Guest post: water photography by Chris Burkard

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Water Photography by Chris Burkard 14
Water Photography by Chris Burkard 8
Water Photography by Chris Burkard 10
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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Water Photography by Chris Burkard 11

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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Water Photography by Chris Burkard 21

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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Water Photography by Chris Burkard 17

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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  • Jorge

    Wow. Gorgeous images. If I weren’t afraid of deep water, AND I knew how to swim, I’d try it. LOL

    • D4ve

      You can’t LOL yourself.

      • BozoTic

        Why not? LOL to myself. 😛

  • Kynikos

    These images are ridiculously good. Thank you so much for putting this piece together. It’s going to take practice but you will help me learn a lot.

  • Mandrake

    Awesome photos. Would love to know the exposure settings for the first photo.

    • Aldo

      If I had to guess… 100-400 ISO… f9-11aperture … 320-400 shutter. That one is my fav. Amazing work and fun!

      • Drazen B

        My guess would be 400+ ISO on this one, ‘tighter’ f-stop about 6.7-8 (still enough for long-ish DoF), 1/500+ shutter.

        • Aldo

          Not sure about the 500+ shutter… water isnt crisp. Could be.

    • The pic has exif. And it says:
      ISO 200

      • JakeB

        On a DX cam that would be a slightly deeper f/4 DOF, but still surprised how ‘deep’ it came out altogether, awesome work.

      • Aldo

        Oh wow i wasnt even close… the dof fooled me

  • Chris’ work is truly original. He’s been an inspiration for me ever since I discovered his work. Thanks for having him on NR.

  • js200022

    Congratulations. Great job!

  • Jer

    Your passion for your work definitely shows through Chris.

  • Fireborn

    First image is just sooooo good!

  • It feels good to remember that true photography deals with light. I am amazed and impressed. But I cannot avoid to speculate, what could be done with a FX camera and a true Wide lens?

    • Drazen B.

      Probably not enough to make the difference in this case. Moderate wide-angle is more than suitable for this type of subjects and surrounding, IMO.

      But that’s just me.

    • Clarissa

      Many of those photos were taken with 10mm wide setting on DX cameras he uses. So yeah, that’s pretty much as extra-wide as you can get these days on an FX (15mm).

      • And yet, I wonder what would be the quality of the light gathered by larger sensors and different pixel pitch…… But, as Drazen said, that’s just me.

        • Sebastian

          Ah, my sarcasm sensors (and they are FX sized) are on… the “quality of the light part” gave it away. 🙂

  • callibrator

    The 4th photo looks so surreal one could be forgiven for thinking it is a photoshopped composite 😉

    • Pablo Ricasso returned

      Yeah, I see what you mean by that. Great looking end-effect though, doctored photo or not.

  • Falex

    Pictures would’ve been so much better with D400! Just kidding. (Obligatory complaint about lack of D400 – check). Very good stuff.

  • Guest

    What has this to do with a rumor for Nikon product? Just seems out of place. Or does this site have an identify crisis – does it want to be a new site or general photography site? Seriously…

  • robert

    shame nikon didnt continue with a digital nikonos.
    just use the same body and slap a sensor inside.
    maybe the problem is the sensor size

  • DaveR

    Thanks for posting this, NR. As well as the great photos, the video at the end was truly inspiring; Chris is so passionate about his work. The time-lapse sections were awesome.

  • rhlpetrus

    Nice post, but this is a rumor site. Where are the rumors? It seems NR has lost its bite a bit lately, some releases w/o even a last minute rumor.

  • Alex

    I vote for the first one for the best image and the sixth for the amazing light and texture. Stop the bullshit about FX, the only extra you would get would be a bit more of DR but I dont think it would make that much of a difference in those amazing images. Congratulations.

  • spicynujac

    1 and 4 are beautiful–love the contrast in one and perfect exposure (or maybe it was corrected in post ) 🙂
    Also nice to see a pro proving that you don’t need full frame to make excellent photos ! I never wonder when I see a great shot at a museum, etc. “was that from a crop sensor”?

  • Martijn

    Amazing images. Too bad underwater housings are so damn expensive.

  • Dung Vu

    Nice pics ^^.

    And I want to share a eBook which give you easy technical to create amazing pictures. I tried and produced creating photos ^^..

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