Behind the Image: Audience of One

Earlier this month, I was fortunate to return to beautiful Greenland to lead a group with fellow photographers Stephen DesRoches and Curtis Jones. Through OFFBEAT, the company I co-founded with my friend Dave Brosha, we do a number of these epic photography trips every year. They are always rewarding journeys; it is such a privilege to be able to introduce fellow photographers to these wild corners of the planet, and to help guide them along their creative journey. Between the demands on the logistical side, and the fact that our priority is to assist participants with their own photographs, there really isn’t much time for leaders to create images of their own. That’s why we always make a point to add a few days to any international trip we do for pure creative time. “Play time,” as we call it.

This time around, play time meant finding ourselves camping on the Greenland ice sheet for three nights, about 50 kilometres away from the closest settlement, Kangerlussuaq. Our main purpose over those few days was to document supraglacial lakes, these surreal, turquoise bodies of water that have proliferated along the edge of the ice cap recently. Unfortunately, shortly after setting foot on the ice and sending up a reconnaissance drone, we realized we were too late. Winter had arrived early in Greenland and once up on the ice, there was barely any open water to be found. We reluctantly reset our objectives, set up a base camp and focused on finding some other features to photograph. As an avid astrophotographer, my main concern during the day was locating compositions that could be recreated under the stars and, hopefully, the aurora. All of the forecasts agreed that our first two nights would be overcast, but our very last night in the area looked hopeful. 

This image is available as a limited-edition print in a variety of sizes and format. See our online store for details!

Despite the blizzard that set in shortly after setting up camp, we made good use of the next 48 hours by locating stunning ice caves and canyons within a kilometre of our tents. By the time the clear night came around, I had 4 or 5 shots I was after. I had a plan and a vision. Nightfall came cloudy, however, and we started getting concerned that our astrophotography plans would fall through. At midnight, we were still fighting the cloud cover despite all forecasts still calling for crystal clear conditions (I had re-checked with the InReach). Behind the veil, one could tell that the aurora was dancing. It was one of those situations where the images still looked great on the back of the cameras (due to the ice features being so photogenic), but every time we’d meet in the dark, one of us would say “Oh man, can you imagine if the clouds weren’t there?!” Eventually, Stephen and Curtis decided to make their way back to camp and would shoot there if the skies cleared up. I opted to stick it out a little longer. After all, sunlight wouldn’t come for another five hours and I had come all this way. Finally, at around 1 a.m., the cloud cover started dissipating quickly, revealing a bright ribbon of green. 

I frantically ran around, crampons on, to re-create the four compositions I had scouted, and was able to frame the aurora borealis in all four. I’ve always felt I’ve had more than my share of luck with the aurora over the years. But that night was something else. This particular image was shot from the middle of a bend at the bottom of an ice canyon. The cold may have meant our blue lakes were gone, but it had enabled us to travel along the bottom of such canyons, thus opening up incredible compositions. I set up the tripod, went with settings of f/2.8, ISO 1600 and 10 seconds, manually focus on the rim of the canyon (where I would be standing), got the 5DIV to shoot continuously and then proceeded up the canyon, to a less steep section nearby and then up to the rim for the self-portrait. I placed my Lupine headlamp on the ground behind me to cast a bit of rim light on myself. I took about eight similar images and selected this one because it’s the one where the aurora looked best.

I hope you like the stories behind the images! I very much look forward to sharing a few more shots from that incredible night!

Aurora and ice on the Greenland ice sheet. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

This image is available as a limited-edition print in a variety of sizes and format. See our online store for details!