Chris Burkard Surf Photographer

Welcome to another episode of Surf Bank's Beyond The Frame where we dive into the captivating world of surf & ocean photography, going beyond mesmerising captures exploring the backstory of many talented photographers.

In this episode we will be hearing from the famous Chris Burkard a legend within the surf photography space. Chris shares his story from humble beginnings, to now shooting stunning shots in the harsh but beautiful conditions of Iceland.

Beyond the frame aims to inspire and inform future surf photographers and ocean lovers being your backstage pass to detailed insights from the minds behind stunning surf shots.

Chris Burkard Gallery

Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Chris Burkard Surf Photographer

What Did Your Childhood Look Like?

Growing up I have always loved working with my hands, especially working on or restoring cars.

That has a big part to do with who I am today and why I decided to leave school and whole-heartedly focus on my dream of becoming a professional photographer.

I feel that learning through experience continues to be very important to me.

As a young kid I have always been interested in art, I would draw landscapes of the California coast and mountains for hours. I would always be at the beach with friends surfing every day whether that meant I was in the water photographing my friends or bodysurfing.

Growing up my family didn't have a lot of money so I wasn't able to travel much at all when I was younger.

I always wanted to find a way or an excuse to travel and see the world. I think it all came together when I was able to figure out a way to combine these areas in my life that I felt so strong and passionate about.

Photography really is the way I am able to use all of my passions and strengths, it enables me to hone my craft using art as a platform to be outside.

I don’t think so much the dream has changed.. Just the way i do it.. Its pretty special to have a career where you are celebrated for your creativity.

What Came First, Surfing or Photography?

Surfing came first. Since I grew up on the Central Coast of California, surfing was always around me.

It was kinda expected, just like if you live in a mountain town and ski. Personally I just bodysurf these days and I shoot surfing more often then I surf myself.

I’m most passionate about documenting athletes pushing the limits on where they can surf in harsh, cold conditions.

How Did You Get Into Surf Photography?

I started shooting photos when I was 19 years old.

I realised that it was a way to explore and adventure, and show people the beauty in the world around me. It led to an internship at Transworld Surf magazine which was an incredibly valuable experience.

It helped me in so many ways.

Through trial and error, I taught myself and began to develop a style. Hard work, persistence, and having passion for what I do has taken me a long way.

In the beginning it was just about travelling. That was all I really wanted to do, but now I think it’s really evolved into telling stories about places that can't necessarily speak for themselves.

Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Photo By Chris Burkard

How Would You Describe Your Photography Style?

I’ve always enjoyed shooting landscapes.

So when I started shooting surf, I would photograph my subjects a little pulled back. Over the years and thousands of pictures, it has just developed into a personal style that I’m really passionate about.

Where Do You Normally Shoot?

I normally shoot here along the Central Coast. It is where I grew up and where I love shooting the most.

Recently, it has been Iceland.

Over the past 10 years I grew to fall in love with Iceland and the people. It has led me to organize many projects for clients and brands over the years.

Since opening up a gallery in Iceland I spend my time travelling between California and Iceland. Iceland has become a second home for me.

Where Do You Shoot? Water or Land?

My entire photographic career began because of the ocean. I remember one of the most exciting moments was when I first got a water housing for my camera.

Shooting surf images from the water requires you to have a deep knowledge of the ocean and the mechanics of waves which only increased my fascination with our coastlines.

I am always shooting both from the water and from land when on a trip. There are so many more unique angles you can shoot from land, but I would say for the longest time, shooting in the water has been my favourite.

Many of my favourite photographs illustrate the vast nature of our environment and that was first discovered from spending time in the sea. Anyone who has spent time on the open ocean understands that when they are out there they are not in control, the waters around them are.

What Makes The Perfect Image?

More than anything I’m looking for a moment.

That split second that is impossible to recreate. I think it’s why I fell in love with surf photography because with every wave being different, you’re always capturing something incredibly unique that will never unfold the same way again.

I’m also always looking for an image that will tell a story. I’m a natural story-teller and the ability to tell a story visually is one of my favourite aspects about photography.

It may be due to my editorial background but I’m constantly looking for imagery that will help tell an overarching narrative.

And lastly I look to create depth. I want my images to pull the viewer’s eye into the scene and give it a dynamic feeling.

Whether it be a river or a natural leading line, I’m always on the lookout for something that will give my images that immersive quality.

Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Photo By Chris Burkard

What is Your Post-Processing Workflow?

The post production process is an ongoing thing and very important for our editorial work and commercial jobs. I have a full time in-house editor nowadays that handles all of our commercial jobs.

When returning from a job we have a whole process from backing up the images to storing the drives properly so they don't get damaged and stay organised.

We edit my images in Adobe Lightroom mainly.

One of my main techniques in editing revolves around getting images to how they were perceived with the human eye when they were taken. It's more of a naturalist approach I take when editing.

Do You Have A Favourite Photographer That Has Inspired You?

The environmental and landscape angle of Ansel Adams really inspires me. As well as Michael Fatali who I consider to be another incredible large format landscape photographer. Another great photographer whose work I love is Ragnar Axelsson.

What Advice Would You Give To Aspiring Surf Photographers?

The best thing that you can do as an aspiring photographer or surf photographer is to identify a style that represents you well, develop within that style, and keep shooting to perfect it.

It’s super important to have your images be recognisable by editors and others who are looking at your work.

With the large number of photographers that are out there now you must find ways to stand out. The best compliment I can ever receive is when people know my photography work instantly when they see it.

What's Your Biggest Challenge To Overcome When Shooting?

Trying to stay calm and keep a positive mindset is key.

I’ve travelled to enough remote locations to know that it’s not an if with unforeseen challenges, but a when. Things are going to go wrong when your in such unforgiving environments, it’s just a matter of how you deal with it.

We prepare as much as we can but you have to be ok with knowing that certain elements of every trip are out of your hands, like weather for instance.

Coming to peace with that fact going into a trip will make things go much smoother when things do go sideways.

Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Photo By Chris Burkard

Chris's Equipment List

Marie Dehayes Camera

Camera & Lenses

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 A7RV for about 70% of my work. The Sony A7SIII is what I shoot for my night and astro images. This camera was built for sensitivity at High ISO. The A7RV 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. I have full list of what gear I use on my website.

Chris's Favourite Shot

Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Photo By Chris Burkard

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 realise 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.

Personal Message

"Photographing surf is how I first got started in my career and it is something I will always enjoy doing even after my photography career".

Favourite Surf Spot

I would have to say Olafsfjordur in Iceland

Chris's Future Plans

Future plans are to keep exploring the world for interesting stories, trying to find unique ways to tell those stories and continue to be inspired by the sea and all it brings.

I’ll be doing some expeditions in Iceland this spring and hopefully get back on my bike this summer to do some more bikepacking adventures.

Chris Burkard Surf Photographer


Follow along one my journeys and latest work on Instagram. You can contact me via Instagram or email and I am pretty good at responding right away.

Do You Want To Be Involved In Beyond The Frame?

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Chris Burkard Surf Photographer
Photo By Chris Burkard

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