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Adventure Travel Photographer’s Road to Success |An Inside Look Into Chris Burkard’s Career

By Sinh Truong on July 17th 2014

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

Some of you may have seen his work online, on ESPN, or maybe even follow his Facebook. If not on the Internet, then maybe in a magazine like Outside or Outdoor Photographer. What a lot of people don’t know is Chris Burkard’s story. The story of how he was just like everybody else… talented and still searching for something to push his images to the point of recognition. To isolate a style that you see and think, that is me, and that is what people are going to recognize as something that I likely shot.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

I have been working with Chris Burkard for over three years now and have watched his career blossom into something very special. He is humble, easy going, insanely talented behind the lens, but methodical in execution and fully aware of how to maximize every opportunity. It may come naturally now, but it has been a long journey built on steps and processes. A quick look at the current numbers tells you only the fruits of his labor: more print mag covers than you can count on your hands and feet, a long list of sponsors including Sony, f-stop, Goal Zero, Hoya, and Smugmug; almost 200k Instagram and 115k Facebook followers, and a full calendar of paid gigs taking him across all parts of the globe. So, how did he do it and what are the secrets to his success?

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

Most readers loving travel and landscape photography can undoubtedly relate to Chris’s early career. Chris was a self taught photographer and grew up loving landscapes. It was a subject that really spoke to him, but he knew it was not likely a subject that would earn him a comfortable living. It wasn’t until he started blending his landscapes with people (and surf) that things really started to pick up steam. He approaches his work hoping to evoke emotions and inspire viewers to desire to go there. This epic blend of beautiful seascapes with a dash of action has been Chris’s recipe to his image making. It’s a style that Chris has figured out and he’s running full speed with it.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

In the early days, Chris’s work was well received and attracted positive buzz. Chris got out and did as much as he could picking up big named clients such as Apple, VW, and Nikon. He kept shooting and continued to network. Chris eventually became the senior photographer for Surfer Magazine, but things didn’t stop there. He realized to get to where he wanted to be, he needed to make his voice heard. Chris shared images across as many platforms as he could, worked with key brands relevant to his work, created videos, focused on social media, and entered his images in photo contests. A big break came in 2010 when Chris submitted several of his shots to the largest adventure sport photo contest in the world, the Red Bull Illume. That year, he became the overall winner taking home a $40,000 Leica S camera kit as the grand prize and even more important, a boost in forward momentum.


Red Bull Illume 2010 Overall Winner

To this day, Chris continues to ride this momentum he’s built up. Chris Burkard is not an overnight sensation that some may believe him to be. Although he’s now only 28, he started when he was 19. Only in the last half decade did things really start taking off for him. Since then, his team has grown and so has his family. Chris is now happily married, a proud father of two, and based close the beach in California. As great as it sounds, it is difficult continuing to do what he does while somehow striking a balance with what matters to him the most, his family. When he’s home, he tries not to let work distract him. However, he realizes that there’s an arc to every career and now is the time to keep that arc from dipping. Chris’s success is simply the result of hard work and the people behind him.

So what’s next? Where does Chris see himself in 10 years? His answer, “Off the grid with my family… I got into traveling for myself, now I want to share that with my family.

For more on Chris and his work, visit his website at or follow him on Facebook at

Click play to watch Smugmug Film’s recently released video featuring Chris Burkard.

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A graduate of industrial design, I am currently working full time in both marketing and design for f-stop gear. I have been shooting photos since the days of 35mm film and have a deep passion for everything photography. Most of my inspiration comes from a global team of over 200 professional photographers and videographers which I manage.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Michael Moe

    beautiful! ;)

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  2. Chuck Eggen

    Loved “Arctic Swell.”

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  3. Perry Lim

    Yep, that ‘people’ element in his photos really does add value to his images. Makes ME want to travel!

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  4. Greg Faulkner

    Some great images in this article I love the first one with the mountains and surfer

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  5. James Matthews

    Yep, I want his life :)

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  6. Asad Qayyum

    This is incredibe; so beautiful. Much respect to the photographers who put themselves out there to capture these stunning scenes.

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