Chris Burkard is a world-renowned photographer, filmmaker and storyteller. In his images, he captures nature and its many wonders in a spectacular and truly authentic way, which could be due to the fact that he approaches his subjects with caution and humility. Chris is very committed to his work and it seems like nothing can stop him from getting that perfect shot.
Thanks for taking the time Chris! How are you and what’s been going on lately?
I am good! Most of all I am thankful to be healthy and busy through these crazy times we are living in. COVID-19 and the travel restrictions it caused changed my life greatly over the past year, but in some ways it was actually really nice for me to have some time away from traveling to spend quality time at home with my family. Right now I am back in Iceland, I just finished up a surf trip and happened to get extremely lucky and be here for a volcanic eruption. I documented this both personally and for Nat Geo which was a huge honor. And right now I am prepping for another bike trip, this is a fat bike expedition in which I will traverse Iceland from North to South. Long story short, there’s a lot going on but life is good!
How has it affected your work?
The past year certainly brought its challenges and changed the way I work and run my business. Most of all it was a challenge to continue running my studio and making sure I could employ my team, but I am grateful to have adapted and been able to keep everything running as usual. The projects and work I took on certainly changed but I believe that is all part of being a photographer these days.
How would you describe your style of photography?
I would say overall, I have distinguished myself by shooting untamed, powerful landscapes that are layered with outdoor, travel, adventure, surf, and lifestyle subjects. One of the defining elements of my style of photography is instilling a sense of scale and timelessness within a landscape. That is done many times by including a person within the image but I’ve also used planes, boats, etc. By adding this human element it immediately gives a viewer a context to latch onto of how large a landscape or scene is while making it much more relatable. By seeing a human form within a scene it makes it much easier to imagine that person is you. I also utilize a lot of silhouette lighting in order to make my images more timeless. I try and avoid including details like a big branded shirt or anything that will allow you to tell when an image was taken.
How do you get your final images to look so consistent?
I think in some ways this happens naturally, by following the stylistic elements I mentioned above. I tend to stick to these because they’re what I instinctively like and have always gravitated towards which helps keep my portfolio cohesive. I also try not to rely heavily on editing which helps keep things consistent as well.
How did your relationship with action and adventure sports photography develop?
I started shooting photos when I was 19 years old after experimenting with drawing and art in high school. I realized that it enabled me to do art in a mobile state, to explore and adventure, and show people the beauty in the world around me. As a kid growing up on the Central Coast, I was always really into surfing and bodyboarding. As I began shooting photos, I gravitated towards these and was always out shooting photos with my friends doing these things. I would go and shoot surfers at the local beach and try to sell them pictures on DVDs. I shot weddings and senior pictures and interiors store photos. That obviously wasn't my end goal, but I had to start somewhere. I wanted to learn more about action sports and landscapes photography which is what I was excited about but didn't know where to turn so I started applying for internships. I finally got an opportunity to intern with Michael Fatali, a large format landscape photographer, and I got an internship at Transworld Surf magazine which was an incredibly valuable experience and pushed me further into the action sports world.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
It’s pretty simple, I guess. I find my inspiration in nature. Heading out and spending days off the grid and away from the civilization is where I feel most relaxed and can really see things in a different light. I used to draw a ton of inspiration from magazines and photo books but now it’s more in music, architecture, paintings, poetry, and really anything that opens up my senses in new and interesting ways. I have always tried to approach subjects with caution and humility. I never want to be running around taking photos without a clear purpose. So, I try to really take in the places I go and make sure that I am feeling some connection with them before I get to work. It’s an important part of my photographic process.
You often work under difficult and extraordinary conditions. What motivates you to go the extra mile for your work?
I always like to say the best image is the image people haven’t seen before. To be honest, it’s really hard to take a picture of a place or activity people have seen a bunch of times before. But, if you go the extra mile and take a photo of something people have never seen before, all the sudden that image stands out. I think about this a lot and it always pushes me to go further and work harder than most, because the result is always worth it.
Can you share stand out moments/memories of your career (positive and negative) with us?
