The first Red Bull Illume edition happened in 2006 – and while it’s just over a decade ago, it’s safe to say the world of photography has changed significantly in that time. How? Let’s talk about it.
The first ‘digital’ photo contest
The first Red Bull Illume that spread across 2006 and 2007 was a smashing success – largely thanks a revolution in print-quality digital photography. The ability to shoot practically unlimited amounts of images with no concern for the amount of film to develop brought down the cost and difficulty of photography. This meant that adventure and action sports – typically happening in far away or difficult to access places, with the key moment only happening for an instant – saw a flood of incredible images from established photographers, and new ones. While images shot on film were (and still are) by all means allowed, the digital revolution played no small part in the number of images taken and shared – and seen. Why? Because in 2007, the smartphone appeared – ushering in a totally new era of media consumption.
A new standard set, a global audience
Coupled with an explosion of interest in adventure and action sports, Red Bull Illume quickly gained notoriety as the place to see incredible images. The number of submissions grew ever higher, and so did the standards – to make it as a finalist, an image had to be not great, but unforgettable. The unique ten-category format gave images the opportunity to uniquely stand out from other similarly fantastic images – and what quickly became clear at the global exhibit tours was that people couldn’t get enough of great photography.
The ultimate career Launchpad
For young, aspiring photographers looking to make their name in an increasingly competitive industry, Red Bull Illume became a take-off point – finalist images caught the eyes of photo editors and marketing managers everywhere. Surf photographer Chris Burkard’s winning image from 2010, entitled ‘The Perfect Day’, established him as one of the most widely-known surf photographers on the planet.
Working for the photos
In 2013, a sharp eye would notice a slight shift in the best photos: rather than submitting their best shots from being at the right place at the right time, photographers were going out to shoot specifically for the contest. It was in this edition that we saw the first winning image from German photographer Lorenz Holder, whose images are notable for the amount of research and work that goes into making them happen. With an eye for finding unique landmarks to frame his action, plenty of planning, and some patience he’s managed to take home top honors for the last two contests in 2013 and 2016.
Bigger, better, broader
Like the art of creating images, Red Bull Illume has done nothing other than evolve. As the numbers of photos being submitted grew, so did the contest change. In 2016, an 11th category was added, in fitting with the times: the mobile category. This category is for shots taken only on a phone, challenging photographers to think beyond their equipment and truly get to the photo itself. As a result, the fourth edition saw a record 34,624 breathtaking images submitted by 5,646 photographers from 120 countries.
2019 will mark the fifth edition of the contest, and after a three-year break, we can’t wait to see what images are out there simply waiting to be seen. And in the spirit of evolution, this year’s contest will bring some unique new challenges. Exactly what? You’ll have to stay tuned to find out.