Guest post: water photography by Chris Burkard

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Today’s guest post on water photography is by Chris Burkard ( | Instagram | Facebook | Tumblr, click on images for larger view):

Growing up near the coast the ocean has always held a place in my heart. From a young age I have been captivated by it and engulfed in its power and beauty. Feeling the power of the ocean up close and personal is a unique feeling. That’s why I love bodysurfing and surfing. You are able to be a part of the ocean and experience its movement. Capturing images from the water is taking something I love to be apart of and documenting it, hoping to express this wonder and excitement for others to enjoy.

Light Underwater

Water shots often do an amazing job at showcasing the ocean’s surreal beauty. It’s similar to going to a super foreign landscape. Your senses are exposed to new sensations and you are often highly alive and alert in those moments. The beauty that surrounds you is often so vast it is nothing short of humbling. Water images are definitely the type you dream about. The type of images that put the viewer into a place that they most likely have never seen. It’s such a beautiful thing, the way that light plays on the ocean. You are never going to see the same thing twice, no two waves break the same. Water surfaces play with light in unique ways. Backlit waves can have a glowing effect with the water refracting the suns ray and illuminating the wave. Often I use the evening light to silhouette the subject and create a more timeless look to an image. I try to use the natural light as often as possible and rarely need flash. When you get that perfect evening light it can really enhance a surfer’s action as displaced water can be illuminated. The window when the light is perfect is a short one and thus you and the athletes have to be dialed and ready. You can only prepare so much for that moment of perfect light though and ultimately mother nature has to come through at the right time too. That is what makes capturing that special moment so rewarding.

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Pick your Perspective

When shooting from water there are often many angles one can get, but some are much harder to execute than others. The two main perspectives are going to be shooting either above the surface or below. Under the ocean’s surface you see the action as the ocean does, often in a peaceful setting that is more surreal. I did a lot of shooting below the surface for Keith Malloy’s award-winning bodysurf film, Come Hell or High Water. This project was one of my favorites and the entire film and production turned out amazingly. The bodysurfers are captured in their true environment fully immersed as watermen. Shooting above the water you get a view as if you are another surfer out in the lineup. There are many places a photographer can position themselves depending on what angle and action they are looking to capture. Shooting the surfer from behind as they ride in the tube puts the viewer along for the ride with the athlete. One of my favorite things to do is shoot with a little longer lens towards the surfer often giving the perspective a little more pulled back. There’s also the combination of above and below the surface views produced by an over/ under shot. This gives the view of action above the surface and the view below the surface action. As with most photography I recommend varying your angles depending on what kind of action you are looking to capture. Each angle will evoke a different feeling and say something different to the scene that unfolds in the water.

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The Right Moment

It’s a challenge to nail that perfect capture of a breaking wave or an action shot. One of the biggest challenges is probably just swimming in the water and often swimming in some precarious situations while trying to get as close as you can to the surfers. There have been many times I have taken water housings to the face or collided with the athlete. Though it is a danger it is just part of the job. There are usually two types of moments that I capture. The first is the moment I have envisioned prior to arriving at a location, an image that I have seen in my head and try to create or find while shooting. The other is a moment that happens spontaneously that I try to capture in the instant it happens and is unplanned. These moments often are much harder to capture and anticipate. I find that a balance between the two is when I capture my best moments.

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Perfect Day Shooting in Water

I had some perfect days bodysurfing and capturing bodysurfers in tropical climates for Come Hell or High Water. Some waves I have traveled to in the Caribbean have been dream scenarios. Barreling waves in chest deep water with water as clear as it gets. Yet even after traveling to all these warm water perfect waves I am still most drawn to colder waters. Places like Iceland and Norway push me to my limits. The harsh and unpredictable weather makes getting a good water shot much harder, but the payoff feels much greater. Anytime I can shoot in water with unique lighting, weather, or waves it usually makes for great imagery. So I try to seek out those conditions and places that have something that stands out amongst the rest.

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The Gear

A photographer needs to be equipped with not only the skill set to shoot in the environment they step into but also the right gear. I use both my Nikon d300s and Nikon d7100 to capture water imagery. I have Aquatech water housings that allow me to take my cameras out into the surf and capture photography.

If you have an interesting idea for a guest postyou can contact me here.

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