There have definitely been lots of ups and downs over the years. Getting my first internship at Transworld Surf was a stand out moment for real because it was something I wanted so bad. Scoring waves under the Northern Lights was definitely an all-time positive moment for me, sitting in a jail cell in Russia was definitely an all-time negative stand out for me! There are almost too many ups and downs to list them, I’m just grateful for all the moments I’ve gotten to experience whether good or bad. Winning the Red Bull Illume Contest in 2010 was definitely a stand out moment for my career as well.
You’ve travelled to a lot of awesome spots all over the world. Do you have favorite places/locations to shoot in and why?
By far my favorite place in the world is Iceland. It holds so much opportunity for adventure and surf. Everytime I shoot here it is like walking on another planet. The geography along with the people of Iceland keep you coming back. Breanne (my wife) and I joke about living in Iceland when our boys get a little older for six-months at a time. I’ve been 40+ times and have no intentions of stopping.
What are the three most important things aspiring photographers should keep in mind?
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 my photography work instantly when they see it. I would also say persistence and willingness to learn.
What’s important when taking images for Red Bull Illume? Any tips?
I think similar to what I answered before, it’s really important and helpful to develop your own style and take images that are unique. There are so many amazing photographers out there today it’s absolutely mind-blowing, you need to do something that makes your photos stand out in a consistent way.
What’s the most valuable thing you learnt from taking part in Red Bull Illume?
Mostly the value of community within the creative industry and the opportunities there are to connect with people. Illume really fostered some amazing relationships with other photographers that I still value and hold dearly today. That is honestly the most important part of the whole thing.
What do you try to capture for the Image Quest 2021? Have you already shot something?
To be honest I have been really enjoying mentoring photographers and focusing on my own expeditions as an athlete. It’s been challenging to give as much focus as it takes to create an image for Illume so if something happens I’ll be excited to share it.. but it’s not as much of a focus for me now as it was years ago.
Where can we find more of your work?
You can find more of my work on my website or on my Instagram.
We talked to Jb Liautard about his project with his mate and Red Bull athlete Thomas Genon. Jb is a 25-year-old professional photographer based out of Lyon, France. He’s fond of all things outdoors, but his real passion lies with mountain biking which he started doing at 14, since then he has been infatuated by the sport. He started shooting once he turned 18 and bought his first DSLR. His pictures really show the relation between humans and their environment.
Why did you choose to become an action sports photographer? What made you specialize in mountain biking?
I didn’t really choose this path, it happened quite naturally as my two biggest passions are photography and action sports. Being a mountain bike rider myself definitely oriented my specialization in bike photography. I believe that sharing the passion and knowing all the codes of the sport are essential when it comes to taking pictures in this field.
What came first for you – mountain biking or photography?
Mountain biking came first when I was around 14 years old, and I really got into photography a few years later when I turned 18 and bought my first DSLR.
Who are your biggest influences in adventure and action sports photography?
It’s hard to give just a few names here but I don’t necessarily get inspired by action sports photographers only. I really enjoy looking at landscape and portrait photography too. Here are a few photographers whose work I have always appreciated: Joey Lawrence, Reuben Wu, Fred Mortagne, Ben Thouard, Toby Cowley, Sterling Lorence, Lorenz Holder…
What is the name of this project you have been working on?
The name of this project is: The Art of Mtb. It has been produced by the brand “Shimano”. We wanted to show what’s happening behind the scenes of some artistic photos we had in mind, both with the photography and the riding.
Which picture is your favorite from this project? Did it turn out exactly as planned?
My favorite picture from this project is the water droplet picture. It did turn out as we planned, we took some time to find the clothes matching the best with the bike and I’m glad Thomas’ bike had those bright colors, which makes the whole subject more visible.
How long did it take you to get the shot? What was the biggest challenge when capturing it?
I think it took us about an hour and a half, from the moment we arrived on the parking lot until the final attempt. Actually, we did this image in the middle of the photo session, but I wanted to keep doing a few more tries just in case we could get another framing. I tried some shots closer to the water droplets, and some a bit further. In the end, this photo was showing the action the best and the subject was not too big or too small.
How did you come up with the ideas for this project?
I spend days looking for inspiration so it’s kind of a long and sometimes unconscious process. Every time I come up with an idea, I write it down somewhere. So, for this project, I just picked a few ideas I had and tried to make them work with Thomas. Some of them didn’t work and we didn’t show them in the video but failing is part of the process. For the droplet picture, I tried this idea a few months earlier with another rider but it didn’t get quite close to this result, so I did a lot of improvements and it worked on the first try with Thomas.
