Skip to main content

Leave no trace: Exploring a love for the rugged outdoors

5 years ago

Michael Burkhardt is a landscape photographer based in Salem, Oregon with a background in fine art as well as Occupational Therapy. His time is spent hiking, exploring, and traveling - creating images that express his passion for the outdoors. His says, "My photography is self-taught through reading, experimenting, and the most important aspect: getting out in the field and shooting."


He is a member of PhotoShelter, the leader in portfolio websites, photo sales, marketing and archiving tools for photographers.


Hi Michael. First, why Photography? 

My Grandfather and Great Aunt were talented artists, my father loved to draw and later became a landscape painter, so you could say art is in my blood. I remember as a young child falling in love with creating new things, my toys, especially legos. As I went through middle school and high school my love of art grew exponentially. I took every art class my school offered, it was the one area of coursework where I felt like I was at home. In my teens and twenties, I was passionate about painting, drawing, pastels, and even ceramics, but one creative outlet I hadn't explored yet was photography. I'd always been drawn to the vivid colorful images I saw in magazines and publications but hadn't found a way to explore that interest yet. After I graduated college in 2002, I was trying to figure out what the next big step in life was. My father and I came up with a half-hatched idea to throw our bags in the car and go explore a handful of the western National Parks. So, away we went. I carried along a cheap point and shoot camera and began to look at scenes in nature, working on capturing and translating to film the beauty I was experiencing. My passion for photography took off from there. I couldn't read or learn enough. 


What does the medium mean to you? 

Photography has a deep meaning for me as its roots are in the connection I made with my father on that road trip (the 2002 road trip was only a year after my mother had passed away). I found a love for hiking on that trip, but also a love for photography. Often I describe the two as fueling one another. Many people describe what they do as "work", but I've never felt that what I'm doing is "work' or a "burden". Standing on the edge of cliff taking in an incredible sunset or grabbing my gear while running back to the car away from an oncoming storm is an adventure to me. It's difficult to describe, but the best way I can put it into words is to say I find peace when I'm out in the field. Lastly, I love that landscape photography takes what might be a chaotic, busy scene, and allows the photographer organize it into something that is beautifully structured. 


Tell us about your connections to the landscapes and nature in Oregon. What is it like to photograph there? 

Oregon may be one of the single best places in the world to be a photographer. We have an incredible variety of landscapes ranging from green forested valleys, more waterfalls that could be visited in a lifetime, rugged coastlines and high alpine peaks, lakes and rivers, rolling plains, and a unique high desert environment that even includes a dry lake bed that looks like it was transplanted right out of Death Valley National Park. When I lived in Oregon during an internship for school years ago, I fell in love with the beauty of the state. I couldn't get enough, and it was part of the reason I moved here permanently.

The state's beauty comes from a large chunk of the year being rainy, which is as much of a challenge as it is a blessing. I've backpacked into a location under the inversion, shot sunset in the fog, and woke clear bluebird skies the next morning. The weather here can be a challenge, but that's what creates great images. Not many places in the world offer the ability to photograph sunrise at the coast and sunset in the mountains on the same day.


What inspires you and you work? 

I'm inspired by natural beauty. At times that beauty is a large scale wide-angle view, but other times it is an intimate scene that might go unnoticed without taking the time to slow down and view it. Photography has allowed me to travel and explore beautiful places in our world but has led me down a road of learning more about conservationism and leave no trace principles. I hope that my photography inspires others to take action and protect the special places seen in my imagery.


Do you have a photographic philosophy? 

I don't have a specific philosophy. However here are a few thoughts: As a conservationist and strong supporter of our public lands, I adhere to the "leave no trace" philosophy. No photograph is worth ruining a location for the next person who comes along to enjoy it. I hope that my work inspires people to get out and enjoy this crazy, beautiful world we live in and to take care of it. I'll leave anyone reading with this final thought: Challenge yourself, don't settle, and continue to creatively grow with your artistic pursuits.