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Aerial photo book gives rise to new perspectives

“To be able to look down at all those trails, lakeshores, peaks, all those places that you are familiar with – you get these memories. That is what I hope people will take away from this book even if they are not the one flying in the helicopter.”

BANFF – Aloft. That is where Paul Zizka’s new photo book takes viewers – up into the air, high above the Canadian Rockies.

Aloft, is the Banff photographer’s seventh picture book highlighting the impressive scale and beauty of the rugged peaks, tree-filled valleys, alpine meadows and glacier-fed lakes of the Rockies, and his first book focused entirely on aerial photography.

“It's such a unique perspective – I know I am not the only one who likes to see things from the air. Whenever you get to fly – people always marvel at how different the view is from above,” said Zizka.

He started compiling aerial imagery of the Rockies in 2013 without the intention of publishing a book.

As a photographer, he was commissioned by tourism agencies such as Banff and Lake Louise Tourism, Mount Robson Provincial Park and Fortress Lake Wilderness Retreat to capture aerial photographs.

“For people that are familiar with the Rockies, I think it is a great way to rediscover the places that they fell in love with on the ground. We’ve all come up with an idea of the lay of the land and it’s incredible how rarely that aerial perspective matches your expectations.”

Over the years his catalogue of images taken from the windows of helicopters grew and he started to think about publishing a book.

“Three or four years ago, I realized that I had more than half the content for an aerial book and there hadn’t been any aerial books produced for quite some time.”

Capturing aerial pictures of the Rockies is not an easy feat. Due to the restrictions on drones within the national parks, a helicopter is the only option, which is cost-prohibited, said Zizka.

He added that even when paying for a sight-seeing flight, the conditions are out of the photographer's control and they are limited to the flight path of the company.

In the last four years, with publishing a book in mind, Zizka was able to plan and wait for the best possible conditions to get the best images he could.

That patience paid off for Zizka on his last flight for the book, where he flew over Yoho and the Kootenays.

For the last set of images, he knew he wanted the larch trees, fresh snow and open lakes. In that short window of time that those three aspects are available, he said the stars aligned on the last possible day.

“I’ll never forget flying over the Rockwall Trail and Floe Lake. The larch trees were at their brightest. We had fresh snowfall and the lake was still open. It was overwhelming and I was so thrilled to wrap up the project in that way.”

The cover image of Mount Temple is another photograph and moment that is near and dear to his heart.

“I was not planning to shoot Temple and I just remember zooming up towards Yoho and the inversion was just phenomenal – Temple was just standing head and shoulders above everything else. It’s one of those unexpected images,” Zizka said.

The veteran photo book publisher said without a doubt the most difficult part of the publishing process was the editing and selection of images for the book. Over six years, he captured thousands of images and whittled his collection down to just 140 for Aloft.

“It can feel like mental torture at times having to let go of some images over others and I often needed help during that time to select the best images.”

From the technical aspect of shooting the images, Zizka said aerial photography is a lot more productive in a shorter time span compared to shooting from the ground. He added that time is of the essence.

“It is not time sensitive in the traditional sense where the light changes, or the weather changes, we have dynamic conditions to work with on the ground, but more because it’s expensive to be up there and whether it’s your budget, or a clients budget, you have to assess the composition and the geometry of the scene very quickly.”

He said a key skill he learned while up in the air was how to be adaptable and reactive to the scene. Putting the book together he spent a lot of time organizing the pictures in a way that would have the biggest impact.

“To be able to look down at all those trails, lakeshores, peaks, all those places that you are familiar with – you get these memories. That is what I hope people will take away from this book even if they are not the one flying in the helicopter.”

Aloft, published by Rocky Mountain Books, is now available in local bookstores and online at Zizka’s website and at online retailers.

Evan Buhler

About the Author: Evan Buhler

Evan Buhler is an award-winning photojournalist and reporter who joined the Outlook in 2019. A native of Calgary, he previously worked in Salmon Arm, B.C.
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