What have been some of the memorable projects you have worked on in the years since winning Red Bull Illume back in 2010?
That’s a tough one, I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked on a lot of projects since winning Illume back in 2010. However perhaps my favorite is a recent personal project to surf under the northern lights in Iceland this past winter. With three hours of light each day, brutal winter storms, and freezing temperatures, Iceland was far from the ideal surf trip. I’ve been working pretty tirelessly on a feature length film from the trip and it should be releasing this March. You can check out the trailer here.
What stuff do you enjoy shooting right now?
When I started to get into photography I was inspired by landscapes and I think that still holds true today. Whether I’m shooting surf, skiing, or even hiking I always try to incorporate the surrounding landscapes. From the slopes of Utah to the ocean in Norway. Beyond anything I’m inspired by our interactions with the outdoors and the places we get to experience.
What impact has Red Bull Illume had on you?
When I first started shooting it was obviously a benchmark and goal to have an image considered. When I won in 2010 I was amped! It’s hard to put into words what it felt like to win this award in front of all of my peers and the people I respect, it was truly a blessing. When I submitted my image, my expectation was just to hope that a few editors would see it. It definitely helped me to get my name out there and gave me a great platform for future projects.
What do you think makes Red Bull Illume different from other contests?
It’s unlike most contests in that it’s only held every three years and is limited to the action sports realm. What that translates to in terms of the content submitted is that only photographer’s very best work is submitted. The images can’t be re-created easily. The images took tons of careful planning, potentially had elements that weren’t planned for, and still required a high level of skill from both the athlete and the photographer to fully execute.
What tips would you give to beginners who are planning to enter photo contests?
The best thing that you can do as an aspiring photographer is to identify a style that represents you well, develop within that style, and keep shooting to perfect it. It’s super important to have your images be recognizable by editors and others who are looking at your work. With the large number of photographers that are out there now you must find ways to stand out. The best compliment I can ever receive is when people know an image was mine instantly when they see it.
What would you look for in an image if you were judging Red Bull Illume?
Honestly it would need to be something that couldn’t be recreated. A combination of spectacular light, a unique perspective, and a talented athlete excelling in their craft. I would personally look at things in two ways: a photo that was conceived, planned and executed beautifully, or a photograph that is simply a once in a lifetime moment that the photographer put themselves in the right place to capture.
What has changed in adventure and action sports photography in the last 10 years?
This is all my personal perspective, but for the longest time I felt like the action sports and adventure worlds were so focused on getting high action imagery at the expense of storytelling. Now with social media and other platforms you can share a more complete story. While high action photography is still the core of the adventure and action sports world, the importance now has somewhat shifted to imagery that can help showcase the whole story.
Which action and adventure sports photographers do you like right now?
Christian Pondella is one of my all-time favorites. So humble and always pushing the limits simply because he is an athlete himself and is just as good as many of the guys he shoots. Also Reuben Krabbe! Both guys are just as talented in their sports as the people they are shooting and it reflects in the images they produce.
What do you think is next for action and adventure sports photography?
That’s a really tough question. From my perspective, it’s about going to more remote and wild places to pursue the sports we document. I think the stakes need to be raised. Less large scale productions and more about getting way out into nature and finding that image.
What plans and projects do you have lined up for the future?
Future goals would always be to simply inspire people. Create work that is meant to last a lot longer than I am. I always hope to continue exploring parts of the globe that feel wild and remote and ideally bring those experiences back to people through social media, books, films, editorial publications, etc. There are a couple remote Russian islands I’ve had my eyes on that I want to visit. Additionally, I have a book about Iceland’s glacial rivers, and my film about surfing under the northern lights that releases this Spring!
Check out more of Chris Burkard's work on his website and follow his adventures by giving him a follow on Instagram.