Since moving to Canada from Japan over 20 years ago, photographer Yuichi Takasaka has developed a keen eye for the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights. His award-winning photographs have appeared in tourist brochures, Canadian Geographic and on the websites of organizations including NASA and National Geographic. Vancouverites have a chance to see Takasaka’s work for themselves at Fires in the North, an exhibition of aurora photographs at the Art Beatus Gallery until October 18.
In addition to introducing people to the beauty of the northern lights through his photography, Takasaka also does this by conducting aurora-viewing tours for tourists in Canada’s north. In fact, it was his tour guiding that led Takasaka to photography in the first place, after he moved to Yellowknife in 1992 to work at a tour company that offered aurora viewing to a mostly Japanese clientele.
“In order to sell the northern lights tour in Japan I needed some pictures. There weren’t any available, so I had to take them myself,” he says.
Photography was simply a hobby at the time for Takasaka and it took him many attempts and a great deal of time to be able to capture the beauty of the northern lights.
His efforts have not gone unrewarded. Takasaka’s photos have won prizes in Canada, Japan and Norway and in 2007 earned him a commendation from BBC Wildlife’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award.
Spreading his passion
During his time in Canada’s north, Takasaka has witnessed a boom in tourism.
“The first year I was there it was like 85 [tourists] or something, but by the time I finished working and became freelance, there were over ten thousand people,” he says.
Takasaka now works as a freelance guide and runs his own specialized photography tour where he teaches clients the technical aspects of photographing the northern lights.
On a recent tour, Takasaka and his group were thrilled to have four consecutive nights of seeing the northern lights, allowing everyone to capture great shots of the aurora.
“Everybody was yelling “Sugoi! Sugoi!” he says, which translates as ‘Amazing! Amazing!’ in Japanese.
Takasaka adds that a few of his clients who had previously gone to Europe to see the aurora said they were not able to see it then. However, after seeing the four consecutive nights of northern skies in Yellowknife, they were delighted and even jokingly questioned why they went to Europe before.
Takasaka’s first encounter with the northern lights in Jasper, Alberta wasn’t quite as magical. He recalls the moment in 1990, when he saw “a cloud-like thing” up in the mountains.
“I asked somebody [what that was] and then I was told ‘that’s the aurora.’ I was like, ‘What? That’s it?’” he says.
However, the northern lights in Yellowknife redefined his expectations.
“It was unbelievable there. Just waking up and [the northern lights] moving so fast and many different colors. That was amazing,” he says.
Close to Nature
Aside from taking photographs of the northern slights, Takasaka also captures wildlife and scenery. He has taken up-close photos of harp seals, polar bears and even a Kermode bear eating fish.
Much of Takasaka’s work reflects how close he lives his life with nature. Takasaka recently returned from a camping expedition in the wilderness where he photographed bears at close quarters.
“When I woke up my buddy told me to not go outside my tent. ‘There’s a bear five meters away from our tent,’ [he said]. So I went out and took pictures instead,” says Takasaka.
Although Takasaka enjoys taking pictures of wildlife, he says that unlike the northern lights, he doesn’t go to specific locations to take pictures of wildlife. Instead, he captures those moments as they come.