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The Outdoor Photography Experience

Lesson 2 of 29

Photography & Outdoor Experience

Chris Burkard

The Outdoor Photography Experience

Chris Burkard

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Lesson Info

2. Photography & Outdoor Experience

Lesson Info

Photography & Outdoor Experience

first things first uh why are we here um basically we're here to learn about photography and we're here to learn about the outdoor experience I want I want to really use myself as an example of of ah like I said before kind of mistakes I made along the way the gear I've used why I'm why I'm using what I'm using now why I've kind of how I've gotten to shooting what I'm shooting and I think the only way to do that is to kind of give you guys a brief overview of my career and as much as lame as it might be to like talk about myself for a time I think you guys are going to find a lot of value in this because I'm able to kind of dive into literally how I started my career from just walking out to the prism appear and taking pictures of surfers off the pier and selling them photos for twenty dollars apiece to shooting for some of the largest companies on the planet and the beauty of these companies you guys can't express enough is that a lot of them are sourcing um uh my work from social med...

ia I would I would say that a lot of the biggest jobs that I've gotten uh problem or important portfolio than my website is going to be what people are seeing online there's a there's an important aspect of that is because it's constant people are looking at you as a as a curator maur important sometimes they're looking at us as how talented this photographer it's not about that it's about them walking into your space your facebook page website instagram right and they're looking okay how well have they organized this space is just constant you know regurgitation of the same images or isn't even flow of work that shows a lot of their best sides but it's all tied together in one kind of simple theme right now I want to talk about that every photographer here whether you're an artist your brother your photographer um it doesn't really matter if you're creative in any sense of the form I think it's important I found it to be vitally important tohave sort of ah thesis have sort of ah um something that embodies your work something like a phrase or whatever that might be that really your work is meant to stand behind if you consider you know national geographic what is their kind of thesis for their entire magazine for their entire you know culture it's it's to inspire people to care about the planet okay I can't I can't express enough how important that is to have something like that that your work can kind of sit behind right what is the message that you want to give people and that everything that you shoot everything that you do creatively should fall underneath that right I think mine would really be in line with there's that I want to inspire people to get out and experience nature in new ways right I just want inspire people to see the world because that was the most important thing to me leading in to kind of my backer in my career I was born in central california never travelled at all growing up I don't have the means to do didn't go to photography school I went to you know I did high school and I did a couple art classes in high school and I loved art art was amazing I would drawing and sketching and I just I really dug it but I felt really really specifically that art was amazing but I just I felt limited I was stuck on a hillside within the easel while my friends were out surfing and I was like that's not cool or I was you know I was stuck indoors you know with a reference photo you know on a sunny beautiful day and I was like this just isn't enough for me I wanted to be in that moment right I wanted to be in the water or I wanted to be on a mountain top or I wanted to be in a social setting with my camera being able to document these experiences so I transition and I I was bled borrowed a camera old old cannon film body for my girlfriend the times mom and she davis thing to me and I was taking pictures of everything and I just I realized like I love this you know I could go to the beach and I could you know I finally got a water housing from a friend is like really cheap you know barely worked right got in the water and I was like I realized I found exactly what I want because it was an extension of myself you know I could take it into any of these locations and it was so inspiring to use and uh photography kind of became this vehicle for expression and also to travel and I think the point that I realized I was like eighteen or nineteen that I was like oh my gosh like this is the thing that could make me go out and see the world right cause I like I said I came from home or that wasn't really a realistic opportunity and that was the point where I realized I needed to take it and put everything I could into it so I quit my job in nineteen and I basically was like I'm gonna pursue photography full time I don't care if I'm face down in the mud somewhere um uh I'll give it five years and I'll see what it does for me right and so basically what I did was every morning I would get up and head to the beach and go to pick him up here which is awesome because we have some videos here that kind of show you guys this location so it's kind of fun to kind of come full circle and be like hey this is where my career started I literally walk out of here six a m in the morning and I would just look who's out in the water and I would take pictures of surfers and I surfing was something I understood that I grew up doing it so it was something where that was a sport or or a something that I kind of related to me right and I was just taking pictures of surfers and they'd come in and run up to them and try and sell them like a cd of photos for twenty bucks right now not as fun as it sounds probably because there wasn't very fun I barely made enough money to like pay for gas but that was kind of how my career started and you guys don't understand I would shoot anything I would shoot you know dogs riding tricycles it would have made a difference you know family photos portrait senior pictures I did anything cause I loved the art and the aspect of taking photography or taking pictures right photography in general so that