At the young age of 26, Chris Burkard has established himself as one of the most respected surf photographers in the world. He has traveled to the furthermost corners of the globe photographing and surfing some of the most scenic and breathtaking locations in existence. He’s presently a senior staff photographer for Surfer Magazine and has lent his imagery to established global companies like Patagonia. His images have a truly unique quality – they’re panoramic, wide and vast yet absolutely engaging and inviting all at once. His latest book is titled Distant Shores: Surfing the Ends of the Earth, and is currently available via Ammo Books.
We tracked him down between his hectic schedule to find out the method behind his mesmerizing images …
“For me, it’s always just been about experiencing the things I love and documenting them …”
Where are you from and when did you first pick up photography – also why are you so passionate about it?
I’m from Pismo Beach, California and I found I found photography through taking art classes and was drawn to the camera as a creative outlet. I got hooked trying to learn as much as I could. I combined this with my passion for being in the water and started shooting surf images.
Did you have any formal training or did you just have that natural eye for taking amazing pictures?
Other than shooting surf images of my friends on a regular basis I honed my photography skills by working at Transworld Surf Magazine. In 2006 I shadowed landscape photographer Michael Fatali, and developed my skills for landscape photography from him. I always had a love for the ocean and taking surf images so my photographic eye originated from these two loves: landscapes and surf.
Your images have a beautiful and sweeping, vista-like approach to them – Really panoramic but also inviting – are you aware of this balance?
That’s a great way to put it. I want my photography to be relatable and inviting to viewers. I work to incorporate that into my images. I want to place my subject in relation to his or her surroundings and often times to make the landscape the hero of the shot. I always am mindful to be mobile and not settle for one angle. I’m always moving to find a new approach. Balance is key and I aim to incorporate that in my composition.
Tell us about the new book Distant Shores – how long did it take to compile and what are some of the amazing surf locations featured in it?
Distant Shores is a compilation of photos taken over the past 10 years of my career. Ammo Books wanted to create a comprehensive look at the varied locations that I’ve traveled to. In the book you will surf locations from Iceland, Norway, Russia, the Caribbean, Christmas Island, Nicaragua, Mexico, Chile, India, and Alaska.
To date, what is the most breathtaking surfing area/location you’ve photographed – the one that you just thought was a perfect slice of heaven?
Other than being at home which I love and continually find myself drawn back to I have an obsession with Iceland. I’ve been to Iceland 11 times and I feel like for a photographer it’s the most beautiful place to shoot because it is so dynamic. The light is unbelievable, the landscapes are extremely rugged and contrasting. The surf there is the most raw in the world. The conditions change super fast, and it keeps you on your toes.
Are you an avid surfer yourself – if so, what do you think is the most liberating aspect about surfing?
I’m an avid bodysurfer. For me it’s not so much about surfing, but about the ocean and the beauty of the natural world. For me it’s always just been about experiencing the things I love and documenting them. I have gotten a lot of joy out of what I do, and I feel lucky to be able to spread that joy.
After your book Distant Shores, do you already have plans for your next book/major photography project?
I’m working a lot with some imagery from a recent Alaska trip. There are some exciting things to come with that. I am still touring my book and film “Russia”. I anticipate getting back to some colder regions this spring.
In addition to photography, what would you say are your three favorite things to do in life?
I love seeing new landscapes and different places I’ve never seen or envisioned. Being the first person to explore a place is pretty unreal. My next favorite thing is being able to watch my son discovering new things. It’s one of the most special moments I could be a part of to witness him experience something new. Of course I also find passion in the ocean and experiencing everything it has to offer. I love bodysurfing, shooting pictures, and simply swimming around.
What quote/mantra keeps you going when you come across a difficult/tough patch in life?
“I make myself rich by making my wants few,” – Henry David Thoreau. I equate this to the fact that most of the aspects of our lives seem complicated because you made them that way. The idea is that you can simplify your life.
Where can people see your work – any gallery showings/exhibitions coming up?
I always am adding new prints to my web shop at burkardphoto.com. Distant Shores is available for sale there, as well as all of my other books. As of now I don’t have any exhibitions going on, but that doesn’t mean they won’t happen. I post all my current events on my Facebook at facebook.com/ChrisBurkardPhotography.
To purchase Chris Burkard’s new book Distant Shores, click here.
(If you like this story, see our feature on Surf-Inspired sunglasses and menswear designer, Julien Tual)