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Lytro’s Illum light-field camera takes adventure photography to new heights

Last year, Digital Trends profiled adventure photographer Chris Burkard’s trek to Iceland, where he shot surfers riding the waves on the frigid waters of the North Atlantic.

In October 2014, Burkard returned to the Land of Fire and Ice, armed with the new Lytro Illum, the high-powered light-field camera that captures “3D Living Pictures” and follow-up to the original Lytro Camera. As opposed to a regular camera, Lytro uses light-field optics to capture the light, color, and direction of every ray of light from a scene that passes through its lens, all in a single shot. This allows the photographer to create images that viewers can interact with, including changing the focus, depth, perspective, and tilt – all after the shot has been taken (hence the term, “living pictures”). Burkard also mentored winners of the Lytro Photo Adventure contest; Lytro sent the grand prize winners who pre-ordered the Illum to Iceland to participate in a shoot with Burkard.

“By capturing and harnessing the power of light field, I can portray not just a cross-section of reality, but an authentic, interactive window into my world,” Burkard says.

“Photography is all about figuring out how to better remember experiences, and the full ‘dimensionality’ provided by Lytro Illum makes those experiences even more vivid and real,” he adds.

Burkard was even able to document this first-of-its-kind shoot with a beautiful 7-minute video, which you can watch above.

We recently had a chance to sit down with Burkard and talk about his experiences with the new camera.

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Photographer Chris Burkard (far right) shooting in Iceland with the Lytro Illum.

How did you like using the camera in these conditions? What were some of the pros to using it?

The Lytro system makes traveling super easy and lightweight. The 8x optical zoom lens has such an insane range that there is no need to have an interchangeable lens for just about everything I shoot. It’s super helpful to have such a large range in harsh conditions so I am not changing out lenses in the field, risking my camera sensor.

What surprised you about the camera? 

First off, the camera has a very modern look and feel to it, which is awesome. I like how the camera really makes you approach scenes in a different light and really concept-out each shot. The Lytro camera is so unique to any other camera system I have used, and love how I approach scenes differently before shooting. It also gives you a 3D-feel to the image when you are viewing it on a computer that really makes you feel like you are there.

How did the Lytro compare to a DSLR and traditional photography?

With all the new cameras out now with high shutter bursts, it is so easy to drive up to a location and hold the shutter down for 20 minutes on burst mode, but the Lytro camera takes me back to my roots and why I got into photography in the first place – taking the time to create awesome unique imagery.

How did it make your project more interesting?

There have been countless times where I’m not sure where to set my focus point: usually you either have to make a decision on the more important part in the frame, or try to get it all in focus shooting at f/22, sacrificing speed. I love how I can just shoot the Lytro and can wait till I am on a computer in my office to see the whole image on a big screen and change the focus point to what looks best without the pressure of being in the field.

How were you able to get more creative by shooting “Living Pictures?” 

I allowed myself to be more in the moment and let myself be immersed in my surroundings. This gave me the creative senses that invoked the passion inside of me to shoot and document as best as I could what was occurring at that moment, while not worrying about technical issues with equipment.

Related: Lytro’s interactive ‘Living Gallery’ shows off new Illum camera’s capabilities

Was it different in the way you composed your shots?

The Lytro really thrives with a dominant foreground and background, (composing) images in a similar way you would do a focus pull in video. You can integrate unique framing between the foreground and background to really come up with some unique looks to the image when you cycle through the focus.

What are the best applications for this type of product? 

The Lytro camera really excels for me when I am out shooting dramatic landscapes. Adding subjects into these landscapes really gives the images multiple dimensions to the image, and the best part is you can add multiple subjects throughout the frame and pull focus between them all.

What advice would you impart to anyone who might be in the market for this type of camera?

This camera really teaches you how to think about your scene and subject like no other camera does. You can no longer worry about having to decide only one dominant subject to have in focus, but can have multiple subjects and be able to interchange between them all.

Related: Braving blizzards and ice floes to photograph Iceland’s hardiest surfers