was super super important me and I think obviously if you don't have that love in the beginning it's kind of something that is not gonna be very fun career um and I realized that you know what I was inspired by was landscapes ok I've shot surfing does it made sense I shot anything I could with very little means or equipment I would think I was shooting like a cannon with slide film or whatever and I I immediately was like you know what what I really impassioned about his landscapes and so you know it's funny because I had seen so little of the world but but what I had seen was you know a lot of places in california yosemite and big sur and you know joshua tree and parts that you know you talk about a zion national park so I was just I was amazed by these things places that I had been too you know traveling around my family or whatever and they spoke you know volumes to me and then that was what I wanted to do I was like I want to be a landscape photographer so I uh I decided to basically relocate to southern utah because I was around a bunch of amazing national parks on dh kind of shadow under a large format landscape photographer named michael vitali and I wasn't able spend a ton of time with him but I did spend a little time with them and it was an amazing experience and I you know you understand this process of getting it was a lot of stuff that happened along the way but I'm kind of trying to cram it so this doesn't go into you know cut into all of our time but I basically united researched and researched and researched and applied and applied applied I finally found somebody that I knew through a family friend that I could spend a little time with and I was very very green like very green but I went on kind of shattered and I watched this process and I was I was amazed and by the by the time that was done three months was over and I moved back to california I realized there's no way that I was gonna have a current landscape photography at all like I was like this is a joke there's no chance because to really to be like a nineteen year old kid right and to try and uh shooting landscapes it was like you need to either have a gallery um because selling photos and magazines is not a realistic way editorial is not a real square to make money and shooting purely landscapes purely nature you have to have a gallery the most successful guys doing it all have amazing galleries and they've made a name for themselves right he'd have a lot of equipment usually because you know landscapes nature they usually involved you know some tele photos that which to me was like eons away and uh and I just I realized that it wasn't it wasn't a realistic possibility for me I felt like it was kind of something that people did as they got a bit older maybe and it was just something that when you have the time to travel around and chase that amazing fall winter light you can but for me it was like not realistic right so I was a little discouraged andi came back but there's and but I but I kind of realized okay you know that doesn't mean that I can't apply what I love about landscapes to something else and so what I started doing that came back to california it was the fall season right for those who know fall is amazing time shoot surfing in california right so offshore wind yet with amazing conditions and I just went out it was shooting surfing nonstop you know and I was like okay well I'm going to set my sights on something else I want to be a surf photographer right why you guys think about this too you know while this course is going on I've said this to a lot of folks that have have had the chance to meet me in person but I want you to make sure that you're applying you know that the things that I've learned although I'm telling you about my experience from shooting surfing in this that this should apply to anything I don't care of competitive ballet is your thing you know that these these principles and concepts and rules should apply to anything whether it's mountain by here whether it's yogurt what whatever you know I'm just kind of giving you my breakdown of how things went right so I um so I came back home and I was like I was bummed out but I realized that surfing was something I knew surfing was something that I I understood and I could shoot because it was close to where I lived and have the ability to go to the beach and access the coast and I decided I was like you know I'm gonna apply everything that I love about landscapes into my surf imagery right and maybe in so my work you can kind of see those elements okay um now that was not an easy task you know I really had to seek out places and locations because I wasn't traveling at this point that I could really apply those things too and luckily I was in central california where there's amazing you know mountains and hills and it kind of speaks to these larger pullback landscape since that's exactly what I did and it was about three months three to four months that I was got in touch with the photo editor at at surfing magazine peter sorry transworld surf at the time pete terrorists and I was able to communicate with him and and kind of send them some images and get some feedback and he was kind of giving me this you know try this try this try this little bit of feedback you know so I could kind of up my game a little bit right and um and uh it was an amazing experience because I was able tto learn and get some of that you know kind of feedback from somebody in an editorial position right now I uh want to tell you about the first image that I had published in the magazine uh because it was a great eye opening experience for me I I was working up to this they have a magazine every year they published which is like the kind of the photo annual or it was the california issue right it's an issue of the magazine surf magazine that's much like any other magazines out there you know like they were dedicated around a certain issue this one was dedicated to california the best waves in california my goal obviously was first to get published in a surf magazine but first of all to get into this issues this specific one and I was working my butt off I mean just you know obviously shooting pictures of like anything I could on the side you know dogs and cats people and we didn't really matter but then all my free time those early mornings late evenings I was motivated hyper motivated to get up and go seek out great