22 May 6 Lessons I Learned From Chris Burkard’s Outdoor Photography Experience
After many years of going without a photography class, I finally took the Chris Burkard Outdoor Experience photography lesson on creativelive.com. Chris Burkard is a phenomenal surf, adventure, and landscape photographer. I first learned about Chris after a colleague of mine profiled him as our type of traveler on travelchannel.com. Sadly, the post has not been reposted since we launched the Travel Channel blog, but it was a great piece full of Chris’ beautiful photographs that you can see here (link to slide show on Travel Channel or link to Chris’s own website).
While I’m taking this class, I’m listening intently and taking crazy notes and realizing that I need to create a blog post out of the “aha!” moments I was having. Whether you are an iPhone or Android photographer, amateur photographer, or a high-flying professional (and by the way, if you are professional, I’m honored that you’re reading this blog. Thank you!), here are some things that I learned from Mr. Chris Burkard.
Number One: The most uninteresting shots are taken straight on. Get creative – get high, low (on your belly). Capture with exciting angels.
Pay special attention to the direction in which you take your photos. Chris talked a lot about the point and shoot method that many of us use. You know the shot, where you are standing straight, and tall and take the shot – dead on – without any kind of creativity in your stance or the direction you’re capturing your subject. The basic shot. Nothing special. But if you are an aspiring photographer you want to stand out from the bunch, so it’s important to try and capture the image at a different angle and/or in different light. For example, think about when you’re at the beach and you’re standing on the shore. You want to capture the gorgeous moment, so you take out your camera – you point and then you shoot. Done. What if instead, you kneel down on the stand and take the picture from the vantage point of the crab. Or you find the pier – if there is one – and take the picture from a higher vantage point. The shot will look dramatically different and probably better than the initial point-and-shoot shot. Here’s another example, of a different subject. Now, which one looks better?
Basic Point and Shoot
Change Your Vantage Point
Number 2: Which lens do I use and when?
I have always grappled with this. Do we really need so many variations in lenses? Yes. You have your wide lens, fish lens, telephoto and static (i.e. 50mm) but all of those come in varying degrees and what I’ve learned is that it depends on what you’re trying to capture. Chris Burkard talked about the 16-35 mm wide-angle lens, which is great for shots directly from the beach where the waves are closer or for shots from the pier.
Number 3: The Power of Filters – Polarizers and Graduated Neutral Density Filters
Often times in photography courses, you’ll hear that it’s less about the equipment and more about the user (or performer – Haha! – sorry. Couldn’t resist). Photography can be as easy or as difficult – or technical and scientific – as you want. It’s your camera, so it’s entirely up to you. A polarizer is good for downplaying the power of the sun in your picture. No polarizer? Then you’re dealing with harsh rays that could alter your picture. However, this depends on your style of shooting. Some folks like a lot of light in their shots. It depends what you’re capturing.
Chris introduced me to the Graduated Neutral Density Filter. I had heard of it but not used it before. He showed the before and after shots he took with and without the Grad filter and the difference was impressive. Check it out. Bottom line, it’s up to you in terms of how much “editing” you want to do in the field vs. in Lightroom or Photoshop.
Number 4: Photoshop vs. Lightroom
Which brings me to the next lesson learned. For years, I’ve been using Photoshop and one of the things that annoyed me about the program was ALL of the options. Too many options. Half of which, someone like me – who just wanted to edit photos real quick – would never use. Queue Chris Burkard and his Lightroom “love speech.” Ha. He broke down the ease of using Lightroom by showing X basic steps, and no, I’m not talking about the Presets. The Presets come later.
Number 5: Shoot outside the box.
Remember the importance of shooting with the eye of a designer. Meaning, if your hopes are to sell your photographs one day, then think about all of the places and uses for its potential (i.e. in magazines, online, cropped into, etc). Think, literally, outside of the square, cropped box of a photo. Think about how your landscape shot, for instance, could be in a magazine spread. If that photo is split down the middle, you’ll still want a great composition on either side of the page (i.e. You don’t want a horse body split in half from the magazine fold). Here are a few great examples.
Number 6: Bigger isn’t always better!
After going through the 29 Lessons with Chris (link to CreativeLive.com), I now know I need to lose this notion that to create beautiful photographs I have to be accompanied by a heavy camera body. For instance, for over 10 years now, I’ve been shooting with my Canon EOS Rebel Xti. It’s not extremely heavy with its bells and whistles, but it’s not light either. It’s been 10 years after all! There are smaller, lighter cameras with even MORE bells and whistles these days (i.e. Sony A-series, Canon X, Nikon X). However, I am happy to say that I’m about to update my camera body and lens, so more on that later! (Whoohoo!!) Chris has shown that it’s about the camera abilities only, no matter how big or small. Chris is an avid user of the Sony A-series but he’s also an ambassador for brand.
Number 7: If it doesn’t look perfect, you can fix it later.
Don’t forget that what you see in the viewfinder isn’t the final product. Chris went through his processing in Lightroom. He took a photo that he captured in Iceland and showed us how he would edit it in Lightroom. The difference in the before and after images was beyond staggering. Too often, we forget that the picture we take isn’t the end product. Whether in Lightroom or Photoshop, we can darken it, lighten it, turn it black and white ; we can do almost anything we want with a picture we’ve taken. Being a great photographer is not just about snapping a bunch of pictures and calling it a day. There is a post process that has to occur in some way or another, in which we refine the piece.
For you early-risers and late-nighters, if you’re looking to capture the sunrise, sunset or the beautiful constellation of stars (i.e. Milky Way for instance) check out the Sky Safari app. An avid user of this app, Chris recommended it for pinpointing where the sun is rising or setting.
Side note: I was not paid to talk about the Sky Safari app. I just think it’s very cool.