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Die Bilder von Chris Burkard dürften dir als BLUE Leser vertraut sein. Schließlich haben wir seine Arbeiten in den vergangenen Jahren regelmäßig im BLUE Yearbook gefeatured. Es war im Jahr 2008, als wir zum ersten Mal die Bilder des damaligen Shootingstars der Surffotografie in einem achtseitigen Fotofolio veröffentlichten.

Seitdem hat sich in seiner beruflichen Laufbahn viel getan und Chris zählt heute zu einem der gefragtesten Outdoor und Adventure-Fotografen. Trotz seiner Engagements für große Mainstream Brands hat er den Bezug zu seinen Wurzeln der Surffotografie nie verloren. Da ist es nur konsequent, dass Chris nach wie vor auch von Surfbrands für Shootings gebucht wird.

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Sein jüngstes Shooting für die Billabong Adventure Division ist für uns ein willkommener Anlass, mit Chris über seine fotografische Entwicklung, die kommerzielle Fotografie und seine Leidenschaft für abgelegene Surfspots in kalten Breitengraden zu plaudern.

Das Interview haben wir auf Englisch geführt...
Chris, let's have a look back in time. The images of your early days caught our attention due to their colors, blur effects, and fresh angles. How would you describe the progression of your work in the past years?
Over time, my work has progressed to focusing primarily on storytelling. In the beginning, it was all about surfing and traveling to find waves. These days, the subjects of my trips and photographs can change immensely and include a lot of videos now but it all revolves around using my camera to tell a story.
What was the first commercial job you shot?
Oh, man. This is a tough one, I think the first actual commercial assignment I got was a job shooting a wine label for Dave Mathews the musician, it was called Dreaming Tree wines and I was commissioned by a creative agency that was interested in my work because they knew I could capture authentic “California surf lifestyle” and wanted my style to be replicated in their marketing assets for the wine label. It was all very CA-inspired.
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How did the shooting turn out?
Honestly, I was terrified, I had no clue what I was doing. I showed up by myself. I severely underbid the job. I remember getting to “set” and realizing I was so unprepared. I had just a few minutes to shoot between their video takes. I remember seeing like 30 people on hand for the video component and realizing that I had assumed I could shoot all the images by myself. I think that moment taught me a ton. I realized I needed to learn to have a crew to support me for these larger assignments and at times learn to delegate roles to other people.
You have been traveling all over the world to shot surf & travel stuff. Which was your most exciting, most unique road trip you did?
I am incredibly lucky to have been to so many amazing places and on so many unique trips but it’s hard to look back and not have my first trip to Kamchatka, Russia stand out. Maybe it’s because it all started with me in a Russian jail cell or maybe it’s because it was the furthest I’d ever been from home, but that one was special. I traveled out there with Keith Malloy, Dane Gudauskas, Trevor Gordon, and Cyrus Sutton. We spent a lot of time traveling in old military vehicles and navigating raw terrain. It was the wildest place I’d ever been and in the end, we even scored some waves.
Looking at your surf-related)work from the early days till now it seems you turned more and more into shooting surfing in the cold. What drags you to destinations like Iceland, Norway, Kamchatka, and the Aleutian Islands?
I am a cold water fanatic at heart. Touristy beaches are always great but when you tell people you’re going surfing in Norway, Russia, or Iceland people look at you like you’re crazy and that’s the reaction that I want to get from people.  Finding perfect waves in places that people would never even imagine going to surf is something that excites me and pushes me to create incredible imagery. I feel like we’ve all been sold the endless summer dream, and for me most of the warm places I’ve been to are littered with tourists and massive hotels – the mystery is lost. After my first cold water surf trip to Norway, I was absolutely hooked and never looked back.

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Artwork collage by Luke Tafee for which he used Chris' lineup shot.

Did your surfing background open help for the shootings you do in nature?
Yes - absolutely. My surf background taught me so much not only about surfing but about photography and traveling in general. Like I mentioned above, surfing showed me the importance of seeking out unknown, wild places and this applies to my nature photography as well. I have always believed a decent image of a place people have never seen before is better than an amazing image of a place people have been hundreds of times. I think this goes the same for surfing photos or any nature photo.