light amazing conditions and shoot a photograph that's worthy of this issue and luckily I had the contact you know so I could be sending them work um and so winter time was here and there's this big outer reef that in california that I I decided to go out with these guys we're going toe in to this big wave right and long story short I'm out there I get dropped off on a jet ski and I'm just swimming around and it's super foggy so far that you can't even see the land from from where the wave was it's only a quarter mile right I think that nowadays I won't even wake up on a morning like this but I was so motivated and I was like I'm going these guys drop me off I'm just sitting on a boogie board with the hot water housing floating right like maybe twenty five feet from the wave and I start to lose perception of where the wave was or where it broke because I have no references so I'm just out there floating and all I hear is eerie dinging of ah of a bui ding with seals and I'm like I mean you can imagine just like thinking about jaws it's like not it's not it's it is a sharki area it was you know like I said nowadays I wouldn't even go out there but it was out there floating around these guys buzz off into the darkness into the fog mean and I'm just like solo right I don't know what's happening a couple waves come through trying to find myself up in all of sudden they hear through the fog this kind of buzzing of a jet ski right this guys like towing into this wave and I'm like kind of scrambling hoping that I'm in the right spot I realize okay I see that a way of coming the lump of the ocean and this guy's dropping and lets go of the rope dropping in right with lip starts to come over and I'm like frame of my camera but everything I was looking through the tree and I'm just kind of pushing buttons or whatever and and he gets to the bottom of the thing just crashes on his head I mean he's the worst wipeout I've seen in forever and I was just like oh my gosh that was so gnarly you know like can you believe what happened um and uh they get up you know he's fine and they're like he's like I'm going ashore I'm over this you know I'm hurt that really that messed me up and I'm like wait and they buzz off because he was like no he was like hurting pretty bad so they just buzzed off and I'd swim in by myself so I'm like oh like this is the worst case scenario ever right I'm paddling into shore I get to shore I realized that this was my opportunity and I it just didn't happen you know like this you know golden moment to get out there all the stuff to organize you know getting up at four a m to get on a jet ski to do this stuff cold freezing water yada yada yada I get to shore and finally the the kind of the fog clears and as I'm driving home I pull off on the road I snap a picture of the wave and over this whole town and I get back and I'm like so bombed I send the photographs to pete um at the magazine and he's like you know too bad it was a little better yada yada yada you know whatever so a couple weeks later you know or whatever it is like a month or two later right I get the magazine and you know he sends many buddies like hey you got a couple of minutes in there and I'm so excited and it turns out that one of those photos of the guy right about to get lift in the head was one of their like you know spreads and then the other photo of my lineup was there to their couple together right three quarters spread and like a little half page and I was just blown away I was like this is incredible I was like this is amazing I cannot believe you know that I got a photo in the magazine I was so psyched right and then I was just like holy cow like I I could do this is something I could really do so excited and I think it was like another three weeks after that you gotta think about this like work all this time you get to photos published in a magazine and all this time goes by and write and I finally get my check I'm opening up this check and it was like two hundred bucks or something like that and I just was like staring at this and I'm like I'm going to have to get a lot of spreads to make a living doing this and that was like my big holy cow moment I was like how the heck can anyone do this for a living this is crazy right and I realized you especially being from center california so limited with the conditions so limited with the the athletes and stuff that I was just not in the right place for this and I realized I needed to learn more I couldn't be basing everything I wanted to do on this one issue a year on so I applied with pete the photo editor that I that I had been corresponding with for an internship and I did that internship he gave me the opportunity to do it I had to I was going to like a j c at a time just doing like general led to nothing photography related so luckily I did that internship and the internship was amazing and I've always been a big proponent of learning by doing right learning by learning underneath people on because what I found is that it was really hard for me I never went photography school but everybody that I communicated with who went was having a really hard time sort of if they wanted to go into something like I wanted to landscape or action sports there wasn't really a course there wasn't really anything laid out for that so I applied everything I could just learning by doing right and I got this internship it was amazing and I was leaving my house at san luis obispo at three a m every monday morning driving down ocean side sleeping in my truck for the week and then driving home and it was brutal on I ate a lot of being burritos and slept in a lot of weird places but but I was able to soak up so much and one of the best things that I learned there besides just looking at thousands of images every day was I learned howto work on the editorial schedule I learned what that meant by interacting with the editors interacting with the photo editor is interacting with the writers and stuff and understanding how all these beautiful pieces come together and how the photographers that work for those magazines are not just out there randomly shooting right but they're shooting based on what the magazine needs right so um we're gonna discuss that cried a bit later also kind of this idea of like aligning yourself editorially and how you do that right and rather than just shooting randomly and submitting randomly how you actually