Behind the lens: Chris Burkard
The travel and adventure photographer on the value of planning, his greatest lessons, and an ever-growing bucket list
Words by Patrick Tillard | Photography by Chris Burkard
If you’re a keen adventurer, you know Chris Burkard. His incredible photography documents untamed and powerful landscapes, giving his three million Instagram followers a window into the farthest expanses of Earth, and highlighting the need to preserve these special places. PELORUS spoke to him about how he got into photography and the greatest lesson he has learned on his travels.
How did you first get into photography?
It started like anything else, just basic interest in exploring my surroundings. I was surfing with friends and wanted a way to document the experience. So I borrowed my girlfriend’s (now wife) mom’s camera and started shooting film. That was kinda the start. I would go and shoot surfers at the local beach and try to sell them pictures on DVDs. I also shot weddings, senior pictures and interior store photos. That obviously wasn’t my end goal, but I had to start somewhere.
What cameras do you shoot with?
I shoot with the Sony Mirrorless systems. I typically use the Sony A7rii for about 70 per cent 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 client’s needs. When I want to strip down and go super light I use the Sony a6500 – I also use this when shooting in the water. This camera is perfect for sports photography, hiking, climbing – anytime you need to be weight conscious.
What is your go-to lens for your work?
My standard kit is the A7RII with a 16-35mm f/4 or 24-70mm f2.8.
How much planning do you put in before traveling to a new place?
Planning is one of the most important steps and can take years. Without properly preparing you can leave yourself open to missing opportunities to capture photos and it will eat up precious time on a trip. To begin, my studio and I use Google Maps to build out detailed maps of the locations we are planning to capture. You can add destinations, location images, and details about accommodations or food along the way.
Packing correctly also helps optimize your traveling space. Make sure the essentials are always available. My essentials are my camera kit, a headlamp, multi tool, light jacket, beanie, and light tripod. Having these readily available keeps you ready to take photographs at a moment’s notice. One last step in preparation is finding out where the sun will set, rise, and where the Milky Way will cross the sky.
What is the greatest lesson you have learned from your travels?
I would say the biggest lesson for me has been learning how to really take in the experiences I have on the road. For so long, I was totally focused on my assignments and didn’t have time to absorb what was happening around me. I got into this type of work to be a storyteller and I realised that while I was getting epic images, I had no stories because I had spent too much time behind the camera. I started to realise it was equally important for me to connect with my subjects and landscapes. This could be as simple as taking a dip in the river or spending time to speak to a local for a few minutes before I snapped his photo. I feel like the world needs more face-to-face time… not just Facetime.
Where’s next on your bucket list?
My bucket list seems to perpetually grow. I really want to get back to the Aleutian Islands and explore more of them, as well as the Kuril Islands off Russia. I feel drawn to explore more remote islands in the world, as well as parts of the Alaska Coast.
If you were to recommend five places everyone should visit, what would they be?
I would say first explore your own backyard. I don’t think the answer is always to hop on a plane and spend money and see the world. We often leave behind some great things in order to fulfill a fantasy that the road doesn’t provide. After you spend some quality time in your own area, or a place near you, try Greenland, Alaska, Patagonia, India and Faroe Islands.
Follow Chris on Instagram at @chrisburkard