How did the collaboration with Billabong start?
Billabong has been a brand I have idolized for many years. They have managed to stay true to their roots in surf culture and along the way, they never seemed to sell out or make their brand about something other than exploration, surfing, and adventure. I really respect that and over the years have had the chance to work with their team on and off. It wasn't until last year that I signed on as a proper ambassador. The hope was to collaborate on something more than just great imagery and video but also just help with some deep and engaging storytelling. That is what I am the most excited about. A brand that truly cares about those types of things is really exciting to me
What was the first photo project you did for them?
The first photo project I did for Billabong was a snowboarding trip to Japan for their Adventure Division. Last February we headed to a small fishing village in Hokkaido to find chest-deep powder and learn about the rich history of the area. We scored some of the deepest snow I’ve ever seen and their riders put on a clinic. It was an epic way to kick off the partnership!
What was the idea of the latest shooting for the new Adventure Division Line?
Well, I think every shoot for the Adventure Division Line is always supported by the story we want to tell. So typically there are no models or locations that aren't driven by the adventure or activity we are doing. We spent some time in remote japan shooting their a/div snow collection, then islands off Alaskan coast shooting surfing and now we are hoping to tell a bit more about my inspiration in photography for this current collection.

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Can you share some insights of this particular shooting?

Oh man - you know, there are so many special moments and unexpected problems when shooting cold expeditions like this. It’s the reason they’re so challenging but so amazing. On the most recent trip, shooting surf in Alaska, the problem is always finding surf and hoping the conditions line up. When we were there it definitely took a few days of searching to find waves that were working. But when we did, well that right there is the special moment. Finding a perfect point with no one else within miles? Doesn’t get much better. One other unexpected moment that I remember vividly was pulling up to this massive black sand beach in our small boat loaded with supplies for 10 days. We had endured some rough water, a storm system and were definitely feeling like we had seen a bit of what the landscape had to offer and were ready for more. Out of nowhere a small bush plane dropped through the clouds and landed on that empty massive beach where the waves pounded. A fella well into his later years got out with his dogs and kayaked across the river mouth to a completely off-the-grid cabin he had obviously taken years to construct. Whether it was a daily commute or just a once-in-a-while occasion he left us all speechless, ready to retreat back to California with our tails between our legs. 

What are the biggest differences if you compare commercial shootings like the Billabong shoot to your road trips to remote surf destinations?
To be honest, I’m quite lucky in the fact that these are really the same now. My commercial shoots for Billabong are all based around remote surf destinations for their Adventure Division which is one of the reasons working with them is so great. Nowadays, commercial surf brands have filled the role that surf magazines used to play and provide funding for remote trips like these.
Do you also work in a studio shooting stills, fashion, and products?
Yes absolutely! I have a full-stop photo studio in Pismo Beach, CA. We have a studio set up and over the years have shot anything and everything. We recently shot all the product photos for the new clothing line coming out. My work primarily revolves around the outdoors and remote trips but I am always happy to do new things and mix them up as well.

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 For the new Billabong Adventure Division collection, photo motifs by Chris were combined with artwork by Australian illustrator Luke Taafe.

What's your favorite camera set-up you take on a surf- or outdoor road trip?
My go-to kit includes Sony A7RIV with a Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 and a Sony 24-70mm f2.8. When I shoot in the water my kit includes Sony A7RIV with a Voigtlander 10mm 2.0 fisheye,  55mm f1.8, & 24mm f1.4 in an AquaTech Water Housing with various Dome and Flat ports.
And, is it any different from the setup you use when shooting a commercial?
Nope - pretty similar! Like I mentioned before, the line between commercial shoots and surf trips is pretty blurred these days. Often if I’m on a surf trip I’m shooting images of clothing and products as well so what I pack is similar for both.

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Have you ever thought of switching back to analog photography? Just for fun or for your own projects?
I have for sure! I started my career shooting analog and it’s always fun to have a film camera back in my hand. Over the past year especially without much travel going on, I’ve found myself shooting some film again for little family trips and special moments like engagements. It’s refreshing compared to shooting modern digital cameras and film photos are always a unique way to preserve important moments.


Photos: Chris Burkard,