sink yourselves up with the magazines and the early commercial clients that you want to work with right and that was such a mind blowing thing I was like oh my gosh like I've been killing myself this whole time like you know every issue they're running photos from either a surf contest or from a specific location like I'm sending them photographs of people in wet suits when they're running photographs of people in board shorts well I hate to say it but you know the advertisers dictate a lot of what kind of goes into there because if it's board short selling season they're not gonna run photos of five mills you know in vice versus so timing is everything right and understanding how that works was so important I couldn't I can't stress enough that was a huge eye opening experience so I came back from that internship and the beauty of that internship was that since I was spending so much time on the road driving my little toyota truck around uh I was shooting a lot you know I was I was up before the sun every day I was going you know I was driving back at sunset I was seeing a lot of these really incredible moments along the road seeing great waves and shooting and documenting and this opportunity came up for there was a photo editor who worked at surfing magazine named larry flame more and he he passed away because of cancer and they set up a foundation his name it was called the follow the light foundation right it was for the best upcoming sir photographer and I applied for that um and I want and I want this grant five thousand dollars and what I did was I took that money and a part of the part of winning the grant was you had to you had to write like a sort of a story or what you wanted to do with the money right what was your big goal here and so I said you know what I wanted to do it I don't want to invest this into gear because I had you know twenty d and a couple of lenses and whatnot but I want to invest this into a project I want to shoot something that is going to mean something to me and is going teo allow me to kind of work on the road for a siri's for a chunk of time and uh and by the way this whole kind of like story lead up of my career really is tying into like timeframes right did you know college in this internship then this involve boss or this point on price twenty years old something like that yet twenty um and so I did this internship and I want this grant and I was like this is amazing I've got five thousand bucks I'm going to spend fifty days on the road documenting california from coast to coast and my goal is to make a book right I wanted to make a book that would celebrate the landscape of california that I was incredibly inspired by right because at that point that was really all I knew right so I mean I think now would be a lot different because I've I've traveled a lot but you know growing up and not see anywhere else but california this is this was what I knew so I set off with a a friend of mine eric soderquist who was a really decent surfer right and and we basically set off in his nineteen seventy six volkswagen bus teo to go and um sorry about that uh to go and see basically all of coastal california and we spent fifty days basically going from the northern terminus of organ to kind of the southern terminus of mexico right like this this entire part of the coast and it was kind of like this you know roadtrip rite of passage I think anybody who lives in california at some point there life has to do that entire stretch of coast you know to really get a feel for what it's like and so we are goal was to surf in every coastal county right but you understand this is a complete pipe dream you guys complete pipe dream I was twenty years old I spent and you know it was a great endeavor it was awesome but in no way were we ever going to make a book out of it okay it was like this is amazing but I doubt this is actually gonna happen but the beauty was that when I was able to do was I was able to go and shoot for fifty days with no editors nobody telling me what to do it was a chance for me to really refine myself refined my eye and to work on something that I was kind of cognisant of that I was really invested in and what I realized that I loved long term projects I loved investing myself into something putting time and energy and is something to make it happen whether it's a book whether it's a film or whatever this is this is really what I was built for is kind of not just these kind of one off you know one and done photo shoots scenarios but like something you can give a part of yourself too and that was so important so we did the trip it was incredible we saw amazing sunrises sunsets incredible surf met awesome people along the way and it was a trip that changed my life and when I when I got back I am I got an email from one of the editors at surfline there's like hey we saw your wear there at the flame grant thing when you won zoster we'd love to support the trip maybe do a slide show from it so I did that I did like a four serious slide show of the california surf project trip on their website and another editor there was like hey guys uh loved this piece game we got a lot of good feedback from it online um I know an editor in san francisco chronicle books that I would love to introduce you to who might be interested in taking a look at your project and that's exactly where we drove up to san francisco I remember is this hold they have like a hodgepodge hard drive of thousands of images I think I shot like back then it was a lot it was like you know I mean not compared to now but back then we should be shot so much that was like eighty gigs but this is when like hard drives were like you know not I mean I don't even know something crazy or just ridiculous but like eighty thousand images or something like that so it was the twenty right so we're small files um so I came here to san francisco and I was just we sat down with the editor we showed her the work and she was like you know you guys this is this is pretty cool this is awesome it's rough but I think we can make it into something so after going through their process collaborating with them right taking the clinches off this you know this little baby of ours and letting them kind of roll with it a little bit we were able to formulate it into a really awesome project I brought that here just so I could kind of show you guys but um no this was this was the book