Originally from Quebec City, Paul Zizka moved to the picturesque city of Banff in Alberta, Canada in 2008. In a sense, his entire life has been defined by being surrounded by nature, and the move to Banff simply solidified this by placing him right in the middle of the spectacular Canadian Rockies.

Since then, he has probably taken some of the most famous, most shared, and most beautiful self-portraits of anybody on 500px… or possibly in the world.

Surrounded by one of the most pristine and beautiful natural landscapes on earth, Paul fully embraced and, in fact, was one of the photographers leading the charge to reconnect with nature through photography. His goal was to add a human element to his landscapes… since he was often alone, that element was often just himself.

Frozen Kingdom by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

You wouldn’t know it from the quality of Paul’s work today, but at first, photography was simply a way of documenting the places he visited and chronicling the mountaineering experience. However, over time, this art began to captivate his imagination and get under his skin.

“I became increasingly fascinated with the interplay of light, weather and the landscape,” he told us over email. “Photography allowed me to observe nature more closely and make me more aware of my surroundings. Soon, this magnified way of observing the natural environment became indistinguishable from living life as I had known it.”

He took the plunge and purchased his first DSLR 8 years ago in 2007, and thus the journey began. Three years later, he made the even scarier leap into full-time professional photography, and he hasn’t looked back since.

Afloat by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

We recently got a chance to catch up with Paul and ask him about his self-portraits—they probably make up the most recognizable portion of his incredible portfolio—and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.

Originally we were just going to use the answers for a basic feature… until we realized that it would be a shame not to publish these thoughtful answers in full. We think you’ll agree with us. Scroll down to read all about and see Paul’s work for yourself:

500px: What attracts you to taking these natural self-portraits? How did this trend start for you?

Paul Zizka: The trend started rather haphazardly. I liked the idea of including a human in the frame to give a sense of perspective and reinforce our connection with the landscape as humans. Often I was out shooting alone, so the human in the frame would be me. Of course, it would be easier to shoot a model instead of going back and forth to the camera to change settings and fix any compositional issues. But, eventually, the self-portrait aspect became a part of the photographic journey, and I enjoy the challenges it brings.

The Flow of the Night by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

In a world of selfies, you’re really showing the stark difference between a “selfie” and a “self-portrait.” Be honest… do you ever just take your phone out and snap a selfie for good measure 😉

Paul: I’m probably the odd one out there but I honestly never take iPhone selfies “just because”!

Is there a message behind your self-portraits? What’s the deeper purpose behind these images?

Paul: To answer this one, I’d like to quote a passage from my book Summits and Starlight: The Canadian Rockies:

Growing up in suburbia, but having lived in close proximity to mountain wilderness for years now, it has become increasingly apparent to me that humans have become disconnected from the natural environment, from where we originated eons ago. We have, essentially, walked away from nature. From this emerges a new sense of purpose for me: the possibility to invite people to go back to the wilderness through my images, and to be reminded of what the natural world adds to one’s life. I have no doubt that reconnecting with nature is a big part of solving our common world issues. And by extension, I feel that I can play a role in preserving these special places so that this crucial connection will remain strong for generations to come.

Overall, I suppose it’s a way to say that we all belong in the wilderness, and that there’s got to be a way to make the human-wild connection something that is sustainable.

Assiniboine Dreams by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

Do you have a favorite self-portrait? What about the one with the craziest story behind it?

Paul: It’s hard to choose, but an image called “Castaway” (below), taken on a tiny “island” in Berg Lake, is very dear to me. To capture the image, I set up the composition, got the intervalometer going, and headed out towards the island rock, which turned out to lie in deeper water than I expected (almost neck deep). Safety did not seem like a real concern until the Berg Glacier released an unknown amount of ice into its namesake lake. I say “unknown” because although the photograph makes it look like it was bright out, it wasn’t at all. I could not see how much ice had calved off, nor how much water was coming my way as a result.

After deciding that sticking to my rock was the safest option, I anxiously waited for the water to arrive. After a minute or so I heard the wave approaching, but thankfully the water only rose 25 cm or so—enough to cover the rock, but that’s about it. My own safety concerns having vanished, I then turned towards my camera setup and hoped for the best. I was most thankful when I saw that the little red light of the Canon 5D3 did not budge when the water hit the tripod. Funny how much chaos went into creating a photograph that (hopefully) conveys a sense of peace and calm!

Castaway by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

Any tips for other people wanting to take these kinds of epic self-portraits?

Paul: I’ve found that one way to keep things efficient in the field is to use an intervalometer and get the camera to shoot non-stop. This allows me to try several body positions (and different similar takes on the same pose for long exposures where one shot will always be sharper than the others when viewed on the big screen) without having to return to the camera every time.

I also set the camera to bracket the exposure in case the light changes while I’m “out there” on the other side of the camera.

Glacier Underpass by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

We cannot possibly thank Paul enough for taking the time to answer our questions so thoughtfully, and for helping us to reconnect with the natural world through his captivating images. Each one comes with a twinge of wanderlust and the reminder to “f/8 and be there,” as the saying goes.

Below you’ll find more of our favorite self-portraits from his account, and at the very bottom a slew of links so you can follow and find more from Paul.

Editor’s Note: Also keep an eye on ISO! We’re planning several more features with Paul, so this is definitely not the last you’ve seen of his work.

Veils of the Wild by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

"Steward of the Stars" by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

pzp by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

A Skier

Iceberg Lake by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

Springtime Spectacle by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

Adrift by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

At One by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

Beautifully Stranded by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

Cosmic Curtains by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

Alone with the King by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

Midnight Majesty by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

Dwarfed by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

Fine Night for a Farewell by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

500.jpg by Paul Zizka on 500px.com

To see more of Paul’s amazing work as it goes up, follow him on 500px right away; to find more of his work or even purchase prints of his amazing photos, visit his website; and if you’re all about following photographers on social media, you can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.