Adventurers of Instagram: Photographer Chris Burkard

Credit: Chris Burkard

Real adventurers earn their photos. From running the cliffs of the Grand Canyon, to kayaking the whitewater of the remote Nachvak River, and taking selfies atop the Seven Summits, we found the folks pushing the limits of photography and adventure. 

If you don't know the name Chris Burkard, you would still likely recognize his photographs. The use of ample natural lighting; beautiful, wide open spaces; and people enjoying the environment — by climbing, surfing, or hiking through it — come together for a style that is uniquely Burkard. A prime example would be his work on the cover of Men's Journal's Adventure Issue (May 2015), where a surfer stands on an isolated rocky shore looking out to the ocean, his tent glowing, and the setting sun reflecting on the water’s surface. It’s enough to motivate anyone to get out and explore. "The whole reason I got into photography was to explore wild places and be inspired,” says Burkard. We recently talked with him about his latest projects, how to take great photos, and the gear he never leaves at home. 

What upcoming projects and travels are you excited about right now?
I have a children's book coming out (The Boy Who Spoke to Earth), which I'm really stoked about. I'm heading back to Iceland for my 17th time to work on a film project. Then there are a few secret projects, which I can't really talk about, for a few larger clients. It always feels like I'm planning ten trips at the same time.

Tell us a little about The Boy Who Spoke to Earth. 
It was a great chance for me to do something different. I wrote the book, and a guy named David McClellan illustrated it. David's a supertalented artist that has been creating art for Disney since 2001. We got to collaborate on the illustrations using my photos for inspiration. I could not be happier with the way it turned out. What I'm most excited about is reading it with my two boys.

What photographers, past and present, inspire you?
Michael Fatali's landscape work was always a big inspiration for me. When I was coming up through the photography ranks, it was frustrating because I wasn't really able to talk to a lot of the people I looked up to. So now, I really try to be accessible. I love doing photography workshops and always try to give some of my time to fans and followers online.

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Is there any advice you would offer to up-and-coming photographers?
I would just say that it's really important to find a photographic style that represents you and stick to it. It should be something that you really enjoy. It takes a lot of hard work and time to develop it, but it's important for editors and art directors to be able to recognize your work instantly. 

How would you describe your style of photography?
In a lot of ways I consider myself a one-trick pony. My style is heavy with landscapes and filled with humans enjoying those landscapes in unique ways — whether kayaking, jumping into ice-lakes, surfing, or simply enjoying a great view. I only aim to do stuff and work on stuff that I enjoy. In a way I'm paying homage to beautiful places around the world. 

Is there any single thing that you never go traveling without?
Besides my camera gear and the everyday necessities like a headlamp and my iPhone, I always carry a few good paperback books with me. I like that they don't require batteries. Right now I'm just finishing reading a great book called The Emerald Mile, about running the Grand Canyon.

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Are there any tips or techniques you can offer about growing a social media following?
I think with Instagram, it really comes down to making people feel inspired. You also have to be proactive about creating content and post often. Also, curating the content is a key ingredient, you gotta post good work! 

What do you think the future of photography will be like?
Probably all drones and selfies, Soon I will be able to fly a drone from my studio in California and shoot waterfalls in Iceland with it. I don't know what the future holds, but in some ways, with photography, I don't really think it matters what type of format you use or even what type of camera. It all ends up in the same place. People should just shoot what they love, who cares what you shot it with? If it's a great shot and makes you feel something, then none of that other stuff really matters. 

Follow Men's Journal on Instagram for more adventure photography.