Motion of the Ocean: Chatting with Surf Photographer Chris Burkard


Chris Burkard is the senior staff photographer for Surfer magazine and at the age of 26, Burkard has established himself as a known name in the surf and outdoor industries, accomplished a deep body of work, held staff and senior photographer positions and has been recognized continually for his distinct creative compositions. He also contributes regularly to various international publications and is a project photographer for Patagonia as well as several other respected brands. Chris is the recipient of many awards such as the Red Bull Illumination award amongst many others.

We were able to sit down and chat with him about his gear, shooting, and the icy cold.

Phoblographer: At what point did you suddenly say to yourself, ‘I love surfing. But I also love photography. Hey, maybe I should combine the two passions?’


Chris: Shortly after I graduated high school I was really into art and other types of artistic mediums. I always loved being creative but I didn’t feel like I had found the way to express myself yet. The first camera I picked up was at a Goodwill auction for 65 bucks. It never worked… not even a single roll of film came out. Soon after I got another and was obsessed with shooting film. It was a Nikon N90s, I took a black and white photography class in junior college and from that point on I was hooked.

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Phoblographer: Tell us about some of the major dangers of surf photography and how you face them down?

Chris: Most of the dangers involved with surf photography are either experienced while traveling to waves or while shooting out in the water. One of the biggest dangers is probably just swimming in the water and often swimming in some precarious situations while trying to get as close as you can to the surfers. There have been many times I have taken water housings to the face or collided with the athlete. Though it is a danger it is just part of the job. The other dangers are just those of travel and for me traveling to remote regions.

Phoblographer: How do you anticipate capturing the right moments?


Chris: There are usually two types of moments that I capture. The first is the moment I have envisioned prior to arriving at a location, an image that I have seen in my head and try to create or find while shooting. The other is moments that happen spontaneously that I try to capture in the instant they happen and are unplanned. These moments often are much harder to capture and anticipate. I find that a balance between the two is when I capture my best moments.

Phoblographer: Tell us about what’s in your gear bag usually to shoot.

Chris: I shoot a combination of Nikon and Sony gear. My Nikon D300s is my tried and true. It is my workhorse and doubt I would ever part from it. I have been using the NEX-6 & 7 though and loving them. They are small and compact and really fit in line with the type of light gear traveling that I try to do. Other than that I try to keep my lens kit pretty simple with a 50mm, 24mm, 70-200mm, 80-400, and a fisheye.


Phoblographer: When people typically think of surfing, they think of warm weather–at least that’s what the media makes it out to be. But I know that here in NYC, there is a small surfer gathering that loves to go out during the winter in the Rockaways. What are some of the biggest differences when it comes to photographing cold weather surfers and warm weather surfers?


Chris: Cold water surfing is a whole different animal and really takes an entirely different mindset. You get an adrenaline rush just paddling out as the icy waters begin to instantly drop your core temperature down. Often with the camera it is really just a fight with your body and how long you can keep blood flowing to your hands. With thick gloves on, operating the camera is much harder and there is less room for error. You have to really focus on getting the shot, because both you and the surfers will only be able to stay out so long.

Phoblographer: How do you use Instagram as a promotional tool? Do you have a strategy? What about Tumblr?

Chris: I have really been able to use my social media streams lately as a way to promote not only my work, but other companies. It is a unique way to partner with companies and produce content that can be posted to thousands of people in a matter of seconds. My strategy is to really just keep producing imagery that inspires others and through that it has been great to bring in companies that share similar ideals to what I try to shoot and build cross promotional partnerships. Tumblr really has become one of the best places to get a feel for my work too. It is basically a stream of my most recent travels and trips along with images from previous travels. Often I will tell clients to look at it along with my website because there is so much content on there.


Phoblographer: I can imagine that surf photography is super expensive not only with travelling, and needing to do boat/helicopter rentals and all. Do you feel that motivates you even more to get better shots each time?

Chris: Surf photography trips and equipment can be a very expensive and a lot of times there are moments that I know I will never get a chance to shoot again. Whether that is a helicopter ride in Russia or getting to take a boat to a remote surf spot. When in those moments I just try to capture the uniqueness of them and get the shot that best portrays that adventure. It is more about taking advantage of the unique opportunity that lays in front of me.

You can follow Chris at his website, his Tumblr, his Facebook page and on Instagram.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.