Interview With a Photographer: Chris Burkard

Where’s home?

PIsmo Beach, CA

What is the favourite place you’ve travelled to?

Iceland! No doubt.  It's such a magical place and no matter how many times I go there I keep getting drawn back. I’m about to go back for my 29th trip and am just as excited as I was on my first trip. The key is to go where people aren't, which is pretty easy. You just venture to the locations that aren't on the tourist trail. It’s an amazingly diverse country but I cringe when people just stay in Reykjavik and only explore a couple hours from the main city. The country has so much to offer if you just get out there and explore!

As for the the place that i really dream about, it's going back to Kamchatka, Russia and the aleutian islands in Alaska.

How did you get started as a photographer?

I started shooting photos when I was 19 years old after experimenting with drawing and art in high school. I realized that it enabled me to do art in a mobile state, to explore and adventure, and show people the beauty in the world around me. At that point I realized that I enjoyed photography but the idea of turning it into career was overwhelming. I knew I had to give it 100% if I wanted to make it into something so without any formal training I quit my job (at a magazine store) and started shooting anything for anyone. I would go and shoot surfers at the local beach and try to sell them pictures on dvd’s... I shot weddings and senior pictures and interiors store photos. That obviously wasn't my end goal but I had to start somewhere. I wanted to learn more about action sports and landscapes photography which is what I was excited about but didn't know where to turn so I started applying for internships. I finally got an opportunity to intern with Michael Fatali, a large format landscape photographer, and I got an internship at Transworld Surf magazine which was an incredibly valuable experience. 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. For the first part of my career I slept in my car a lot, so nothing happens quickly. I would say it was about 4 years until I really started making an income. During my transworld internship I commuted 5 + hours every week and lived in my car. I really look back fondly at those more challenging times because it makes you appreciate having to work for what you have and giving something of yourself for your career.

What camera equipment / software / tech do you use?  Any must haves?

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 A7rii for about 70% of my work. The Sony A7sii is what I shoot for my night and astro images. This camera was built for sensitivity at High ISO. The A7rii 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.

My full list of gear is here:

What photographers have influenced you, how you think and shoot?

I interned with landscape photographer Michael Fatali which really influenced how a look at my own work. But these guys never picked up my camera and showed me how to shoot. They just led by example. The goal was that nobody ever told me, “ you have to do it this way”. I was able to experiment and able to just learn in an openly creative state, which I think is really important for an emerging creative. I was also an intern with Surfing Mag and it help me learn more about the editorial side of photography.  

Any top tips for Instagram?

I would say to learn to use the most powerful tool you have, your voice. The more honest and open you can be, and the more you can learn to tell stories the better.

What are you trying to communicate through your photographs?

It all comes back to this “mission statement” concept. If everything you do comes back to serve a greater purpose then it’s so much easier to have a goal in mind. I hope to push people to seek out the unknown and allow a bit more uncertainty in their lives. This is how you grow the most and ultimately develop a closer relationship with nature.

What motivates you to continue doing what you’re doing?

In the beginning it was all about collecting a paycheck and getting stamps in my passport, but at a certain point that doesn't really amount to much. I realized that I wanted to share stories with my friends and family. A lot of people who never traveled and made a lot of sacrifices for me to do so. I guess they are what motivate me the most.

Are you a bathroom singer?

Of course. I can sing basically any beastie boys song from memory.

Do you have any advice for young aspiring photographers?

The best thing that you can do as an aspiring 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 recognizable 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 are your goals for the future, regarding your work?

I would say Patagonia is next on my list to places I want to explore. My goal is to always to keep inspiring others through my work and to share a new story and a new perspective.