and it was a coffee table book um two hundred eighty pages with a film in the back right and this you know to to sit back and think you know I think it came out like two and a half years later because publishing is a pretty glacial process if anybody knows that it was just it was just a book that paid homage to california right and that was that was kind of was the goal and why we why we did it but I realized that point that I had learned something about myself on that trip right I'd invested this big chunk of time into just purely diving into photography it was really interesting because of what I realize it was before I set out I tried to apply a couple of a couple of really simple things two this project um first thing and I think this might be good things teo to write notes on but the first thing was I I wanted it to be timeless okay I wanted to be timeless so all the images that we shot we wanted to be timeless what are some ways that we can create images that feel and look timeless right do you have any thoughts on that yeah logo's or anything exactly it's not a lot of logo's right it was a lot of photographs that people who kayaked honeymooned drove the coast whatever could appreciate you got up early you know we would shoot you know early in the morning late in the evening we tried to really you know dive into the landscape and when you see you know the sum of the surf images to aa lot of them are kind of shot late in the afternoon early in the morning when the sun is really kind of warm and nice and we felt like people could would kind of resonate with that a bit more um and that was a very cognitive decisions we made we made that choice even down to the cover it's like we didn't want it to be busy with tons of logos and bright colorful wetsuits why is that because it dates your project it dates it it's it doesn't make it something that feels like it could be nineteen sixty four or two thousand fifteen it could be any time which is so important you know I can't express that enough the I was able to tell some of the folks and I think you'll see this in the video so I'm not going to try and reiterate it too much but you know one of the biggest things that I learned in doing a road trip like that was like I said working not working under any editors is basically working by myself kind of honing my craft and what I want to talk a lot about in this specific workshop is how do you kind of find your own voice in photography how do you find your own look your own style um I've been lucky enough to do quite a few workshops in the past and be able to critique people's work and one of the most important things I ever be able to let people know is that when you try to bring a portfolio to someone whether that's myself for an editor who knows it doesn't matter um what happens a lot as we we tend to gather a body of work that we feel represents all of our best sides right but what happens is we don't actually hone in what what are specific traits that make our work unique ok what is what is it about our work people are going to see and recognize and know it's ours okay you get hired by a magazine I don't know say outside magazines say nat geo doesn't really matter they're not going to hire you because you're the you're the good guy who can do everything decent yeah yeah he's great he can kind of chicken shit porch it's okay you can shoot land he's gonna decent underwater they're hiring you because you're a specialist that's something you can do something amazing better than your competitors right everything else might be great and awesome too but but really it's that specialty think about surfer magazine for example I've been able to work for them for the last seven years is a senior staff photographer and I know that in that magazines you know in the magazines staff you know uh you know whatever there's a lot of different photographers but my role is really bringing these large scale editorial projects toe life going toe iceland russia norway india places like that I'm not the guy out there you know shooting the world to her following that around or you know jumping off the boat and shooting and you know massive you know short break surf all those swimming is amazing and ah lot of us khun do pretty much any of the guys could do all these things my specialty he's really holding in on this one concept which is what I love to do and I'm okay with that because that's what I found I love to do right so you guys I can't stress enough don't try to convince an editor or yourself that you can do all these things great save the things that you do decent just tow work on for yourself right when you put a portfolio together you better make sure that there is a theme that's generated throughout that body of work right there better be a quality of light or an aspect of your perspectives or angles that really that really every single image should tie together in some way that seems like it may be a big big picture idea and maybe it's not the easiest thing teo to just you know put in there but I can't stress enough how important that is um do you have any questions on that isn't pretty pretty quiet here so I'm getting a little concerned um any thoughts on those things I guess it I mean that's part of my biggest problem is trying to find what my specialty is you know I I guess I just started going to beautiful places shooting a photograph of a mountain or a waterfall but it was it's missing something and I looked at your photos and I see somebody experiencing that and you know enjoying that experience so for me I'm trying to find what is that thing that's missing from my photos you know right right I think I think it's one of those things that it doesn't just come right away I mean I look att I'd look at thousands and thousands of images of my earliest work and I wish I could just like throw it away you know I hate it I'm like this is so bad um you know really to it comes down to a lot of things it's not just how you shoot it's where you shoots locations it's your angles the equipment a lot of these things could tie in you know some people look as prue purely just like I'm shooting large format I'm shooting hostile blotter I'm shooting films she in digital or I'm shooting you know you go pro you know like those air all perspectives that can help to find someone style it's not just your framing and come composition and that is probably the most important thing

