Chris Burkard’s Most Challenging Adventure-Shooting Scenarios


Every shoot I find myself on offers a unique set of difficulties—but a few of them have been hard­er than the rest. My most chal­leng­ing pho­tog­ra­phy sce­nar­ios so far have required me to main­tain focus while immersed in freez­ing surf, bat­tling treach­er­ous waves, scram­bling through deep snow­storms, fac­ing scream­ing winds, and while hang­ing by a rope 3,000 feet above Yosemite Val­ley floor. Read on for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into some shoots that I’ll nev­er forget.

Norway Beach

Nor­way Beach
With tow­er­ing moun­tains and the dra­mat­ic sun seep­ing-in col­or from behind clouds, Nor­way’s Lofoten Islands can feel like anoth­er world. But behind that beau­ty lurks the harsh real­i­ty of frozen fin­gers, hypother­mia, equip­ment issues, and lack of sleep, which is what you sign up for if you want to shoot surf­ing in the frigid water. When you suit up to go shoot surfers in the break zone you are set­ting your­self up for about a 40-minute count­down until all the blood rush­es from your extrem­i­ties to save your vital organs and hypother­mia kicks in. I remem­ber need­ing to be car­ried across the beach after los­ing all feel­ing in my legs. It might not sound like fun but when you’re back in a warm cab­in look­ing back at all the incred­i­ble moments cap­tured in the pho­tos, all the pain seems to drift away.


body surf

Teahupoʻo Body Surf
I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to shoot stills for the body­surf film Come Hell or High Water in Mex­i­co, Maine, and Tahi­ti. I was stoked to go to a place that had warm water, clear skies, and great waves. But when they informed me they were plan­ning on shoot­ing Teahupoʻo, I thought, “these  guys are crazy!” Teahupoʻo is bar­ley surf-able let alone body­surf-able. The tur­bu­lent waves break onto a reef with only about a foot of water over it. Shoot­ing in the water was a painful expe­ri­ence. I had been freez­ing in the water before, I had been slammed by huge waves, I had even been slammed into the sand. But shoot­ing here was the gnarli­est expe­ri­ence ever: I was raked over the reef, stabbed by coral, and spent far too much time tuck­ing into a ball try­ing to avoid get­ting my head smashed in. Though it was treach­er­ous work and I end­ed up with staph infec­tion in my leg, I was able to cre­ate a body of work that I’m super stoked about. 

skiing in BC

Ski­ing in British Colum­bia
Com­ing into this shoot, I could count the num­ber of times I’d been ski­ing on one hand. Try­ing to get awe­some images on an expe­di­tion marked by long stretch­es of posthol­ing and fum­bling to get my skis back on dur­ing the mid­dle of a snow­storm was def­i­nite­ly a chal­lenge. I love being light and nim­ble while I shoot so I can run over to a new angle. This was some­thing that I def­i­nite­ly could­n’t do on the British Colum­bia shoot. If I saw a rad shot 100 yards up the hill, it was quite the mis­sion to get there—and once I did, I usu­al­ly only had one chance to get the shot. 


Windy Ice­land Beach
Ice­land is basi­cal­ly made up of vol­canic sand and when the wind picks up (which it does just about every day) it shoots the sand through the air at about 70 mph. The wind­blown pro­jec­tiles pelt everything—including a freez­ing dude from Cen­tral California—and sand­blast the beach into beau­ti­ful mis­ery. The wind is great for off­shore con­di­tions like this, but hor­ri­ble for any­one who has to be there! 

Dawn Wall

Dawn Wall
This is what it looked like hang­ing in space 3,000 feet over the Yosemite val­ley floor as I shot Tom­my Cald­well and Kevin Jor­gen­son climb­ing the final pitch­es of the Dawn Wall. This was my first time being on-rope while shoot­ing climbing—and it was from one of the largest pieces of gran­ite in the world. My heart was pound­ing and my legs went numb from hang­ing for so long. The wind stopped dur­ing the final pitch­es, and you could hear every hoot and holler from El Cap­i­tan mead­ow, where a crowd had gath­ered. Some might call it the very best sports sta­di­um in the world. It was ter­ri­fy­ing but very few van­tages in the val­ley give you this kind of perspective. 


Attend Chris Burkard’s adven­ture pho­tog­ra­phy course March 28–29 at Clymb HQ in Port­land, OR. Space is extreme­ly lim­it­ed and going fast. Don’t miss out!


This exclu­sive event is brought to you by The Clymb in part­ner­ship with Chris’s spon­sors. In addi­tion to expe­ri­enc­ing the pho­tog­ra­phy work­shop of a life­time, atten­dees will receive gift bags loaded with some of the best adven­ture swag in the world.