Action Woman: Interview with Desré Pickers

Action Woman: Interview with Desré Pickers

Photographer Desré Pickers won the lifestyle category of Red Bull Illume 2007, plus the athletes' choice and peoples' choice awards. We asked her what it takes to be successful in action and adventure sports photography.

Desré, you won the lifestyle category of Red Bull Illume 2007. What was it like to be part of this contest and winning a category?

D: It was an absolute privilege to be part of a project that not only recognizes the top action sport photographers in the world, but brings them together in such an awe-inspiring way. To walk away with one of the category's top spots was surreal: there I was standing in a crowd with people who I’ve drawn inspiration from and admired for years, to receive top honors for my catagory.

You also won the athletes’ choice and the peoples’ choice award. What did it mean to you to have your image chosen by the athletes and the general public?

D: To me the two greatest honors are the athletes’ choice and the peoples’ choice, after all that’s essentially who you are taking the photos for. It isn’t always easy to capture the essence of what athletes experience in a still photo but when you do and you get to share those moments with the public, it makes all the grueling work of getting it so worth while. But the most rewarding achievement is getting the nod of approval from the very people who have trained so hard, who put their lives on the line for that single shot. To have their approval is one of the highlights of my life.

Why do you think there are very few women in action and adventure sports photography?

D: I think because of what it takes to be involved in the industry and what you have to do to get the shot. You’ve got to get to places that not many people can get to and do things that most people wouldn’t dream of doing. Not only do you need to "suck it up" and get out there and do it, but you have to have the respect of the athletes you are dealing with.

What are your experiences? Do you face a lot of prejudices or obstacles?

If an athlete has to choose between a photographer who they have to help carry all the gear and help set them up and assist getting them to the shooting vantage points, and someone who can get there on their own, its obvious who they are going to choose. And an unfortunate fact about shooting action sports and adventure is that it is outdoors in some pretty hostile environments and the camera gear is heavy. It’s tough, no doubt about it. However saying this, I’ve been fortunate enough to be dealing with a sport where there are very few photographers in general so am granted a little leniency. I don’t pull the "I’m a girl" card, but I always accept any help that is offered.

Was it special for you, as a female photographer, to win those awards ?

As for being female and winning a category, in general I’m not about "girl power" so I didn’t really notice the huge difference in gender until it was pointed out to me. But somewhere deep down I do think I did the "yeah baby – show ´em how its done" air punch!

What have you been up to since the last Red Bull Illume? Did the competition and your success in it change your work?

D: It definitely gave me more confidence in my ability and when times were tough made me pull it together a lot faster than before. My style of photography hasn’t changed, or my attitude towards it. However being mentally and physically very challenging, I actually took a year off shooting to recoup. I’m just about ready to get back in the saddle and shoot again – can’t wait to get my new gear.

What are your expectations for Red Bull illume 2010?

D: I’m hoping that it will become more of an international event. Although the photographers were from around the world, I would like to see the actual exhibition get out of the USA. I think that the power and full impact of a competition like this is harder hitting when shown to a culturally diverse audience.

Are you planning to submit? If yes: Do you already have some pictures in mind or will you work on a special concept for a winning shot?

D: I’m not sure yet. At present I don’t think I have a photograph that I think 'has what it takes', but I’m working on it and if I do, I’ll definitely submit.

What do you believe is the value of such a contest for the whole adventure and freesports photography scene?

D: I believe a contest like this that brings together such diverse categories in sport and photography style, creates creative competitiveness that can result in the photographers pushing limits in their own creative styles and push them to experiment in areas outside of their comfort zone. Not just for self-satisfaction but for the recognition an event like this can bring.
Personally I found this competition opened up portals that normally would have been closed to an action sports photo. Using the name 'Red Bull Illume Photography Competition' as a guise, kayaking, mountain biking, base jumping, climbing and other fringe-sports found themselves published in magazines and newspapers they normally would never have been given the recognition for. And the response was overwhelmingly positive.

Traditionally there isn’t a lot of money in action or adventure sports, maybe getting it out there and more in demand will change that, and that in turn will attract more photographers and increase the creative pool.

You and your partner in life, Red Bull athlete and kayaking professional Steve Fisher seem to be the perfect couple: An extreme sports photographer and an extreme sports athlete. Do you work together a lot? Do you inspire each other?

D: Ah yes, the "power couple" as we have been dubbed. I don’t think it would be possible to be in a relationship with each other if we didn’t do what we do. Unlike golfers, kayakers don’t make absurd amounts of cash and in order for us to both travel on the budget that we are on, we both have to be on the same page and working towards the same goals. It’s no accident that we do what we do as a couple. It was an active decision to focus my photography on kayaking, to help Steve achieve his goals, and to allow me to be with him on his travels. Steve has been tenacious in getting me to the best shooting places (I don’t paddle) and running and re-running waterfalls and rapids in order for me to get the perfect shot. In return, he has a selection of photos second to none that he can promote himself with. The epitome of a symbiotic relationship.

