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Banff photographer Paul Zizka’s unique vantage point

“Flying over the mountains is always so memorable."

BANFF – Hovering over peaks and mountain ranges, the open doors of the floating helicopter leave Paul Zizka unprotected against the elements.

The wind is howling way up there and everything and everyone is bouncing around inside the compact metal box with swirling blades. 

Zizka, meanwhile, sits attached to a harness that’s clipped into an anchor in the middle of the helicopter. He points a camera out and shoots the landscape below while trying not to think about whatever people avoid thinking about when they’re more or less hanging around thousands of feet up in the air.

“Whenever my mind wanders to how exposed we are and how vulnerable it feels to be up there, I just kind of get my mind into the photography world again,” said Zizka. 

“I sort of try to focus on the task at hand and that kind of allows me to really focus on what I’m doing … and making sure you get the image that you need kind of helps with that, but it’s always exhilarating, for sure.”

The renowned mountain and landscape photographer from Banff has gained international recognition for capturing iconic shots in the Canadian Rockies. However, that’s mostly been when both of his feet are firmly planted on the ground where he gets last say on the photograph. For aerial photography, at the mercy of other factors including a changing weather pattern, it’s a chance for Zizka to see the world he’s immersed in much differently. 

It also means the public gets that rare opportunity, too.

The award-winning photographer’s book Aloft: Canadian Rockies Aerial Photography, published through Rocky Mountain Books, is available on paperback for the first time. It offers a bird’s-eye view of summits, lakes, glaciers and valley bottoms in locations such as Canmore and Banff and Jasper national parks in all seasons.

The inspiration for capturing the Rockies from a unique angle came while Zizka was hiking Castle Mountain in Banff National Park in 2009. His hiking partner suffered an unfortunate leg injury, which forced the pair to call for help and be heli-rescued. 

When everyone was safe and secured and the helicopter went airborne, the adventure photographer quickly realized how differently the famous mountain appeared from how he was used to seeing it. New angles, characteristics, shadows and the vast diversity were suddenly seen in a new light.

“Flying over the mountains is always so memorable,” said Zizka. “Living in a place that is so dynamic, you never know what you’re gonna get, and you have to make the best of it.”

Captured over a six-year span between 2013 and 2019, Zizka and a small team with keen eyes, including his wife and writer Meghan J. Ward, started out with thousands of photographs to look over, but only 135 made the cut for Aloft.

About half of the photos in the book were taken while he was shooting commercially. For the other half, Zizka arranged to be taken up in the sky to fill in the gaps of areas he missed shooting.

“There’s definitely something to be said for when you put in the physical work to get an image,” said Zizka. “You’re forced to put more intention into what you do and you’re less likely to cut corners, you’re more likely to do it right, I think, and just really try to capitalize on what Mother Nature sort of hands out to you.”

For more on Aloft and Zizka, visit

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

An award-winning reporter, Jordan Small has covered sports, the arts, and news in the Bow Valley since 2014. Originally from Barrie, Ont., Jordan has lived in Alberta since 2013.
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