While most photographers are all about chasing the light, shooting at night is a challenge that landscape photographer Paul Zizka particularly enjoys. Find out why as he shares his penchant for night photography.
Photography by definition is writing or drawing with light. So when light is taken away, what are we left with? Well, plenty of magic, according to Paul Zizka, professional mountain landscape and adventure photographer based in Banff, Alberta.
Self-portrait at Mt. Robson Provincial Park
“I love how the night can transform familiar places into completely different experiences. I also love all the elements of magic associated with astrophotography – aurora, stars, moonlight – and I am always blown away by all the beauty that the camera reveals, but the naked eye cannot see,” he explains.
Auroras at Vermilion Lakes, Banff National Park
Timing is everything when you’re tackling night photography. Paul advises making time, and a lot of it, for the best results. “One can’t just pull over for 5 minutes and go home with a great image. Exposures are longer; composing and focusing take time because of the lack of available light. Often, stacking focus is required.”
Speaking of tips, Paul composes his shot handheld with a very high ISO setting to save time. Once he gets a fairly close composition, he puts the tripod in place and dials down the ISO to achieve a usable image.
Auroras at Greenland
With such a vast canvas to shoot, Paul reveals that his favourite night time subject is the aurora borealis. The advantage of dark skies and high latitude in the Canadian Rockies mean the aurora would come up to ‘play’ from time to time. So while one could predict its likelihood of appearing by looking at data, the aurora is really a ‘right place, right time’ phenomenon to capture.
He adds, “For me, simply shooting the auroras in the sky isn’t enough. I like to incorporate creative compositions, and thankfully the mountain environment gives me lots to work with”.
While his travels have taken him to Ethiopia, Fiji, Nepal, and many remote corners of the world, the place that still excites him the most is the Canadian Rockies, that which he’s already familiar with during the day. That’s because “astrophotography has allowed me to rediscover the places I love and see them in a new way”.
Haffner Canyon at Kootenay National Park
When asked about his most memorable night shot, he points to the one that marked the beginning of his astrophotography adventures. A few weeks before it was taken, he and climber John Price visited Haffner Canyon to scout the location and despite a heavily overcast sky, Paul was overwhelmed by the possibilities. Even though they shot in frigid temperatures for a couple of hours, “the frozen fingers were well worth it”.
“I liked how the fisheye provided a sense of place – of being in the depths of the canyon. The moon had just disappeared beyond the rim but still shone an eerie glow, and the inclusion of two galaxies (Milky Way above the climber, and Andromeda in the centre of the frame) added to the surreal feel of the scene,” he adds.
As you would expect, he brings an assortment of Canon camera gear for night photography sessions. These include the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens and his favourite, the EF24mm f/1.4L II USM lens for its amazing light-gathering ability and extremely sharp quality.
Specialising in photographing in difficult conditions and hard-to-reach places, Paul Zizka has a passion for shooting alpine sports and backcountry experiences, capturing the spirit of adventurers and finding unusual angles of common mountain subjects. As a landscape photographer, he particularly enjoys the challenge of capturing nature’s beauty at night and the unique features that come with a dark sky – stars, Northern Lights and dramatic silhouettes. His photos have been featured in a variety of publications, including Maclean’s, NatGeo, Alpinist, Huffington Post, The Guardian, Canadian Geographic, Islands, PhotoLife, Fodors.com and explore magazine.