Places

A fresh perspective: how changing the angle reveals a new face of the Canadian Rockies

Photographer Paul Zizka shares his process creating Aloft: ​​Canadian Rockies Aerial Photography and the stories behind the shots

Sunshine Meadows
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Glacier-fed lakes, expansive alpine meadows, rugged mountain peaks and tree-filled valleys. These are just some of the many breathtaking features of the Canadian Rockies captured in Paul Zizka’s book, Aloft: Canadian Rockies Aerial Photography.

An award-winning mountain landscape, travel and adventure photographer, Zizka has been capturing the Canadian Rockies for more than a decade and wanted to show a different perspective of one of our country’s most famous landscapes. 

Now out in paperback, Aloft contains 135 images of the UNESCO World Heritage site captured from the air. While the Rocky Mountains draw millions of visitors from around the world every year to hike, ski and appreciate the wildlife, Zizka wanted to reveal a less familiar vantage point: a unique bird’s-eye view.  

Collected through a combination of commercial and private helicopter flights, Aloft is the result of diligent work, technical expertise and painstaking flight planning. Shooting in an environment like the Canadian Rockies requires adaptability and fast thinking as light can change quickly, and compositions are fleeting, meaning each photo holds something different. Inspired by how a new perspective on a well-known spot can make it unrecognizable, Aloft reveals fresh angles to old favourites, including Sunshine Meadows, Robson Glacier, and Mount Assiniboine. By capturing the Canadian Rockies from above, Zizka reveals a perspective most people don’t get the chance to see. 

Canadian Geographic sat down with Zizka to hear the stories behind his photos and discuss the process of shooting these iconic mountains from the air.

Wildlife overpass
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Zizka says that seeing this Banff National Park wildlife overpass from the sky made the difficulties wildlife face obvious. “You can see the scars that impede animal traffic. You can see the Bow River, you can see the railway, you can see the Trans Canada Highway in the background. You see this sort of beautiful mountain, Mount Isabelle and the flat iron geography up at the top, which is very typical of the front ranges of the Canadian Rockies,” he says. The wildlife overpasses have become a staple of the stretch of highway through Banff National Park, and Zizka says he was surprised by how vegetated they have become. “They’re becoming a sort of a seamless continuation of what’s on either side of them.”

Mount Robson
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Capturing Mount Robson and the Robson Glacier from a helicopter on what Zizka called a “pretty turbulent morning” is not easy. The process of photographing ice and snow in the Canadian Rockies relies on technical skills and good communication to work with the conditions. “We flew over the summit and got bounced around quite a bit,” he says. “It was very exhilarating.” Zizka loves the possibilities that aerial photography in the Canadian Rockies brings. “There’s always part of me that’s just marvelling at it, in absolute awe of the different angle and what it looks like from higher up.”

Mount Temple
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What Zizka calls “Lake Louise’s equivalent to Mount Rundle,” Mount Temple is a mountain he knows well. While Zizka has ascended it several times, he enjoyed seeing it from above. “To be able to see it from a different vantage point was really eye-opening. That hanging glacier looks so small … and when you get up close, you realize how much ice still lingers there. Despite, of course, the fact that it’s going away fairly quickly,” says Zizka.

Mount Rundle
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While Zizka sees Mount Rundle from his house every day, he says the winter sun rising on its summit is a fresh perspective, and he appreciates the effort it took to capture it on camera. He details how he was strapped to a doorless helicopter to get the shot. “You’re quite exposed to the elements, and … you’re shooting nonstop, there’s no breaks, it’s always good. There are no lulls. You’re constantly taking photos and operating that shutter, so just watching the digits becomes very, very important in the winter,” he says. 

Sunshine Meadows
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Seen from the air on a clear fall day with the peak of Mount Assiniboine in the distance, Sunshine Meadows draws tourists year-round. Its three lakes are part of a popular hiking trail that Zizka says is especially busy during wildflower season, while the nearby Sunshine Village is known for its skiing. “It’s always beautiful any time of the year,” says Zizka. “Especially when you get this kind of sidelight and large needles turning gold. It’s absolutely mesmerizing from the air.”

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