Meet a Pro: Chris Burkard

Chris Burkard is an independent spirit who pursues his own path, often in disregard of traditional norms and physical obstacles. He is a landscape photographer, but his work transcends this time-honored style. His deep emotional and spiritual connection with the ocean and shoreline is what makes him unique. Many of his most beautiful images, including the ones featured in this post, show his deep and profound connection to water in all its many natural states.


Burkard says, “I like showing people doing challenging things in difficult environments.” He also loves all aspects of nature. It is what inspires me to see people challenge the natural world not to conquer it but to enjoy it and bring that transformative experience to the viewers. These breathtakingly beautiful and remote locations are not accessible to many people, so I try to bring them the experience. I love shooting in harsher, more rugged, and natural environments. What gives me the greatest satisfaction is seeing someone actually be motivated to travel to these places because of my photos. My mission is to inspire people to step outside their comfort zones, both physically and visually.


Burkard excels in all genres, including portraiture, street photography, and travel photography. He is also adept at photo reportage. This amazing versatility has allowed him to build relationships with high-end commercial clients like Apple and J. Crew, Land Rover and Toyota. Burkard’s work can also be found in such prestigious publications like National Geographic, The New Yorker and GQ, Men’s Journal and Vogue. He is often referred to as “surf photographer” since he started his career in the early ’20s with Surfer magazine. Now, he is its official photographer. Burkard also published several books, including “High Tide”: A Surf Odyssey, and “The Boy Who Speak To The Earth,” both of which were published in 2015. He gave a TED talk in Vancouver last March entitled “The Joy of Surfing In Ice-Cold Water”. He was named Visionary Photographer of the Year by the Photoimaging and Dealers Association (PMDA).

What’s inside Chris Burkard’s Camera Bag?

“I shoot around 85% of my images using a Sony A7R II. I also occasionally use the Sony A7S II for night shots and low-light images like the Milky Way. I also love the compact Sony A6300 with a Sony Vario-Tessar 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens and the Sony Vario-TessarT* 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS lens. It is my favorite all-around camera. The Zeiss lenses I use for my Sony full frame cameras are also favorites, such as the Sony 16-35mm Vario–Sonnar T* ZA SSM II Zeiss, 24-70mm f/2.8 Vario–Sonnar T* Zeiss ZA SSM II Zeiss and the Zeiss 25,mm f/2.0 Batis Series Lens. These cameras and lenses are compact, lightweight, rugged and dependable. They also deliver exceptional image quality. Another plus is that they can charge via the USB ports. I always have my Goal Zero Battery Charger with me when I travel. A carbon fiber tripod is used for most of my shots. I also use a Hoya HD3 Circular Polarizer filter for 90%.


Burkard exclaims, “I am inspired and inspired by nature!” Images that are relatable and attainable for the viewer, I make. Many of my images are silhouettes, so they could have been taken in 1950 and 2015. My images should last and not be temporary.


Burkard says, “I have always had a passion for the beach and the ocean.” Because I was raised in a small beach town, it was easy for me to love the ocean. The ocean has always been my first canvas. Photography became my medium of expression and travel. I have been to places that I hadn’t seen before, including Norway, Iceland, South America, India, the Pacific Islands and Russia Far East. I also learned by doing. I’m completely self-taught, and travel is the best education you can get. If I had the money, I would have attended a school of photography. But it wasn’t an option at the time.


Burkard remembers that “I took photography seriously after high school,” where I had done a lot in art. “But I realized that I needed to in those moments. Photography allowed me to do the things I love. This strong experiential component is what attracted me to photography expression. It was something that I could do while also being part of. Photography was what allowed me to be a part of the action, and I took it wherever I could. My work emphasizes being present and having the experience, rather than creating images. This ‘experience-forward” approach can result in dynamic, engaging, provocative photographs that give the impression of you actually being there and having it. These images are relatable moments. It’s all about accessibility and making the viewer feel like they can do these things. It’s not about capturing images that only I can take; it’s about making images that allow the viewer to experience the same things and feel the same emotions as I do. This is what I think makes these images universal and transcendent.


“What is going through my head when I press the shutter button? Burkard says that this is a great question. She can only answer it by trying describe my mindset. I place a lot emphasis on luck, being at the right time and being able to react to unexpected elements. The key to success is to be open to experiencing the world around you. Today, I realize that I need a story to tell. I am a storyteller. An image that tells a true story is worth more than any other. It’s also about feeling present now, both in the literal and existential senses, and knowing that this is when you feel inspired.

Because I intuitively know that art is about communicating one’s awareness to others and evoking emotion in those who experience it, I feel most excited to be able to share my work. “I am an artist. That’s what I ended being.”

Chris Burkard’s Latest Adventure

“I was astonished that this was possible when I photographed Iceland’s surfing under the Northern Lights. Although it was a “what if” scenario, I didn’t expect to see it become a reality. You can’t control so many factors like tide, wind, light and presence of the aurora borealis. The most incredible feeling for me was realizing, as we were photographing, that we were currently the only ones in the world surfing under the Northern Lights. Although it seems blurred as I tried to capture the moment in the shortest time possible, there was a lot of shouting, hooting and laughter. Although the initial goal was to see if it was possible, the experience allowed me to return to my roots and show others the beauty found on earth if one is willing to go out into the unknown. Although it can be nerve-wracking to put all your trust in something so uncertain, I have learned that it is essential to do something new, challenging and unique. This trip has given me the opportunity to reflect on my experience and also reaffirm my passion for photography.


This was made more difficult by the physical/equipment difficulties. The surfers were only able to spend about an hour in water during winter, meaning they had to wait until hypothermia set in. We had to wait for the aurora borealis to be in the right spot (close enough to the ocean, but not behind the mountains) before we sent them out hoping to catch a wave. It is difficult to shoot an action sport at night without a flash due to the need for high shutter speeds and little or no light. Our cameras were Sony A7S II’s equipped with prime lenses at f/1.4-1.7. These cameras are capable of seeing in darkness and picking up more light than the naked eyes. Two trips were made to northern Iceland in winter. The first was where the concept and idea was born, and the second was where we attempted to make it perfect. It was mind-blowing. One of the most difficult shots I have ever attempted in my entire life.”

Chris Burkard’s Forthcoming Adventures

“I have made it my goal in the near future to travel to Chile/ Patagonia. The diversity of the Chilean landscape has inspired me to visit Chile several times. There are many reasons why I visit Chile. Some people see an image and want to go there. Others use Google Earth to search for a new place. Apart from that, I am excited to visit remote islands off Russia’s coast. These islands look very difficult to reach. It’s challenging and wild, which I love.”

Chris Burkard is married to Breanne and has two sons, Jeremiah (and Forest). They reside in Grover Beach, California’s Central Coast.