Interview with Chris Burkard

Most peo­ple can only name a hand­ful of pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­phers, and for those with an Insta­gram account, odds are 28-year-old Chris Burkard is one of them. The award-win­ning self-taught pho­tog­ra­ph­er boasts over 600,000 fol­low­ers who sub­scribe for a reg­u­lar dose of his unique style—a seam­less merg­er between his work as an artist and his life as an adven­tur­er. Burkard’s images give view­ers a real, time­less sense of place and expe­ri­ence as they tag along for the journey. 

What fol­lows are excerpts from a con­ver­sa­tion in which Burkard shares his thoughts about the emer­gence of pro­fes­sion­al adven­ture pho­tog­ra­phy, his move to micro 4/3 equip­ment, and more. 

2013, CALIFORNIA, LONE PINE, DEATH VALLEY, TEVA

You made your mark as a surf pho­tog­ra­ph­er but over the last few years, it seems like you’ve moved onto land for a lot of your adven­tures. What spurred the tran­si­tion and how do you feel it’s work­ing for you?
My end goal was nev­er surf pho­tog­ra­phy. In the beg­ging the goal was to be out­side and enjoy nature. I quick­ly real­ized that there was not mon­ey in land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy so I put all my time and effort into the edi­to­r­i­al surf industry.

As I shot more and more I real­ized that there was a new type of pho­tog­ra­phy emerg­ing. Adven­ture pho­tog­ra­phy was begin­ning to bloom as a new way of enjoy­ing nature and that’s what its all about. It’s my favorite part of adven­ture photography—seeing the best parts of nature and peo­ple enjoy­ing it. 

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Have you you made any big changes to your gear to accom­mo­date the tran­si­tion?
When I began shoot­ing surf­ing I was car­ry­ing around 35lbs of cam­era gear con­sist­ing in two DSLR bod­ies, a 600mm, a 300mm, 70–200, and two or three oth­er lens­es as well as around 25lbs of sup­port­ing gear like hous­ings, monopods, and acces­sories. Since then, my kit has evolved to a tight group of one mir­ror­less cam­era, 3 lens­es, a fil­ter pack, and a tri­pod. It weighs around 7lbs and I can shoot pret­ty much every­thing with it. It makes life so much eas­i­er on my body and how I travel. 

What’s your “essen­tials” list—the gear that comes with you regard­less of the loca­tion or assign­ment
Sony a7II, 24–70, 10–18, 55 1.8, cir­cu­lar polar­iz­ers, ND fil­ter, light­weight tri­pod, and a head­lamp. I don’t need much more than that to shoot anything. 

You shoot in some pret­ty remote loca­tions and under harsh cir­cum­stances. Aside from the logis­ti­cal, what are some of the chal­lenges you’ve faced in your work late­ly?
Weath­er has been the trick­i­est part on shoots late­ly. When you’re pray­ing for sun­shine you end up get­ting fog and when you’re hop­ing for snow it’s rain­ing. When you want swell it’s flat.  This is just part of being an action sports pho­tog­ra­ph­er. You have to be able to adapt to all cir­cum­stances and still pro­duce awe­some imagery and, some­times, that is when the best images are cre­at­ed.  

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What’s been the reward for fac­ing those chal­lenges?
The reward for fac­ing all of those chal­lenges is get­ting epic images! In order to take beau­ti­ful images you have to give a part of your­self, and some­times the part you give is com­fort. I find the more I dis­com­fort I endure, the bet­ter I func­tion.   

Most of your shoots include oth­er people—athletes, assis­tants, local guides—how does that col­lab­o­ra­tion impact the indi­vid­ual shots and the adven­ture itself?
Hav­ing peo­ple who feel com­fort­able in uncom­fort­able sit­u­a­tions helps a ton and makes the images feel more nat­ur­al (instead of hav­ing a mod­el feel­ing super uncom­fort­able jump­ing into an icy lake, for exam­ple).  Every­one that comes on shoots with me def­i­nite­ly has an idea of what they are sign­ing them­selves up for.

Your wife and sons have made occa­sion­al appear­ances on your social media chan­nels. Have you had the chance to take them on any of your adven­tures?
My wife has come on a few trips with me: Nicaragua, Ice­land, Ire­land, and all over the U.S. After we had our two sons it made it a lit­tle hard­er to trav­el but the grom­mets have been to Hawaii and Seat­tle with me and we have a trip to Van­cou­ver planned for March! I’m stoked to take them to Canada.

What’s your next adven­ture and when do you head out?

I have my sights on the south­west desert once again—looking for remote water­falls and deep canyons. I can’t wait!

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Attend Chris Burkard’s adven­ture pho­tog­ra­phy course March 28–29, 2015 at Clymb HQ in Port­land, OR. Space is extreme­ly lim­ited and going fast. Don’t miss out! Learn more