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.
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.
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.
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!
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