About Us

Beyond Our Edges: Nic Abarca – Capturing the World at a Different Angle

Nicolas (Nic) Abarca is a Water Resource Engineer in our Edmonton office who moved to Canada in 2005 from his home in Colombia to study at the University of Alberta. While his work keeps him very busy, he has a not-so-secret passion for photography that he makes time for whenever possible and has built quite an impressive portfolio since he first started taking photos. From people to landscapes and everything in between, Nic shares how he got started as a photographer and what he loves about this creative outlet.

Did you study photography or was this a growing passion over time?

I actually did study it! I did my undergrad in Colombia, and as part of our curriculum we needed to take a number of elective courses that are unrelated to engineering, and I took most of them on photography. My dad also had a bunch of cameras stacked away that he never used, and I thought it was kind of a waste so I thought why not take some courses and get some use out of them! At the time, we worked on 35mm film, and they taught us the basics like composition, developing and just everything that had to do with photography, and I’ve just kept at it ever since. I keep adding on techniques and different challenges and I really like it.

Parisian Child – Credit: Nic Abarca

What is your favourite thing to photograph?

I’m not much of a landscape photographer, so I do a lot of people photography. One of the things that I really like to do when I take photos, and especially when I travel, is trying to capture the place I’m photographing from a different angle. I really like to take photos of the people in the places that I visit. If you look at the photos that I take when I’m travelling a lot of them are of the individuals I meet or see while I’m there. People who look interesting; the story is not complete without the people in it. I like the context and the people that are in the photos more than the landmarks or recognizable places themselves.

That being said, I do have the opportunity now and again to take landscape photography for Urban Systems. A lot of times it’s commissioned by one of our consultants for a presentation or a report, and I try to make the image as interesting as I can.

Icy Falls, Iceland – Credit: Nic Abarca

Where are some of the most exciting places you’ve visited?

Iceland was one of the coolest places I’ve visited. There weren’t a lot of opportunities to take photos of people there, because some of the landscapes are pretty remote, so it was a challenge because it took me out of my comfort zone, but it was a very memorable trip. I also visited my brother who lives in Germany not too long ago which provided a great opportunity for a lot of diverse and interesting photos.


How often are you asked to take photos for Urban Systems?

When I first started here, I used a purchasing plan to buy my camera, a Canon Mark III, which was quite expensive. Usually the plan is for computer purchases, but because I agreed to also use the camera for work as needed, it worked out. So I became the official staff photographer in the Edmonton office, and then off and on I go out to take project related photos. Every time there’s an event, though, I become the defacto photographer!

Indigenous Woman at Edmonton Heritage Festival – Credit: Nic Abarca

Do you spend your weekends wandering Edmonton and taking photos?

Not too often because like everyone, I’m too busy, but I love to take photos at festivals in the city. I love to go to the heritage festival and capture the people in their costumes and having fun, and it just shows the cultural diversity in this city in such a unique way that I go to it every year.

Aside from taking staff photos and the occasional project photos, has your passion for photography intersected with your work in any other ways?

Well it’s interesting because I’m not the only one in Edmonton that’s enjoys photography, and at one time we had a fairly big group of us in Edmonton, including Tim Lutic, Goeff Harcombe and Christina Hopkins, so we created the Edmonton Photography Club. Between all of us we participate in a calendar that the University of Alberta Engineering department puts together every year, and we try to submit as a group to have our photos included and there have been years when all of us have been selected. It’s a pretty cool thing because it’s a good way to reach a wider audience. The calendar is distributed among all the engineering alumni, and you get to include your bio, a photo and write about your image, so it’s fun because you feel like you’re being published, and I’ve received compliments form people I haven’t seen in a while who see my photos in the calendar.

Golden Gate – Credit: Nic Abarca

Tim Lutic and I have also participated in the InFocus Photography Exhibit. It’s a great way to showcase your work to a wider audience. And it’s a privilege to be chosen for it because they get submissions from across the province. They choose about 40 photographers from over 500 submissions to showcase, so it’s pretty special.

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