Action sports photography has never looked so good.

Red Bull Illume, the world's largest action and adventure photography contest, is currently on exhibit through June 13, at the Denver Performing Arts Center in downtown Denver, Colorado.

The free exhibit features 50 of the contest's best photos including winners from each of the ten categories.

The overall winning photograph, a spectacular scenic landscape off the coast of Chile, is also on exhibit.

During last Friday's opening night gala we caught up with winning photographer Chris Burkard to talk about his photograph, how to break into the industry and why patience is so key.

OTS: You love to surf so it seems only natural you would be a surf photographer. Should new photographers start with the sport they feel most comfortable with?

Chris: I think it's important to play on your strengths and what you know. Understanding a culture and a lifestyle is one of the most important things you can do as a photographer as you develop your eye and personal style. For me it was always about trying to develop a signature style. Something that people would be able recognize right away if they looked at one of my photographs.

OTS: So what's your style then?

Chris: I love offshore winds, backlit evening light, silhouettes and to pull back and show people the great places we find ourselves in.

OTS: How do photographers shoot an image that fully captures the culture of a sport?

Chris: There's becoming a really distinct difference between those who are putting a lot of forethought and work into creating photos that are meant to last, and those who just shoot pictures. For everyone here at Red Bull Illume, this is what it's all about. These are photos that are keystone images of sports, capturing not only just the action but the mood and feeling of the sport. It's about giving some forethought before you go out and just start taking photos and not just capturing an image but composing an image.

OTS: Your style of photography is very minimalist and you don't typically use a lot of flashes or experimental techniques. Were you hesitant to enter a photo as traditional as your winning photograph?

Chris: I've always seen action sports photography as being the forefront, leading the guard and trying new things and I was nervous about submitting a photo that I felt was traditional. It's kind of like an old-style photograph with a beautiful landscape laid out before you. Sometimes if you can just put away the flashes, the tricky techniques and just go out and try to capture the absolute best light you can with the best moment you can, you can sometimes get the photos that speak to everyone. Because everyone knows what it's like to wake up and see a perfect sunrise and appreciate it.

OTS: So what type of photos inspire you on a day-to-day basis? What do you have on your wall?

Chris: The photos that inspire me and I like to look at on a day-to-day basis are landscape images. I like something that is just really pulled back and lets me survey a whole scene and take in all the different aspects. I love photos that are shot just before or after a storm where you get this clearing moment, because I feel that's how these moments come about. It's a fleeting moment that we're there to capture, andb that's what makes it all come together. So I look around my office and I see photos from large format landscapes, to action sports to even snapshots that my friends have taken.

OTS: When you try to capture a fleeting moment it takes patience. I don't think people realize that. Is patience the key to getting a great image?  

Chris: Patience is a virtue for sure. I spent a few months studying under a large format photographer and one thing he taught me was before he ever shoots his photographs, he looks at his subject, he thinks about it, maybe he'll draw it out, he'll write about it and he will really spend some time getting a relationship. When I go to a country I don't want to just take out my camera and start shooting. I want to know the people, the place; I want to be patient with my photos so that they'll come to me. Even if I line up all my ducks in a row and make sure everything is perfect, sometimes the moment won't come. If I force it that's what makes a bad picture. Sometimes photographers need to realize being there is only half the battle. If they have the time and mental mentality to just kind of wait it out and let this moment unfold that's really when the special photos come.

OTS: Thanks for your time, Chris. Maybe one day we'll get to see you shoot some skiing.

Chris: No problem. And I've been thinking about shooting some snow sports. Seems like it would be fun.


Below Chris talks about his winning photo.