Do you have these ideas ready before the shoot or is it something you come up with spontaneously?
I kind of answered this question in my previous answer I guess, but sometimes inspiration also comes from what I’m seeing on the location and from some discussions with the riders. But I would say all the photos I did in this project were staged, so it was a bit different from an adventure trip where you discover the landscape and the possibilities every day.
How did you meet the athlete?
I met Thomas a while ago now, he’s the first professional athlete I shot with back in 2014 while I was on an assignment for a French web magazine. We had a common group of friends so we were seeing each other quite often but we never really planned a shooting together until this project last year.
How did you discover the location?
The location is mainly Thomas’ backyard, so it wasn’t too hard to find! I came to his place a few weeks before the shoot to scout the area, that’s when I first discovered the possibilities we had. The only thing we added was a new jump, built for the picture with the dusty background.
Where is your favorite location to shoot mountain bike photos?
Shooting mountain bike photos is tricky because most of the time you can’t just add an action to a landscape or architecture shot. You have to create or find a jump, or a trail, where the action can be as important and beautiful as the surroundings. That’s why shooting in Utah’s desert-like landscapes or in Canada’s rain forest is probably my favorite. Real trails and a lot of building possibilities in the middle of an amazing landscape.
Do you plan on submitting for the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021? If so, do you have any tips for fellow content creators?
Yes I do, I’m not sure which shots I’m going to submit yet and I’ll probably wait until the last month to upload my images. I would suggest other photographers give it a try and to fill all 10 spots of the categories. Also, no matter how great an image is, if it’s in the wrong category, it has way less chance to get selected, so be sure to choose the categories wisely.
Where can we find more of your work?
You can find more of my work on my website or on Instagram @jbliautard.
Red Bull Illume Image Quest is back for even more of the world’s greatest adventure and action sports imagery. We’re ready to shine a light on all of your hard work and creativity in capturing the passion, lifestyle, and culture within the sports scene. The contest returns for its sixth edition after a record-breaking 2019 one with 59,551 entries. The Image Quest is here again and has 10 categories for you to enter on redbullillume.com and on Instagram from March 1 to July 31, 2021. We can guarantee that this edition is going to be full of breath-taking imagery and fresh perspectives.
There are 9 categories returning for the 2021 edition, which are: Masterpiece by SanDisk, Emerging, Energy by Red Bull Photography, Creative, Innovation by EyeEm, Playground, Lifestyle by COOPH, and RAW by Leica. Best of Instagram, which is now sponsored by Lenovo, is also back and has a few updates. The first is that content creators can submit still or moving image, which will be judged separately resulting in 2 Category Winners. One thing stays the same, and that’s that the people get the final say through community voting on our website.
This edition also introduces a brand-new category for people to enter called Photo Story. Sometimes there’s more to a scene than a single image can convey, so Red Bull Illume is giving creators the opportunity share their stories using a slideshow format, from 30 seconds up to 3 minutes. We’re excited to see the submissions, because this category opens up the contest to a whole new level of creativity.
There’s a category for every kind of adventure and action sports imagery creator and a bunch of reasons to take a shot at it and enter your work. The Category Winners and Overall Winner will each receive a beautiful trophy, as well as incredible prize packages from our partners worth more than €100,000! Some of the prizes include the latest products from global computing leader Lenovo, to empower even more creative self-expression; storage solutions from SanDisk to ensure you never lose a shot; as well as high-quality cameras from Leica and stylish photography apparel and accessories from COOPH.
Every Finalist earns their spot at the Winner Award Ceremony, taking place in November 2021. It’s the event that everyone gets excited about because they gain immense exposure and their work is shared with the world. It is also the release of the esteemed Red Bull Illume Limited Edition Photobook, a prize possession even during the digital age.
For more information on the submission process click here!
Want to know more about the categories for the Image Quest 2021? Head this way!
Red Bull Illume is constantly evolving and setting the benchmark in the adventure and action photography scene, which is why we’ve introduced a completely new category for the 2021 edition. Photo Story is the opportunity for you to tell the whole story, because sometimes one image just isn’t enough.
