Award-winning photographer Paul Zizka’s bio is nothing short of impressive! Paul specializes in photographing hard-to-reach places in difficult conditions. His photos have been featured in top publications like Maclean’s, IMPACT, Alpinist, Huffington Post, The Guardian, Canadian Geographic, Islands, PhotoLife, Fodors.co, explore magazine and he is the Photo Editor of the Canadian Rockies Annual. His adventures are straight out of a James Bond novel and include a 1400-km unsupported double-crossing of Iceland on foot (2004), a 1488-km solo crossing of the South Island of New Zealand (2007), backpacking in the Caribbean, trekking in remote corners of Scandinavia and Nepal and ski touring on Baffin Island. Paul has photographed all Canada’s provinces and territories. And he lives in the stunning Canadian Rockies. Here are some of his thoughts on photography, social media and Canada.
Let’s start with Canada. We’d love to hear more about your travels.
I have documented all provinces and territories in Canada. Each of those places offers so many opportunities that I would gladly return to any of them to explore further. Places like the Arctic are particularly challenging to discover, simply because of access issues. One just has to be content with seeing them one little bit at a time! I grew up in a suburb of Quebec City. It was a wonderful place to be a kid, and I truly enjoy returning to the “Vieille Capitale” occasionally to appreciate its beauty again. The mountains are home, though. We decided to live in Banff because of the incredible natural beauty, the opportunities for outdoor exploration, and simply because it’s the best possible base I could think of for the type of work that I do.
Do you get time to enjoy Banff?
I try to make the time. As much as I love documenting other parts of the world, I live in Banff for a reason. I have yet to find a place that inspires me more than the Canadian Rockies. Every year I seem to manage to see a little bit more of Banff National Park, and climb a few mountains that are new to me.
Describe a typical day
There is really no typical day. Every day is a juggling act, especially with a spirited two-year-old in the mix now! One trend I’ve noticed as the business (and family) grows is that I have to be more and more intentional about making time for creativity and that I get better at making the most of the time I have out there, knowing that I need to make it count!
Is Instagram worth the time and effort?
We started the account about a year and a half ago, somewhat reluctantly. I say “reluctantly” simply because I am wary of anything that might take away from my time out there in the field! The goal was to simply put the images in front of a different audience. I find it difficult to put a value on our Instagram presence. I think that will be easier to assess in the long term when we (hopefully) see some of that new audience contribute to our streams of revenues (prints, workshops, stock, etc.). At the very least, Instagram users are now at least aware of what I do, and I am just happy to share images with a new community. Time will tell if our efforts will be fruitful from a financial standpoint as well, or whether Instagram will be relevant at all at that point.
How do you balance Instagram with commercial and editorial work?
I am quite new to the whole Instagram world so, unfortunately, don’t feel like I have much to contribute in that way. I suppose photographers need to decide if they are taking photos specifically for Instagram or not. I don’t take images specifically for Instagram. I just share what I am already producing for my other social media streams, clients or for future editorial use.
How much time do you spend on Instagram?
Very little, actually, as I outsource a lot of it. It’s not out of a lack of interest – it’s simply a time issue. And I find that there are better platforms when it comes to getting a good dose of inspiration. We use Hootsuite to schedule the occasional post.
Can anyone be a successful photographer?
It really depends on your definition of “success.” For me, success is very much tied to creativity. If I manage to pay the bills and feed the family, and yet still figure out a way to convey my view of the world through it all, then I’ve been successful. These days, the former requires you to be somewhat of an online marketing specialist. Monetizing is just not possible without knowing how to put your images in front of the right people. I’m sure that talent helps, but being able to properly market yourself is more important than ever.
Is there a difference between what a traditional print audience and an Instagram audience responds to?
For sure. I am still figuring it out, but the numbers tell me that Instagram users have much less disposable income (my following anyway) than Facebook users do. The latter are the people who currently buy prints and sign up for workshops. I see the investment in Instagram as a long-term move with the hope that when those people do have disposable income, they might consider investing in a print or a trip.
Which three photos were your most successful on Instagram?
Would these photos have been as successful in magazines or newspapers?
Probably. They are not particularly cutting-edge images, but “safe”, relatable images that would do well as stock photos.
What’s your favourite season to photograph in Canada?
Top three spots to photograph in Canada
My three favourite spots that I’ve actually been, picked for their incredible photographic potential and their wild feel: Baffin Island, the Canadian Rockies and Kluane National Park. Three places I’m hoping to get to one day, for the exact same reasons: the Torngats, the Cirque of the Unclimbables and Devon Island!
How do you get that perfect shot?
I’ve probably dealt with my share of objective hazards (avalanche, rockfall, etc.) in the mountains, just because it’s something you have to be willing to put up with if you’re going to do mountaineering photography. Other than that, though, I’ve found that a little temporary discomfort (getting wet or cold, or pushing the body hard once in a while) can be a small price to pay when you’re really excited about the potential of a photograph.
Where would you take photography friends in Canada?
I would venture up to the high latitudes, where the wilderness is uninterrupted and the landscapes await to be documented. We would likely spend our time between the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. The Alaska Highway and the Dempster would make for amazing opportunities!
Three favourite restaurants
I’m not much of a foodie (usually I get it out of the way to make for more photo time!) but I really like The Bison (Banff), Pagliacci’s (Victoria) and La Crémaillère (Quebec City).
Three favourite scenic views
Summit of Mount Robson, the rock beach at Bow Lake and flying around Mount Logan!
Three favourite cities
Most romantic place
Old Quebec City. I got married there! 🙂
When things get too much where do you go?
I live here because I can drive or walk for a few minutes to get away from it all and head for the hills. The Icefields Parkway (Banff and Jasper National Park) is probably my favourite launching point for gaining perspective.
Do you have any advice for photographers visiting Canada?
Allow tons of time. It’s a BIG country and getting places takes time. And allow time to venture away from the road. A lot of the country’s beauty lies in the backcountry areas!
Three places on your bucket list
-Photograph the Cirque of the Unclimbables, in the Northwest Territories. -Explore the Torngats, in Labrador and Quebec. -Document the High Arctic – places like Ellesmere and Devon Islands! Paul Zizka is an award-winning photographer who lives in Banff