MEET THE MAN BEHIND THOSE HIGHLINING SUPERMOON SHOTS
If you’re not one of the millions of people following Chris Burkard on Instagram, stop what you’re doing and open the app. But if Burkard’s images already illuminate your feed, chances are you were as blown away as we were when he captured highliner Garrison Rowland silhouetted against last November’s supermoon at Joshua Tree National Park.
Burkard’s keen eye and quest for adventure marks him as a leading lensman in the world of outdoor photography. But what goes into setting up a shot like this? We tasked Burked with explaining just how everything had to align perfectly to pull off such a remarkable image. Read on and marvel.
Shooting highlining in front of the supermoon was one of the most difficult shots I’ve chased to date. It’s a completely hybrid process between shooting an action sport in the midst of a very technical landscape photograph. It started as a simple challenge to myself and I quickly became immersed in the process of figuring out how to shoot it. All of my inspiration came from the famous ‘moonwalk’ photo shot by Mikey Schaefer of Dean Potter back in 2013.
It began with finding the trajectory of the supermoon as it rose and set so we could coordinate which highline would allow for an intersection point. The Hall Of Horrors in Joshua Tree looked to be the prime location for us to position highliner Garrison Rowland in front of the rising supermoon. It’s a popular slackline spot and we’d rigged up there before. As we arrived before the moonrise, I was continuously double checking the moon’s trajectory using an app called PhotoPills, which I’ve used a lot to photograph the night sky.
I scouted what I believed to be the correct angle and used these settings:
a7rii w/ Fotopro monopod
70-400 @ f5
All I could do was sit and wait to see if the moon was going to rise in the exact area that I was hoping it would – but of course it didn’t. I was too far to the left and couldn’t line up the shot. I took off sprinting through the desert with hopes of finding the angle as the glowing sunset began to fade. As I ran farther and farther, I began to lose Garrison as he was highlining behind a large rock formation in between me and the highline. By the time everything lined up, any remnant of sunlight had disappeared and I shot what I could with the dark conditions, knowing that the first 10 minutes of the moonrise was the only time to truly nail the shot.
I knew I had a second chance since the moon would be setting around 4.40am. This time I was shooting from the opposite side of the highline and was able to watch the moon slowly dip towards the horizon, which made it much easier to track. Those last 15 minutes before the moonset were pure magic. When centering a subject in front of the moon, it’s a matter of stepping a foot to the left or right, crouching down or shooting eye level – you have to be very careful when moving around to get the correct positioning. Garrison was standing completely still on the middle of the highline for close to 30 minutes until the moon disappeared under the horizon.
As Garrison continued to stand in middle of the line, I was shuffling to centre him on the moon. I framed him a bit to the left in anticipation of him taking another step into the middle of the moon. I kneeled down, steadied myself, and waited. When he took his next step, I fired away, trying to get a good variation where his arms were in the correct position. I knew that was the best moment I was going to get and within a minute the moon started to dip behind the horizon.
As I packed up after shooting the moonset, all I could do was think through how I could have done it better – whether there was a better angle or a better location to shoot it. Above all of these feelings, I was simply satisfied to have experienced a phenomenon that last occurred in 1948 while doing what I love. Walking away with a photograph that I’m proud of was just a bonus. It’s a refreshing process being able to do projects where there’s a high level of uncertainty, and putting the effort into creating images such as this one is what drives me to grow as a photographer – it challenges me to be present, think in the moment and rely on my instincts to capture what’s in front of me.
The reason I like sharing images like this is because they express the fact that you don’t always have to have all the answers or have it all figured out – just set a goal and go for it! I think in this day and age, that’s the only way to create something unique or meaningful. I posted that photograph on my Instagram and was blown away to see it receive over 130,000 likes and 3,000 comments, which is the most I’ve ever received on a single photo. It was an opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone to achieve something I wasn’t sure I’d be able to accomplish. I’m humbled that so many people can identify with that, which was ultimately my goal.