experience such beauty in our lives.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I am a mountain landscape and adventure photographer based in Banff, Alberta. I grew up in Quebec City, made my way West, fell in love with the mountains and pretty much never left.
Can you tell us about your first book “Summits and Starlight?”
The book features iconic and classic images of the Canadian Rockies taken to new heights and completely reimagined. It shows remarkable backcountry landscapes and dizzying peaks throughout the mountains of western Canada. The result is a collection of images that highlight difficult conditions and hard-to-reach places; alpine sports and backcountry experiences; unusual angles of common mountain subjects; and stars, Northern Lights and dramatic silhouettes.
One of your adventures led you on an unsupported double-crossing of Iceland by foot. Can you tell us about the journey and what it entailed.
The trip was a graduation present to myself when I completed university. I landed at the Kaflavik airport and started walking across the highlands, to the far northeast of the island, and back across. I arrived at the airport again 44 days later. It was a fabulous way to get acquainted with Iceland and turned out to be a life-changing journey.
What inspired you to undertake such an epic adventure?
After a few years spent in the city to complete my university degree, I really longed for the wilderness. I craved an adventure and I found it in Iceland.
You also crossed the South Island of New Zealand. Can you tell us about your trek and how you felt doing it.
A few years after the Iceland trip, I was convinced the best way to get to know a place was to walk through it, at a slow pace. Maximum immersion. I spent 44 days crossing an incredible variety of environments, from mountains to rainforests to sandy beaches. Like the Iceland trips, there were many highs and lows, many challenges and memorable moments. It was one of the best trips of my life.
What have these long distance journeys meant to you?
They confirmed that I’m at my best in the wilderness, and they showed me how much time spent in nature can add to my life.
How did you begin as a photographer?
Photography for me started as a way of simply documenting the places I was visiting and chronicling the mountain experience. With time, however, I became increasingly fascinated with the interplay of light, weather and the landscape. Photography allowed me to observe nature more closely and made me more aware of my surroundings. Soon this magnified way of observing the natural environment became indistinguishable from living life as I had known it. I purchased my first DSLR in 2007, and thus the journey began. Three years later I ventured into full-time professional photography.
To answer more about the how or why, I’ll 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.”
You are known for your beautiful night sky images. How did you begin to focus on starry skies and where has it led you?
For me, it’s about experiencing the suggestion of worlds out there that may be like our own. All you see are little points of light and everything else is left to your imagination. There is so much to dream about. The sense of scale that the sky gives us—the huge size of it all and the distance involved—is mind-boggling. I wasn’t the kid who grew up loving the telescope at the age of four. My parents weren’t into astronomy or astro-geology. My interest developed as I spent more and more time in the outdoors and under dark skies. What struck me was how right it felt to finally establish a relationship with the sky. For me, so much of it is about perspective. You’re out there looking at things that are so old, so big, so far away. It puts your own life and your own little issues into perspective. The universe is telling you you’re not here for a very long time so there’s no use worrying about anything. Historically, people were connected to the skies, but now, it’s a cluttered kind of world. You have to put effort into making that connection and then when you’re out there, under the stars, it just feels so right. It’s where we all come from. It’s past primal.
Can you tell us about your evolution as a photographer?
I started out like a lot of people, just with the little point-and-shoot, documenting my own adventures just to show the folks back home, “Hey, here’s what we’re doing. Here’s what it looks like around here.” At the beginning I did what everybody did. Once in awhile, someone would say, “You know, you have a pretty good eye. You should consider taking it a bit more seriously.” I eventually decided to take the leap and commit to photography full time and have never looked back!
Of the many locations you have photographed, do you have a favorite?
I live in the Canadian Rockies for a reason! The variety, access and combination of factors here really excite me. We have stunning mountain lakes, dynamic skies, crazy weather…and people flock here from all over the world to photograph. Apart from that, I love remote corners of the globe that have been under-documented from a photo standpoint.
One of the companies you work with is Ball Watch. What has that collaboration meant to you?
The team at Ball has been most supportive. They “get” me and my motivations. I am extremely thankful that they reached out to me. They have truly helped me get out there and do what I love and what I am passionate about. I owe them a lot!
What would be your dream project?
I am doing what I love, and I am content. I would love to keep exploring and documenting wild corners of our planet, and hopefully inspire others to explore the wilderness creatively through photography.
More about Paul Zizka:
Upcoming adventures, exhibits or plans?
In the next few months I’m heading up to Yellowknife on a few different workshops to shoot the northern lights. Then I have more Banff-based workshops coming up in June, with more exotic locations such as Greenland and Antarctica planned for later in the year.
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