The Photo Story category is for your best adventure and action sports images displayed as a slideshow that is anywhere between 30 seconds and 3 minutes in length. It’s about sharing the full picture with more than one image. The only requirement is that, like any story, the images all have to do with the chosen topic, for example: “The beauty of blue hour biking”. Of course, you can present your slideshow in an artistic way, because overlays, texts, video and transition effects are allowed. Same goes for music, as long as you own all rights, we want to hear the soundtrack to your Photo Story!
Have you already got a story in your head, a full day of adventure with a bunch of pictures to show for it? The Photo Story category is a whole new way for you to share your experiences in the adventure and action sports scene. Don’t wait, start shooting all those ideas buzzing around your mind and enter Red Bull Illume Image Quest! Submissions are open from March 01 to July 31, 2021, but be sure to stay tuned to redbullillume.com and our social media to stay up to date.
A new edition of Red Bull Illume Image Quest means another round of the world’s greatest adventure and action sports imagery. It is also the perfect opportunity for new partnerships, like the latest one with global computing leader Lenovo. The company is an industry leader in innovative and smarter computing technology that enables a more inclusive and inspired world, so it’s fitting that they are presenting this year’s Best of Instagram category; the only one that opens up the competition to everyone through public voting.
The Best of Instagram by Lenovo category is expected to receive thousands upon thousands of entries from all around the world. Entrants can submit their content using their public Instagram profile and tagging @redbullillume and #rbi21submission. Creators will be able to enter still or moving images up to 60 seconds, which will be judged separately. The submissions will be judged every month, first by an internal Red Bull Illume jury who will select the top 5 still and 5 moving images. These will be put to a community vote on redbullillume.com resulting in 1 monthly winner for still and 1 for moving image. The monthly winners will automatically become official Red Bull Illume Finalists. In total there will be 5 still and 5 moving image finalists and out of these, the public will choose their favorites, who will be crowned as Best of Instagram by Lenovo Category Winners.
Lenovo’s shared dedication to transformative experiences and pushing boundaries with state-of-the-art technology is what makes them the ideal partner for Red Bull Illume. This kind of meaningful innovation is what allows creators to develop and enhance their concepts, evolving with new ideas that inspire, influence, and simply put, leave us speechless.
“Lenovo is proud to support the sixth edition of Red Bull Illume Image Quest that brings together photographers and content creators whose bold work continually inspires us,” said Matt Bereda, Vice President of Global Consumer Marketing, PCs and Smart Devices, Lenovo. “We see many of our consumer PC, smart home, and tablet customers are passionate hobbyists. They enjoy photography and digital storytelling, and not all of them are paid professionals—they just love capturing and enhancing imagery to share with others and hang on their walls. If this new normal has taught us anything about our world and ourselves, it’s that we’re resilient, our technology is adaptable, and that making meaningful connections with others through shared creative pursuits are the bright spots in life that really matter.”
Over and above the grand title of being an official Red Bull Illume winner, they are also awarded with prize packages that include trophies and the latest Lenovo products to power even more creative self-expression. Their work will be included in the official Red Bull Illume photobook, be showcased during the Winner Award Ceremony planned for November 2021 and will gain worldwide exposure.
Another edition of Red Bull Illume is here and full of exciting new developments, so be sure to keep a look out for important dates and news on redbullillume.com and start shooting because submissions are open from March 01 to July 31, 2021.
Red Bull Illume is all about celebrating those who aren’t afraid to think a little differently and boldly step away from the norm to find new ways of portray adventure and action sports. We’re proud to say that the Innovation category is back and is brought to you by EyeEm. It’s only fitting the platform that’s home to the most powerful creative imagery in the world empowers photographers with this one-of-a-kind Red Bull Illume category. EyeEm is a global marketplace for premium stock photography and professional photo & video productions. Their worldwide creative community allows any company to book high-quality photo and video productions anywhere in the world.
Innovation by EyeEm is specifically for images that reveal a totally new angle, a visual idea, a different format, or unconventional ways of using lighting, lenses, and, well, that’s really up to you! Show us a new perspective of adventure and actions sports imagery that reflects the spirit of innovation.
