You know one when you see it: a surreally beautiful landscape is almost always the main character. “He’s really good at placing small humans in big spaces,” says Surfer magazine photo editor Grant Ellis, who has worked with Burkard for 12 years. “He has a distinctive style of showing the beauty of a place through color and stillness.
He steps back and lets the scene be.” It wasn’t until Burkard, at 19, borrowed a film camera from Breanne’s mother that he discovered the power of photography. He eventually purchased a digital Canon 20D and a waterproof housing, and taught himself how to artfully combine energetic oceanscapes with surfers. In 2006, he landed an internship at TransWorld Surf, the same year he was awarded a $5,000 grant from the Follow the Light Foundation, launched by the family and colleagues of former Surfing photo editor Larry Moore. Burkard used the money to fund a two-month road trip from Oregon to Mexico with his friend Eric Soderquist, resulting in a photo book called The California Surf Project . By 2009, Burkard was spearheading feature expeditions for Surfer, where he’s still on the masthead as a senior photographer. “All I really care about is shooting photos that make people want to be there and inspire action in some way, getting away from their desk or from school to see what the world has to offer,” Burkard says.
“That’s what images did for me as a kid.” Burkard was ahead of the class when it came to embracing digital photography. And when most surf photographers were jostling for position in Hawaii or Tahiti, he was scouring satellite swell maps of Kamchatka, Russia; Unstad, Norway; and Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. He assembled teams of assistants and athletes and joined Instagram early on to share behind-the-scenes footage and personal stories of what it took to get to those places. ( Photo: Chris Burkard) On Burkard’s first winter trip to Iceland, in 2012, he and some friends set out before dawn, hiked up a glacier, descended fixed ropes, and took a dinghy across a tiny river to get to this cavern by sunrise. “What separates Chris is his work ethic,” says climber and photographer Jimmy Chin. “He has built an incredible presence on Instagram, but it didn’t come easy. He has consistently put out great work, beautiful work, unexpected work, for years. People love his vision, but they also love his voice, which comes out in his captions.” Today, Burkard focuses on personal projects, commercial jobs for clients like Apple, the North Face, and Toyota, and photography workshops, which this year include a six-day course in Colorado and a sailing trip around northwest Norway. He provides students with a blend of theory, technique, and social-media tips. “I don’t really know how to get millions of followers,” Burkard says. “If there’s one thing I have noticed, it’s that the more I’ve been able to be honest and open up and share the actual things that make me tick in captions, people seem to care about that.” He also tries to post consistently, once or twice a day, and encourages students to draft a mission statement. His most emphatic advice: don’t tell viewers what they can already see. “The worst thing you can do as a photographer is pair a beautiful piece of work with a crappy, regurgitated caption. If I read ‘The mountains are calling and I must go’ one more time,” he laughs. “Social media is the place where you make your own quotes.” Burkard’s captions range from honoring nature (“There are few places where you can feel precipitation rising upward. This is one of them,” about an image in Kauai), to photography advice (“A good leading line not only pulls the viewer in but also helps them to focus on what is important in the frame”), to personal disclosure (“A sad but real by-product of Social Media is that it can create an ever present need for recognition. It has become more and more obvious to me how important it is to be in environments that humble you, scare you, and ultimately challenge who you are”). ( Photo: Chris Burkard) After paddling seven miles with a friend on Maligne Lake, in Canada’s Jasper National Park, Burkard shot this photo of Spirit Island at sunset before camping out in the cold. Burkard’s work has always steered toward environmental advocacy. Recently he teamed up with the National Park Foundation to raise the profile of lesser known natural playgrounds, like Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes and Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly; he’s also working on a book of aerial photography of the glacial rivers in Iceland’s central highlands. (Some of the proceeds will go toward a campaign to designate the threatened area as a national park.) Then there’s his growing interest in directing films, including last year’s Tribeca selection Under an Arctic Sky, about a quest to surf under the northern lights in Iceland. How Burkard accomplishes all this is hard to fathom. Longtime colleague and Under an Arctic Sky cinematographer Ben Weiland says he has an uncanny ability to focus during high-pressure situations, like the 11-hour drive the crew took during one of Iceland’s worst snowstorms in 25 years. When their truck got stuck in a snowdrift on the edge of a sea cliff, Burkard jumped into the blizzard to guide the group out. “He thrives in situations like that,” Weiland says. “He never stops.” When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small commission. Outside does not accept money for editorial gear reviews.
You are now subscribed to Dispatch We will not share your email with anyone for any reason. Find more newsletters on our newsletter sign-up page. “When Central California gets hit by the right swell, it is a spectacle to see. The one thing I am always looking for in an image, is when the land, sea, and air all come together in one moment. This is what I think of when I celebrate Earth Day”. Chris Burkard is a self-taught photographer and artist, based in Central Coast California, whose work is layered by surf, outdoor, lifestyle and travel subjects. Burkard’s images are punctuated by energized landscapes and moments of bliss, by adventure seeking and the lifestyle that ensues, by movement and intuitive light-working capabilities. With ocean as his main muse, Burkard has consistently captured this subject in timeless and expansive photographic impressions, utilizing the tool of surfing to approach the ocean’s intricate personality and then extending out to include the human personalities that draw meaning from this same source. Searching for wild, remote destinations and offbeat landscapes, Burkard portrays the humble placement of the human in contrast to nature.
At the age of 29, Burkard has established himself as a known name in the surf and outdoor industries, accomplished a deep body of work, held staff and senior photographer positions and has been recognized continually for his distinct creative compositions. Currently, Burkard serves as Senior Staff Photographer for Surfer Magazine, contributes regularly to various international publications and is a project photographer for Patagonia as well as several other respected brands. Burkard has completed multiple book projects, one with friend and co-author Eric Soderquist, titled “The California Surf Project” (2006) and the other, “Plight of the Torpedo People,” accompanying Patagonia body surfing film, “Come Hell or High Water” (2012). 1 (2013) from a surf adventure in Russia and Distant Shores (2013) a comprehensive look at Burkard’s career through images from 10 of his favorites countries.