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

There may be among you, dear readers, many who have had the opportunity to surf the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but it’s safe to say that very few have hang ten off the chilly coast of Iceland. That’s what some Nordic travelers did, braving the North Atlantic waters to surf against a surreal backdrop of snow, ice, and volcanic black sand – all for the lens of extreme adventure photographer Chris Burkard

Iceland’s dynamic climate is both friend and foe to the outdoor photographer; the extreme northern latitudes keep daylight and weather conditions in a constant state of flux. At any given moment, a break in the ever-present cloud cover can yield a spectacular scene. Behind the lens Burkard was able capture the bizarre, beautiful spectacle of surfing in an alien landscape of ice floes, glacial lagoons, and black pebble beaches. Not wanting to miss a second of shooting, he made it a point to spend as much time as possible on location, sleeping in a tent and using Goal Zero solar panels and batteries to power his camera, hard drives, and laptop. We recently had a chance sit down with Burkard to talk about this snowy surfing safari photo shoot.

How did you come up with this type of surfing photo project?

I am always looking at ways to share my trips and the images that I shoot on trips with an audience. I have been to Iceland many times and each trip seems to bring back unique stories and a new perception. This photo series was an idea I had to show people how diverse Iceland can be and how I approach shooting images there.

What is it about Iceland and surfing that fascinates you?

The beauty of cold-water surf is often the work that it takes to score waves that no one else is willing to surf. Most of my memories are all moments of pain or suffering while in these chilly conditions. These stories make a trip exciting to relive, and the chance of scoring great waves or seeing beauty out in nature all is a bonus. I have traveled to Iceland, Norway, Alaska, Canada, Russia, and many other cold-water destinations. These images are just a taste of those experiences and the adventure and sights that can be found when you step out of your comfort zone and search.

Chris Burkard

How did you prepare yourself to shoot in extreme conditions like this?

A majority of the prep work happens the months and weeks prior to leaving for a trip. I will put in countless hours researching the zones I will be traveling in effort to find out as much as I can in terms of culture, weather, locations, etc. Making sure I have my equipment dialed is another huge component of prep work. I try to pack with a minimalist mindset, only bringing the bare essentials. That is sometimes hard especially when prepping for cold weather, but with years of going to these destinations under my belt I have got a system pretty dialed. I have a good grip on what bags to bring, how much gear to pack, and all that really comes into play as I am always on the move when traveling and don’t want any unnecessary gear slowing me down. Other than that, I try to keep in great physical shape so I can withstand anything that I have to deal with while on the road. I would never want to miss a shot just because I don’t have the stamina or physical ability to be in the right spot.

How were you able to power up all your equipment and keep it running in those conditions?

It is amazing to see how Goal Zero (solar) products have really allowed me to not only discover more isolated places, but have the ability to wait out storms and swell to score great moments and waves amidst the ever changing landscape. No longer do I have to drive hours back into the nearest village to charge my equipment for the next day as chances to shoot pass me by. I can always be mobile allowing me to be constantly searching. In that constant search are the moments that I capture my best photos. With the newfound freedom that Goal Zero’s products have given me I can’t wait to see where they take me next.

What gear did you use for the shoot?

Camera equipment: Nikon D300s, Sony NEX-7, NEX-6, 50mm, 24mm, 18-200 mm, 70-200 mm lenses. Solar equipment: Goal Zero Sherpa 50, Yeti 150, Nomad Solar Panel.

What were the biggest challenges in this shoot?

One of the biggest challenges of this shoot was wanting to be in a thousand places at once. The days were actually super long so we would get very little sleep and sometimes would be shooting from 4 a.m. until midnight. With the best light being at sunrise and sunset, we found ourselves working long hours, which was one of the bigger challenges. Beyond that it was the usual frigid weather that always brings challenges. Some days the air temps would be below freezing and keeping your hands warm is a losing fight against the elements. Other days we would pull up to a spot with clear skies and within 20 minutes be amidst in a blizzard. In Iceland the weather is constantly shifting and it seems every 30 minutes brings a new weather front.

What was your best experience that you took out of this project?

One of the best experiences from the trip was the day we pulled an all-nighter camping in a zone near Höfn [in Iceland]. We set up camp on the beach and watched as the sun set late in the evening around 10 p.m. We were amazed how light it stayed and next thing you knew we had been shooting images and it was 2 a.m. and the sun was rising again. The sunrise was unlike anything I had ever seen. Those few hours between sunset and sunrise were surreal and I marveled at the mystery and beauty of nature.

How did you get into shooting extreme adventure photography?

I have always been drawn to extremes, whether it is nature or adventure sports. Shooting surfing is something I have been doing since I was in high school and as my work progressed I found myself drawn to extreme surfing conditions. Traveling, exploring, and capturing the stories that accompany the adventure of being on the road is really the only type of photography I saw myself shooting even as I started. I try to stay true to this and usually only take jobs that cater to an aspect of adventure or extreme travel.

Where is the most extreme spot on Earth you’ve ever shot?

