Huge mountains covered with glistening snow, the northern lights in Iceland, surfers on breaking waves – the world according to Chris Burkard is a wild and stunningly beautiful place. The young, self-taught photographer is well-known for his images from the surf, outdoor and travel sphere and distinguishes himself with his unique recognizable style.
1. E.O.F.T. Blog: Chris, you have 1.4 million followers on Instagram and over 250,000 people following you on Facebook. What do you think – why do they like your photos?
I think it’s a combination of things, ultimately I hope it’s because my work inspires people to do the things they love; whether that be hike, surf, camp, or even just explore. That’s always what I strive to do in my work, to inspire people to get outside and experience these wild place for themselves.
2. E.O.F.T. Blog: Photography is one of the most competitive creative fields. There are plenty of great outdoor photographers out there. What distinguishes your pictures from the others?
That’s so true. I am constantly being inspired by my peers in the industry. I think that the biggest compliment one can receive as a photographer is that his style is instantly recognizable. I believe what may distinguish my photographs from others is that I capture moments that are raw and immersive. People can look at my photos and immediately place themselves in the environments. I do little editing on my photos and keep them as true to their natural setting as possible. I also think it’s important to realize that competition is a good thing. I am super inspired by tons of my peers.. their work makes me only want to work harder.
3. E.O.F.T. Blog: You are completely self-taught in digital and film photography – you never even visited a photography class. How did you learn this? Who was your best teacher?
It wasn’t something that I put a lot of thought into. At 19 I decided to quit my job and pursue photography full-time as it was what I was most passionate about. I began by taking pictures of surfers just at the local beach and would sell them the prints. Eventually I scored some amazing internships and had the opportunity to work under Pete Taras and Michael Fatali who taught me so much. I think most of all failure has been a really good teacher. Learning from your mistakes is a old school way of learning but it always works.
4. E.O.F.T. Blog: Palm trees, board shorts and a sunny blue sky. You do not seem to like those typical surf photos, instead you seem to be fascinated by windy, snowy surfing locations.
I am a cold water fanatic at heart. Hot beaches are always great but when you tell people you’re going surfing in Norway, Russia, or Iceland people look at you like you are crazy and that’s the reaction that I want to get from people. Finding perfect waves in places that people would never even imagine going to surf is something that excites me and pushes me to create incredible image. Also, I feel like we have all been sold the endless summer dream, for me most warm places I have been to are littered with tourist, and massive hotels.. the mystery is lost. I really like to go to places where the risk of not scoring is really high.
5. E.O.F.T. Blog: How do you find those special places for your shots?
There’s a certain recipe. There are a lot of amazing places I could go, but I have to have an assignment that takes me there. I have a list of places I would love to see and love to experience, but I don’t have opportunities to shoot there. But I have a list. And it’s something I tick off as I get to go to places. Most of the time i research these places a ton and try to make sure that i keep some secrets to myself
6. E.O.F.T. Blog: What has been your craziest shooting?
I’d say Russia just because of the logistical challenge of getting there. It took three years to plan and find the place to go. I went to Russia for the first time in 2009, and you have to fill out a visa request like three months ahead of time. I was in a crew with four people, and we had to go through customs. I get stopped. They look at my passport. They look at me. They look at my passport again. They look at me. And I realize the entry date on my visa was for the next day. It was the wrong date.
After a long discussion, they put me in a holding cell for 24 hours, and then deported me to South Korea. After recouping a day later, I flew back. It was scary. Really scary. I didn’t get food and water until I talked to the embassy. It was crazy.
It was one of the first places I traveled to that was really wild and remote. And it was such an eye-opening one because I realized for the first time what it felt like to have all your rights stripped from you. It makes you really appreciate being on American soil.
7. E.O.F.T. Blog: Travel, adventure and photography – your life sounds pretty awesome. Are there also downsides of your work?
There are a lot of downsides to my work, the big one is being away from my family, especially my two young boys. Whenever I get home from my trip I go straight to them, and spend time with my wife and kids. That is really the toughest part besides what cold places does to your body and mind. But of course I love what I do, and most importantly I see it as a calling to share this work.
8. E.O.F.T. Blog: One last question: Have you ever thought of quitting photography and doing something totally different?
Before I was working to be a photographer, I worked on cars a lot. I loved old vehicles and the idea of making them how I wanted. It came down to the idea of wanting to do something where people will appreciate my craft and my talents, and I realized that was what made me want to turn machines into artwork. If I wasn’t a photographer, maybe I’d be working on cars somewhere.
E.O.F.T. Blog: Thank you for this interview!
Beside photography, Chris Burkard is also writing a book to inspire kids to explore the world. “The Boy Who Spoke to the Earth” is about finding joy in the journey and enjoying the great outdoors.
For more visit chrisburkard.com!