If you want to win this category you need to rethink how you shoot. We’re looking for techniques and visual ideas we’ve never seen before. This is innovation at its finest! The judges will select the images that are not only stunning, but approach adventure and action sports imagery in a new way.
So, start brainstorming and start shooting because submissions open from March 01 to July 31, 2021. Stay tuned to redbullillume.com and our social media channels for all the latest updates and category reveals.
Introduced in 2019, the RAW category is all about taking it back to the fundamentals of photography, where planning the composition, lighting, and exposure are the basis of a good image. The greatest challenge with this category is ensuring that all of this has to be perfect before the shot. It’s for the purists at heart, for those who love the process.
RAW is for shots that are straight out of your camera, showing the real and original image. Everything is done in front of the lens, not on the screen. It is for imagery that doesn’t rely on editing or enhancements, it’s for the uncropped, untouched, and unchanged shots.
The images that are pure and untouched are the most difficult to achieve and therefore are the most rewarding. Perhaps you’re already a master of the unedited, or you’re ready to try a more difficult style with your adventure and action sports photography; the RAW category is the one for you.
Is this the category calling out to you? Remember to start shooting because submissions open soon, from March 01 to July 31, 2021. And even if this isn’t the one you’re feeling, stay tuned to redbullillume.com and follow us on social media because there are 10 categories in total for you to choose from, with more being announced soon!
Where do you go when you’re looking for an unforgettable experience? The Playground category is back for another edition of crazy landscapes, grungy back alleys, and secret spots; because the biggest part of any adventure is where all the action takes place.
Playground is for imagery that showcases the landscapes, locations, platforms in which athletes play. It’s specifically for the epic imagery that showcases the setting which influences the athletes’ every move.
“In my photos I aim to share the beauty and vastness of nature. I seek a lot of inspiration from the landscape and terrain I am in and am always searching for ways and compositions to combine the human element.” – Guy Fattal, Semi-finalist 2019
The world is full of stunning scenery and every edition this category illuminates a whole range of never-seen-before imagery. This can be anything from an unbelievable place hidden between the hills to just finding a new way to look at the same place you visit every day. Playground category is about the athlete and their environment.
“I love to capture an athlete's interaction with the landscape. These incredible landscapes are what drew me to photography as a medium, and continue to inspire me for new adventures.” – Steve Shannon, Semi-finalist 2019
Share your perspective and show us where you play. The very essence of adventure and action sports creation is looking for new places to perform, capture, and explore. We want to see your spectacular imagery, so make sure you enter as submissions for Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 are open from March 01 to July 31, 2021.
Playground is only one of the 10 categories and definitely not the last to be revealed before submissions open. So, keep your eyes open for all of the updates and announcements on redbullillume.com and on our social channels.
One of the most amazing things about Red Bull Illume Image Quest is that it allows people to truly express their ideas, giving creators the opportunity to share their works of art with a global audience. Creating imagery using outstanding artistry and skill is what the Masterpiece by SanDisk category is all about. It is truly the height of self-expression.
Joining as a partner for yet another edition is the digital storage specialist, SanDisk. A name recognized by content creators everywhere for setting the gold standard, both on the set and out on the field. Their products help make creating possible, which is why we’re excited to have them on board for another edition.
The Masterpiece by SanDisk category is for imagery that illuminates your artistic skill, your personal best, your unique style. We are looking for your best shot. The category blurs the line between fine art and photography. It calls for an image that represents the creativity of adventure and action sports. This isn’t just about the trick, but rather how the moment is transformed into a work of art.
Multi-time winner, Lorenz Holder, has become king of the Masterpiece category, winning in both 2016 and 2019. He’s perfected the skill of making images that stand out and gives us a little piece of advice on what to enter for the category:
“The Red Bull Illume Image Quest is undoubtedly the biggest action sports photography competition in the world. As an action sports photographer it’s such a good opportunity to see where I stand and what kind of images really catch people… For me, the Masterpiece category is a bit like the holy grail within Red Bull Illume. The images need to have a certain ‘WOW-factor’ and just blow you away when you see them. Anything goes there, but it just has to be stunning.” - Lorenz Holder
Show the world your unique skill by entering the Masterpiece by SanDisk category. Submissions open from March 01 to July 31, 2021, so don’t wait! Keep an eye out because the next category will be announced in a couple of days on redbullillume.com.