Chris Burkard, a California native, began his career as a professional photographer at the age of 19. Now 26, his focus remains on the world of surfing, a sport that has been a part of his life since childhood. Known for his ability to capture the moments and settings that surround the sport, in addition to action shots, Chris has a distinct perspective that has earned him the position as staff photographer   

for Surfer Magazine. Working as a freelance photographer, Chris has shot for numerous clients such as Patagonioa, Volcom, Billabong, Quicksilver, Hurley, National Geographic Adventure, and Outside Magazine.  

In this feature, view some of Chris’ most recent work processed with VSCO Film™

What assignments have you been on recently?

This past spring and summer brought jobs of contrast. I spent a lot of time in Iceland, searching empty coastlines with raw natural conditions unlike anywhere else in the world. Then, in complete contrast, I had the opportunity to shoot the Pacifico Longboard event at the US Open in Huntington Beach. During the US Open, hundreds of thousands of people are all jam packed on one half mile of beach. It is one of the craziest places and prime for people watching. It was pretty surreal going from the cold, rugged coastline of Iceland to the crowded beaches of Huntington. It was awesome seeing the guys in the Pacifico Longboard contest ripping for the crowds, showing a different side to the mainstream surf scene, but to be honest, there were many times my mind began drifting back to Iceland. I am drawn to the assignments where I get to visit untouched places and cultures. Often, these places are in cold water areas and not many surfers are willing to freeze for solitude. 

When did you decide you were going to be a professional photographer? Was it a job you aspired to when you were growing up?

I grew up near the ocean; so, I was always going to the beach surfing. 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 camera 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.

What drew you to photograph surfing specifically & make a career of it?

I have always been interested in art. Living so close to the ocean, all my friends and I were constantly at the beach or exploring the coastline of California. It became a way for me to not only document this but a way to create art at the same time. Slowly, I found myself using every chance I had to shoot in different light and different locations. I would wake up early to catch the first light and want to get off work early to get the golden hour. When I realized that I didn’t want to live with any regrets, I decided to go after it as a career. I never wanted to wonder, “What if?”. I got an internship under Pete Taras when he was at Transworld Surf, and the rest is history. 

The ocean is a constant in most of your imagery. Have you always lived near the water?

I have always lived very close to the ocean. It really was my inspiration in the beginning of my photography career and continues to inspire me each and everyday. I try to get in the ocean everyday, because it seems to have the ability to constantly rejuvenate and inspire me in all aspects of life. Living near the ocean has also provided me the ability to be constantly near great waves and surfers. Central California is an amazing coastline, and no matter where I travel, coming home to this stretch of coast gets me excited.

In 2009, you went on a 50-day road trip with Eric Soderquist, resulting in a coffee book of images called “The California Surf Project”. Do you have plans to create more books? What would you want to do the same or differently?

I always have something in the works. Right now, I am working on a bodysurf book from Keith Malloy’s recent movie Come Hell or High Water. It is a project I am really passionate about and  think people are going to be blown away by the unique imagery. It really is unlike anything else I have ever seen. I also am working on a series of zines from my travels to cold water places. Hopefully, they will inspire people to get out and travel to these places or to somewhere they have never been. 

What location or surfer have you not yet photographed but would love the opportunity to shoot?

Most of the time, I am much more intrigued by shooting a certain destination rather than a certain surfer. I love shooting with friends or people that I think will bring out the best in a destination. Right now, I really want to take a trip to some places in Alaska, and there are still a few hidden gems in the North Atlantic that I am working on going to.

What disadvantages did you experience starting your business at a young age? What were the benefits of your youth?

The experience in meetings and setting up projects is something that is hard to have when you are young. There is a big learning curve when it comes to any business and being young you often lack the skills or experience to have total understanding and leverage in these settings. Being young, on the other hand, makes you work harder to get better and prove yourself in an industry. It makes you take time to really soak in as much as possible when you have the chance to learn.  

Any advice to young up and comers or college students regarding the business of photography?

I think it is really important to begin to make a name for yourself through developing a style. Companies need to be able to identify your work from a batch of photos, and this is what will give you more and more recognition within the industry. Being able to harness social media in this day and age is vital, and the better you are at self-marketing the bigger name you will make for yourself. I also believe it is important to find inspiration beyond photography. Often, time spent looking at other art forms is a great way to develop your own personal work. 


Favorite places to shop:

Stag, Svpply, Patagonia, B&H Photo, REI, Orange & Park