Chris Burkard: Explorer, Photographer, Creative director, Speaker, & author

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Chris Burkard is an accomplished explorer, photographer, creative director, speaker, and author. Traveling throughout the year to pursue the farthest expanses of Earth, Burkard works to capture stories that inspire humans to consider their relationship with nature, while promoting the preservation of wild places everywhere. Layered by outdoor, travel, adventure, surf, and lifestyle subjects, Burkard is known for images that are punctuated by untamed, powerful landscapes. Through social media chris strives to share his vision of wild places with millions of people, and to inspire them to explore for themselves. His visionary perspective has earned him opportunities to work on global, prominent campaigns with Fortune 500 clients, speak on the TED stage, design product lines, educate, and publish a growing collection of books. Along with his team, Burkard is based out of his production studio and art gallery in the Central Coast of California. At the age of 31, Burkard has established himself as a global presence and influencer. He is happiest with his wife Breanne raising their two sons Jeremiah and Forrest in his hometown of Pismo Beach, California

What do I do best?

One thing I have done is take time to cultivate an individual style with a few guiding principles in my photography.  Lighting and composition are, of course, extremely important. For me personally, natural lighting is everything in my photographs. In most of my photos, I have a pulled-back composition, so I can show the whole environment. It is important for me to have a well-composed foreground, a subject in the middle ground, and an epic background to tie the whole image together. I am usually shooting into the sun, towards a mountain range, or into something monumental. I want to transport the viewer directly to where I am shooting so that they get lost in the picture.

What makes me the best version of myself?

Hard work, persistence, and having passion for what I do has taken me a long way. I think the big thing that helped me get to where I am today was the willingness to do the things other photographers would not do, for me that was sleeping in my car and driving sometimes five, six, or more hours to different internships I had.

What are my aspirations?

I try and capture my environment as close to what’s reality as possible so that others can get a taste of it. The end goal is to always inspire others to go there and explore the locations for themselves. It’s cool to see a picture or print on your wall, but it’s a completely different experience being there.

My Biggest Success?

Surfing under the northern lights was the biggest success in my photographic career. It all started with a wild dream that emerged on a trip for Surfer Magazine to the Faroe Islands over two years ago. I was with surfer Justin Quintal—the same surfer who would come to Iceland with me to try and make this dream a reality—and I told him of my pipe dream to photograph it. I wasn’t even sure if it was possible. In fact, at the time in 2014, I’m not entirely sure it was. The camera technology just wasn’t there yet.

Flash forward two years and I find myself with surfers Justin Quintal, Timmy Reyes, and Sam Hammer in Iceland during the middle of winter staring down the biggest storm to hit the island's shores in 25 years. With three hours of light each day, brutal winter storms and freezing temperatures, Iceland is far from the ideal surf trip. But winter provides the most ideal conditions for surf in the country, and our main goal for the trip was simple: to find world class surf. Not only did we find what could be the best cold water waves I've ever seen, but we began to realize that perfect waves would peel off after dark and the possibility of surfing them while the northern lights illuminated the arctic sky was a real possibility.

My Most Challenging Moment?

My most challenging moment in my photography career was being arrested in Russia due to visa issues. I landed a few hours before my visa date issued on my passport and I argued about it for three hours. I was in Vladivostok, a port city on the Sea of Japan. It's like the Wild West out there. Everyone else in my crew got to go through customs and we all submitted our visa dates the same way—mine were just wrong. I spent 24 hours in a dirty holding cell—it was basically a really gnarly private holding room with a one-eyed guard at the door, bars on the doors, and windows. Then I got deported and left on a flight back to Korea before returning to Russia the next day to meet up with my crew and finish the 12-day trip. Pretty interesting experience for anyone 22 years old. I laugh now but at the time I was really scared. I’ve never really had my rights stripped from me like that before.

(Click to watch TED TALK)

My Motto?

My favorite quote is “Joy in the journey” - Thomas Monson

My Favorite People/Role Models?

The person with the biggest influence on me was my mom. As far as my career goes, there are so many people that have influenced me and continue to influence me, not only as a photographer, but as a person. There are many artists, mostly impressionists that inspire me as well. A few photographers that I would like to give credit to: Henri-Cartier Bresson, James Nauchtwey, Michael Fatali, FLAME, Pete Taras, Nate Lawrence, Patrick Trefz, Joe Curren, and Ron Stoner. I also feel really influenced by a lot of younger photographers... I don't think that you need to be some 30 year plus staff photographer to make a difference... Look at guys like Todd Glaser and Zak Noyle, also Mickey Smith and others that are constantly reminding me how quickly surf photography is evolving especially in the underwater world.

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

The Westfjords of Iceland are my favorite places to travel to, Iceland in general is my favorite place to be outside of California’s Central Coast.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

I shoot with the Sony mirrorless systems. I have shot with Canon, Nikon and Sony in the past 11 years and have settled on what I believe to be the best system available for lightweight travel and astrophotography. I typically use the Sony A7rii for about 70% of my work. The Sony A7sii is what I shoot for my night and astro images. This camera was built for sensitivity at High ISO. The A7rii is my go to for commercial work, the R stands for Resolution and provides unparalleled reproduction for large prints and clients needs. When I want to strip down and go super light I use the Sony a6500 as well as when shooting in the water. This camera is perfect for sports photography, hiking, climbing and anytime you need to be weight conscious.

My full list of gear is here:

CAMERAS: A7RIII, A9, A7SII, A6500, a77ii

LENS’S FOR THE A7RII & A7SII: 16-35mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f2.8, 70-200mm f2.8, 100-400mm f4-5.6, 28mm f2 w/ Fisheye Adapter, 35mm f1.4, 55mm f1.8, Batis 25mm f2, Sigma 20mm f1.4 w/ Adapter

LENS'S FOR THE A6500: 10-18mm f/4, 16-70mm f/4, Sony 16mm 2.8 w/ Fisheye Adapter

TRIPOD: Gitzo Mountaineer and Traveler Series


- Standard Kit: A7RII, 16-35mm f/4, 24-70mm f2.8 w/ HOYA HD3 Polarizers

- Night Kit: A7SII w/ Sigma 20mm f1.4 w/ Adapter & 35mm f1.4

- Surf Kit:

- LAND: A9 w/ 100-400mm f4-5.6

- WATER: A6500 w/ Sony 16mm 2.8 w/ fisheye adapter & 35mm f2.8. Salty Surf Housing w/ various Dome and Flat ports.

My Current Passions?

I am passionate about shooting the ocean, waves, nature, and landscapes.