Into the Wild with Photographer Rodney Bursiel
Animal, underwater and portrait photographer on his love of travel, wildlife, and his gallery in Wimberley
Rodney Bursiel can’t say what came first: his love of scuba diving or photography. But he knows he got both passions from his father, Chuck, who taught scuba lessons in their family pool while Bursiel was growing up in Houston and was also an underwater photographer.
“I was probably scuba diving before I could walk,” Bursiel says.
While Rodney Bursiel has won countless surfing, scuba diving, travel and wildlife photography awards in the past 10 years, it wasn’t a straight line from scuba diving with his dad in the Cayman Islands to coming face to face with great white sharks with a camera in hand. He took plenty of detours along the way, including getting a “boring” degree at then-Southwest Texas State University and one “real” job in Houston that lasted seven months before he started work at his construction company in Wimberley while he took acting jobs on the side. There was a two-month stint on the Houston set of “Tin Cup” with Kevin Costner, as well as acting opposite Angelina Jolie as the adult son of her character in “True Women,” and as a stuntman and Josh Hartnett’s stand-in for “Pearl Harbor.”
Photography as a creative outlet
After developing rolls of film following a Costa Rica trip with his then-girlfriend who pushed him to pursue photography professionally, Bursiel started snapping pics of local musician friends, and the rest started to snowball.
“All of a sudden I’m hanging out with Billy Gibbons and ZZ Top and shooting Willie Nelson, Robert Earl Keen and all the big Texas guys,” Bursiel says. “I always wanted to be a musician, but it didn’t come easy for me. I had to work at it, so music photography was kind of my outlet.”
It was through his friendship with musician Donavon Frankenreiter, who also happened to surf and endorse Billabong, that Bursiel found his way “back to the water.” He weaseled his way onto a surf trip with Frankenreiter to Indonesia with camera equipment in tow and shot several now-famous images.
“I had no idea what I was doing!” Bursiel laughs.
Travel & wildlife
But he ended up selling the photos to several brands and even entered a National Geographic photography competition, where he placed third. From there, Bursiel continued to travel, meeting photographers who guided him toward other destinations, and building out more bucket list trips. He’s ridden in a three-day horseback pilgrimage through Mexico with a broken ankle and swam with great white sharks, saltwater crocodiles, killer whales and 30-ton humpbacks. He’s photographed herds of stampeding horses in Camargue, France; been to Africa a handful of times to shoot elephants, zebras, giraffes, big cats and so much more.
When asked what’s the hardest part of his photography, he claims it’s figuring out how to travel with so much gear. It doesn’t make him nervous at all to be up close and personal with wild creatures.
“As long as you learn the mannerisms and characteristics of the animals, they’ll pick up on your energy, and if you’re not afraid, they’ll leave you alone,” Bursiel says. “With sharks, they’re not after us, so if you go into the water knowing that and respect them, you’re fine.”
Gallery in Wimberley
It’s his love of travel and the beautiful, untamed animals he’s photographed throughout the years that inspired him to open his own photo gallery in Wimberley called WILD LIFE, where the entire spectrum of his work is displayed and available for sale. He’s even been instrumental in “adopting” a baby girl white rhino from Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya and having her named Wimberley. All sales of merchandise of the rhino sold in the gallery are donated back to the conservancy.
While currently returning from his most recent African trip, where he shot several local tribes of Ethiopia, Bursiel is also planning for a huge Antarctica expedition in 2025, but he’s not sure where else he’ll go before then.
“Things just present themselves. So I’m just open,” Bursiel says. “God, what’s left? I still haven’t done the giant Pacific octopus. It sounds ridiculous because I’m going to Antarctica, but I haven’t done it because I hate the cold. What else do I want to shoot? I’ve never done Australia. I want to go see the leafy seadragons!”
Learn more about Bursiel and his work at rodneybursielphotography.com.