There are a lot of places in the Arctic that I have been that have extreme weather and get pretty cold, but the one factor to me that makes a place even more extreme is the wildlife. When I have traveled to places like Alaska and parts of Canada the concern of bears and mountain lions are all too real. I am always looking over my shoulder as we explore those coastlines and never feel 100-percent safe.

Any tips/techniques would you like to pass onto our readers looking at shooting arctic or conventional surfing?

Shooting in the arctic is all about prepping for any conditions that may arise. As far as any tips in photography, I think one of the best things to develop is a unique style to your images. You want your work to get to the point that people can see an image and identify it as yours without any photo credit.

Chris Burkard is a self-taught photographer and artist, based in Central Coast California, whose work is layered by surf, outdoor, lifestyle, and travel subjects. With ocean as his main muse, Burkard has consistently captured this subject in timeless and expansive photographic impressions, utilizing the tool of surfing to approach the ocean’s intricate personality and then extending out to include the human personalities that draw meaning from this same source.

52440018_Burky_PortraitAt the age of 26, Burkard has established himself as a known name in the surf and outdoor industries, accomplished a deep body of work, held staff and senior photographer positions, and has been recognized continually for his distinct creative compositions. Currently, Burkard serves as senior staff photographer for Surfer Magazine, contributes regularly to various international publications, and is a project photographer for Patagonia as well as several other respected brands. Burkard has completed two book projects, one with friend and co-author Eric Soderquist, titled “The California Surf Project” (2006) and the other, “Plight of the Torpedo People,” accompanying Patagonia body surfing film, “Come Hell or High Water” (2012). 

(Images courtesy of Chris Burkhard)


The Black Eye Pro Cinema Wide G4 is a knockout lens for any smartphone

Where cheaper wide-angle accessory lenses add distortion, and costlier models don't always justify their higher prices, the Black Eye Pro Cinema Wide G4 offers a valuable balance of modest price and high quality optics.
Movies & TV

Best new podcasts: Blackout, Voices at the Table, Hot & Dry, and more

Feel like you’re drowning in podcasts? In this weekly series, we’ll help you pick out the best of the new and returning shows. This week’s picks include a spacebridge, love advice, Topher Grace, and bite-sized history.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in March, from Buster Scruggs to Roma

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Smart Home

Amazon workers listening to Alexa recordings isn’t a big deal. Here’s why

Thousands of Amazon workers are reportedly listening to recorded conversations between Alexa and voice assistant speaker owners. The idea that humans are listening to our conversations is an outrage. Or is it?

Go for bokeh, not for broke with the best cameras under $1,000

Looking for a great camera without spending more than $1,000? From the stellar Fujifilm X-T30 to the beginner-friendly Canon EOS Rebel T7i, here are the best sub-$1,000 cameras on the market right now.

These are the best camera straps you can get your hands on

Choosing the right camera strap for your needs can be a tough decision. To help sort through the junk, we've rounded up the best camera straps on the market for you to choose from.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Halfbikes, VR for all your senses, and more

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!

Fujifilm X-T30 vs. Sony A6400: Midrange mirrorless cameras compared

The Fujifilm X-T30 and Sony A6400 are two of the best cameras you can buy for under $1,000, but which should you choose? Each has an edge in certain situations which makes picking a winner difficult, but here's how they compare.

Photography news: Sony brings Eye Autofocus to critters via A.I.

In this week's photography news, the Sony a7 III and a7R III have some new capabilities, thanks to updated firmware. Lexar teases a crazy fast 1,000MB/s memory card, while Vimeo launches bulk upload possibilities.
Product Review

Equal parts tool and toy, the Lensbaby Edge 35 bucks photographic tradition

The Lensbaby Edge 35, part of the Composer Pro optic swap system, creates tilt-shift-like blur without the tilt-shift price. Made for photographers who want find tradition boring, it opens up new ways to work with blur.

The best budget-friendly GoPro alternatives that won’t leave you broke

Cold weather is here, and a good action camera is the perfect way to record all your adventures. You don't need to shell out the big bucks for a GoPro: Check out these great GoPro alternatives, including some 4K cameras, that won’t leave…

Etch-A-Snap camera puts a modern spin on one of your favorite childhood toys

Can't draw on an Etch A Sketch? Snap a photo with the Etch-A-Snap and the camera will draw out the scene for you. The weirdly cool camera designed by Martin Fitzpatrick replaces the usual LCD screen with an old-school Etch A Sketch.

Family feud: Huawei P30 Pro vs. P20 Pro vs. Mate 20 Pro camera shootout

The Huawei P30 Pro's camera has an amazing zoom mode and low light capabilities. But take these away, and how does it compare when facing its sibling phones, the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro, taking regular photos?

Nikon Z 7 vs. Sony A7R III: High-res mirrorless cameras compared

The Nikon Z 7 and Sony A7R III both have over 40 megapixels, but which one comes out on top? With similar image quality, the answer comes down to speed, autofocus, battery life, and design.