‘If it’s been a long time since you’ve been under the stars and close to nature, go out and experience it,’ urges Paul Zizka, a mountain landscape and adventure photographer based in Banff, Alberta, whose mission is to capture the world’s wildest locations and most under-documented natural phenomena on camera.
From the towering sea cliffs of the Faroe Islands to the rugged peaks of Antarctica, Zizka – who grew up in Canada – has always been fascinated by remote mountainous areas. And it’s not only his creative vision that enables him to produce awe-inspiring photographs: his fierce determination to overcome mental and physical challenges in extreme conditions is every bit as vital for getting the shot.
It can be tough but you have to make the most of the experience, even if you don’t get the photo you’d hoped for
‘Having the right mental approach is as important as the physical effort of reaching somewhere and setting up the image,’ he explains. ‘For example, I went to Greenland to document night skies in 2016, and there was thick cloud around 95 per cent of the time. If you put a lot of effort, money and time into a project that requires certain conditions, it’s tough but you have to make the most of the experience, even if you don’t get the photo you hoped for. Then you never go home empty-handed.’
In today’s social-media obsessed world, Zizka’s advice to put the experience first and the photo second is a refreshing reminder to take a step back and to be present in the moment. Part of his work is visualising and planning the images he wants to capture, then aligning the factors that allow them to happen. Often, he doesn’t have a specific image in mind, but plans a trip to a breathtaking setting, puts himself in the right place at the right time, and is inspired by what unfolds in front of him.
Indeed, time is paramount to the photography process and – as a Ball Watch ambassador, alongside his camera, tripod and various lenses – a sturdy watch is a key piece of kit ‘I wear the Ball Magneto S because it’s incredibly durable, and I know it will withstand the rigours of extreme weather and terrain. I’ve even been underwater with it,’ he says. ‘I’m alone on my expeditions a lot of the time so it’s crucial all my equipment’s reliable.’
While solitary exploration doesn’t appeal to everyone, some of Zizka’s most compelling images are his signature self-portraits, where he puts himself on the other side of the camera to create a sense of scale, and to portray our vulnerability in relation to the nature that surrounds us.
For anyone thinking of challenging themselves to go out of their comfort zone and embark on a far-flung adventure, Zizka says, ‘Just go for it! We’re all so removed from the wilderness nowadays but it’s added so much to my life, and I’ve seen people from cities transform almost overnight when they connect with more wild environments.’