Around the World With Chris Burkard

By James Joiner | December 23, 2016

Adventure photographer Chris Burkard got his start snapping photos of friends surfing in sunny southern California, and soon found himself a staff photographer for Surfer magazine. As his career grew, branching from shooting surfing to climbing, travel, and more, so did our cultural obsession with social media, specifically Instagram. Burkard’s colorful dispatches of amazing moments from beautiful places were a hit on the photo sharing site, and his following grew rapidly, currently hovering around 2.1 million. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly twice the population of Rhode Island.

Yet even with a state’s worth of fans hanging on his every photo and big-name clients like Apple, Sony, and more clamoring for his creativity, Chris maintains a mellow temperament, easy-going and approachable. When he’s not on the road, he’s at home with his young family, dreaming of new adventures and working to inspire people to get outside and into nature. We grabbed during some rare down time to talk travel, photography, and that one time he got locked up in Russia.

So wait, how many times have you been to Iceland?

After this last trip to Iceland just this past week, I have been able to get out there 26 times.

Is that your favorite place you’ve been? If not, where? 

The Westfjords of Iceland are my favorite places to travel to, Iceland in general is my favorite place to be outside of California’s Central Coast.

What’s your least favorite, and why?

Anywhere that’s hot and humid. I’m sure you can tell from the majority of my images that I like to stick to colder regions and avoid the uncomfortably hot ones.

Tell us about that one time in the Russian prison? What happened?

I landed a few hours before the visa date issued on my passport and I argued about it for three hours. I was in Vladivostok, a port city on the Sea of Japan. It’s like the Wild West out there. Everyone else in my crew got to go through customs and we all submitted our visa dates the same way—mine were just wrong. I spent 24 hours in a dirty holding cell… It was basically a really gnarly private holding room with a one-eyed guard at the door, and bars on the doors and windows. Then I got deported and left on a flight back to Korea before returning to Russia the next day to meet up with my crew and finish the 12-day trip. Pretty interesting experience for anyone 22 years old. I laugh now, but at the time I was really scared. I’ve never really had my rights stripped from me like that before.

What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned to impart on fellow travelers? Any one piece of wisdom or advice?

It has always been to chase your own dreams and don’t be afraid of vulnerability. In our culture it’s so nice having technology that helps us in our everyday lives in so many different ways. With that said, we can find ourselves trapped in this funky haze with our eyes glued to digital screens. I try to inspire people with my work showing them there are amazing and untraveled destinations accessible to everyone. If I can convey a source of inspiration from my photographs along the journey and get people to see that and set out on their own adventures? That’s what it’s all about. Drawing people back into the outdoors.

What is your favorite part of a trip?

My favorite part of the trips I take are when I am shivering in the arctic surf in a near-hypothermic state with a frozen face, waking up at 3am to hike up a mountain to see the sunrise from some crazy vantage point, or something as simple as eating local food and taking in the natural landscape around me. It’s a combination of moments and experiences throughout a trip when I know I’m living my life to the fullest potential.

If you only had time to do one thing in a new place, what is it that you’d do?

Hiking in Patagonia.

Must have travel accessories, camera not included? 

Theracane. Goal Zero portable powerbank. Good sunglasses. Headphones. Almond butter. Buff. Comfortable La Sportiva shoes.

What’s the one thing that your average person could do to take better travel pics?

For starters, it’s setting yourself up to get a great shot. That means being in optimal lighting situations, sunrise and sunset. Keep in mind how you frame your photos – are you cropping your subject, being patient and purposeful with each photo you take? It always comes back to the thought of composing an image. A composer might take photos rather than just “capturing” an image like they’re caging something.

Favorite way to pass the time on long journeys?

I really like to listen to music and get some sleep when I can. Shoot schedules can really vary, and sometimes I go off of a handful of sleep per night. I’ll watch a movie or two and read as well.

What are you working on now that you’re most excited about?

Mostly a film I’m making about surfing under the Northern Lights.