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

Shooting outdoor photography is a powerful way to commune with nature and experience the fullness of life. Learn how to train your eye on incredible shots and convey the energy of the outdoors in The Outdoor Photography Experience with Chris Burkard.

Chris’s beloved images of life on the world’s coasts are alive with action and emotion. In this class, he’ll share the tools and techniques he uses to capture the photographs he sells to magazines, brands, collectors, and publishers.

You’ll learn about his shooting style and the gear he brings on his global adventures. He’ll also talk about the business of photography and share tips on marketing and selling your work.

If you want insights on how to create rich, dramatic images that let you enjoy more time outdoors, don’t miss your chance to learn from Chris Burkard in The Outdoor Photography Experience.



I've been staying up all night to watch the live broadcast. As somebody else here mentioned (latsok), it's emphasizes on the non-technical aspects (emotion, engagement, colour and composition) rather than the technical stuff like shutter speeds, iso and f-stop. Although I can use some help in both, the technical aspects are not only camera specific but fairly objective as well. The non-technical aspects however are something much harder to grasp. Getting help in this by no-one less than Chris Burkard is just amazing. I bought this class so I can re-watch certain parts of the broadcast again whenever I need it. But also to show my appreciation for Chris Burkard and Creative Live for providing this great online course!

Matt Redfern

This class was packed full of amazing knowledge. I really enjoyed the topics covered and have found it super helpful for my work. I have had so many takeaways ranging anywhere from how to put myself out there, finding my style that stands out, practical applications, etc. I would highly recommend this class to everyone interested in photography! Big thanks to Chris and CreativeLive for putting this together.


This was a phenomenal class. I highly recommend it to anyone. Chris is not only a sensational photographer, he is a wonderful teacher. He provides such detailed information and freely gives same to his students. He is really really available and eager to answer questions and so easy to understand. I learned so much and I was thrilled. I am very very grateful I found this particular class.