From surfboards to pieced together Cold War-era helicopters, Chris Burkard’s been known to transform the way his fans see the world by telling visual stories from a different angle. Home to the Northern Lights, Redwood forests, deep canyons and towering mountains, Burkard’s Instagram account is full of evidence that he’s willing to go to the extra mile for the perfect shot.
Chris is one of the most popular talents on Instagram with over 2.6 million followers, and his work has inspired countless creatives through the platform. After authoring books and giving TED talks, Burkard released his short documentary film, Under An Arctic Sky, in April 2017, and is busy touring. We caught up with him to get a behind-the-scenes look at his most extreme experiences, the story behind his film, and how he aims to inspire people through his photos.
Read our exclusive interview below.
When and how did you develop your passion for surfing and photography? How do these two passions intersect?
Growing up on California’s central coast, I was brought up with surf and the ocean being part of my life. After experimenting with different forms of art in high school, I came to photography when I was 19. Photography gave me the chance to explore and show the beauty of the world to others, but at first, it was totally daunting to consider it as a career.
I shot photos of surfers and tried selling them as well as doing odd photography jobs. My first major break into the surf photography world was my internship at Transworld Surf Magazine and I started developing my style after that.
How did you make the decision to pursue photo blogging full-time? How did Instagram change or impact your career?
Instagram and social media allow me to get my work out there to more people than I could have imagined when I started out. It has also given me a great way to get in touch with other photographers or clients for collaborations. The Instagram community has shown such great support for the work and has made things like the world tour of my film, Under an Arctic Sky, possible.
Tell us about the life philosophy and vision your work represents.
My work is about always taking the next step to explore and do the impossible. I hope to inspire people to go out and see the beauty of the world we live in.
What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done for a photograph?
I did a surf trip to Russia that, to this day, remains one of the craziest trips I’ve been on.
Many of the remote beaches are only accessible by helicopter. The caveat was that the helicopters were military issue from the Cold War that had been pieced together with scrap parts from other crashed helicopters. It was a pretty heavy experience loading all our gear and taking off in hopes of finding waves but, more importantly, not crashing!
What is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been to, and what made it so memorable?
Iceland is my favorite place to photograph. The untouched landscape with mountains, volcanoes, and glacial rivers plus long sunset and sunrise lighting. And of course, the auroras make for amazing photo opportunities.
How do you choose which clients to take on?
I like to work with clients whose values match my own. I love to show clients the importance of environmental conservation while also infusing their brand with the outdoor world. No matter where I am in my career, the ultimate goal is to create meaningful work while also incorporating the client’s vision.
Quick-fire round: Which camera do you use daily?
Favorite editing tool?
Favorite photography icon?
Surfboard or camera?
Flora or fauna?
How did you come up with the idea for Under an Arctic Sky?
I’ve always been drawn to cold weather surf spots because of their remoteness and the idea people have that there’s no way you could surf there. Under an Arctic Sky basically came from my idea to shoot surfers under the Northern Lights in Iceland.
You’ve created a top Instagram channel and blog, written books, spoken at TED, and starred in a movie. What’s next?
Our movie Under and Arctic Sky is currently touring so I’ll be busy with that for the next couple months. I have my eyes on a few locations around the world that I’m trying to get to this year but am honestly figuring out how to get there first!
My goal is to keep seeking out new places while enjoying time at home with my family.
What are your 3 best tips for aspiring creatives and social media influencers?
Keep active, be genuine, and help each other.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I just want to encourage everyone to keep exploring and trying new things. There is so much out there, even just in your town. Go explore, even if you don’t end up taking any pictures.
I think the most important thing about photography for me is the stories and the memories that I have attached to each picture. With every picture I take and post I can recount what it took to get there, I think that’s what connects people with my photography. Go out and search for those memories and those off the trail moments and the pictures will follow.