Six days with my idol and a photography legend? Sign me up. This week’s adventure took me to Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado with a photographer by the name of Chris Burkard. No diesel-guzzling machines in sight…
Chris Burkard is a landscape photographer who’s connected with millions of people on social media ― including over three million followers on Instagram alone. I’ve been one of those loyal followers for years, marveling at his extraordinary photos of some of the most extreme and untouched landscapes on planet Earth.
Beyond his photos, I’ve also followed along with his personal life, which he shares openly via Instagram’s Stories feature. He invites millions into his relationship, his parenting, and his frequent world travels. I admire him for a long list of reasons other than his photography.
(Photo From Chris Burkard’s Portfolio)
As I browsed Instagram a few weeks back while visiting L.A. (Instagram is basically my life…), I noticed Chris advertising for an upcoming workshop in Colorado ― six full days with him in a U.S. national park, personally teaching everything he knows about photography. The only hang-up was the high cost. In hindsight, I’d pay ten times what I did, considering how much value I got, but please don’t tell Chris this ― I don’t want an additional invoice.
Since my business largely revolves around my ability to tell a great story with my camera, I bit my lip, paid the thousands, and sat back in disbelief. I was going to learn photography from Chris Burkard himself!
One, two, six, there I was pulling into the Zapata Ranch, just outside of Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. The dunes and ranch are nestled amongst peaks reaching 14,000 feet on one side, with expansive grasslands as far as the eye can see on the other. The first night was a meet and greet with the man himself. You know how people say you never want to meet your idols? Chris must be an exception.
The week was filled with discussions about creating timeless photos (see the photo above for arguably my most timeless photograph ever), framing shots, studying locations and lighting, and finally the business of photography. The secret? Like anything else, greatness in photography comes down to how badly you want it, and how much you’re willing to suffer to get it. How much am I willing to suffer? The past year on the road with little more than my work to keep me company has certainly been a suffer-fest, but I’m only getting started. I’d better settle in ― the suffering is long from over. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Every day, after all the discussions over meals and in the classroom, we wandered through the dunes seeking spectacular photographs unlike anything else already out there. It was hard to keep up. Chris would literally run off into the dunes for miles at a time. One day we hiked to Star Dune, the highest dune of them all. Over 13 miles of hiking straight up in the thin air through nothing but sand. Who knew photography could be so physically taxing?
That’s another lesson that stuck with me. If you go to places no one has photographed, you don’t have to work as hard to create great images. I strive to photograph some of the most challenging projects and mine sites in our industry. It’s a huge struggle to get there in the first place, but once I’m there, I’m capturing shots of previously un-photographed machines and operations.
All in all, it was one of the best weeks of my life. I have so much to mull over that I’m overwhelmed in the most exciting way possible. I want to be the world’s best photographer in our industry, and I now recognize the work it’ll take to get there. With every photograph I create, I hope to inspire people to at least think about construction and mining. If I’m lucky, they’ll even choose the blue-collar world as a career, and we will all be better off!