If witnessing some of the worlds best athletes do what they love most, doesn’t inspire you, then nothing will, which is what I give credit for helping me go from never holding a camera in 2001 to winning two categories in 2007.

What equipment are you currently working with?

D: I’d probably surprise most people with the equipment I use. With kayaking as my main focus most of my gear gets smashed around and wet constantly. I have to be prepared to send my camera down rivers, tie them onto boats and stand in very wet environments. Because of this, I use a Canon 30D because its cheap enough to not break the bank when it breaks.... and they do, often. My next camera is going to be a Canon 7D as I’d like to start moving into the filming side of things and this is the perfect tool to do just this.
I have a range of canon lenses from the 10mm range to the 400mm range. However, my favorite piece of equipment is a canon timer remote control which I shoot time lapses with.

Visit www.photosbydes.com for more information and images from Desré.

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Gallery: Czeching out the top Czech images from Red Bull Illume

The Red Bull Illume Indoor Exhibition Tour is heading to Prague this October. In honor of this momentous occasion, we have put together a gallery showcasing some of the best adventure and action sports photographers that the Czech Republic has to offer.

© Jan Kasl / Red Bull Illume

In the 2016 Image Quest alone, no less than five Czech photographers got their images in the Top 275. The country is a breeding ground for up and coming street sports athletes, with Prague’s famous marble plazas serving as a meeting point for hundreds of skateboarders, BMX riders and the photographers who come to document them. Here we bring you 7 of the best images by Czech photographers from Red Bull Illume history.

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for regular updates on the upcoming Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019! 

Riding Thrones: The journey behind Lorenz Holder’s latest shoot

Inspired by the fictional world of Game of Thrones, two-time Red Bull Illume-winning photographer Lorenz Holder teamed up with BMX legend Senad Grosic on a stunning fantasy project in Northern Ireland.

© Lorenz Holder / Red Bull Content Pool

The project, fittingly named ‘Riding Thrones’, is the culmination of an entire year of location research to find backdrops reminiscent of the show's fictional location of Westeros. The popularity of the world-renowned series and the incredible untouched beauty of the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland made 4.30am starts an essential part of this ten-day shoot.

Speaking about his original Game of Thrones idea, Lorenz explains: “I was immediately inspired and knew I wanted to shoot there as well. When we arrived in Northern Ireland, I was blown away by how beautiful and untouched everything was. You get the weather of a whole year in one day.”

See all the photos below!

For more inspiration ahead of the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019, head over to our gallery to see all the top images from the previous editions of Red Bull Illume.

Images © Lorenz Holder / Red Bull Content Pool

Gallery: 7 Glorious Mountain Biking Images From Fall

Summer is almost over in the northern hemisphere, but that doesn’t mean the adventure and action stops there. Far from it... fall brings new challenges and new opportunities, especially for those that like having fun on two wheels. As the leaves change color and drop to the ground, we bring you seven of the best fall-inspired mountain biking images from Red Bull Illume history.

© Joey Schusler / Red Bull Illume

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for regular updates on the upcoming Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019! 

Red Bull Illume is back for more in 2019

After 10 years of continued success, the world’s largest adventure and action sports photography contest will light up for its fifth edition with some exciting new changes.

© Lorenz Holder / Red Bull Illume

Because the ever-growing world of image creation is a very different place to what it was three years ago, Red Bull Illume 2019 will be updating the format and scale of the competition. This commitment to innovation has led to the contest’s exponential growth over the years, with 2016 accumulating as many as 34,624 submissions from over 120 countries. 

The first big change is the frequency of the event. For the past four editions, Red Bull Illume has taken place every three years. In light of the globally growing interest in photography, as well as the sheer number of talented photographers and stunning images that have emerged from the contest, the decision has been made to host the event every two years - starting with its fifth edition. These developments will bring about a new timeline for both the upcoming Image Quest in January 2019 and the resulting global exhibit tour. The first stages of Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019 will kick off early next year with a few surprises and a wider range of categories, such as new technologies and digital trends. 

As the changes are announced in the coming weeks, photographers and fans will get to learn more about the exciting new possibilities of the next contest. However, when it comes to the world’s greatest adventure and action sports photography, two things will stay the same; the beautiful images and the thrilling feats of human athleticism! Think you’ve got what it takes to be crowned the overall winner? Get out there, be creative and take your shot at the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019.

Don't miss out on the big announcements. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram

Gallery: 7 Diving Images From Another World

Spending hours beneath the waves, dive photographers explore and document the stunning depths of the world's oceans. We have selected 7 of the most incredible diving images from Red Bull Illume. These photos show the gorgeous aesthetics of the underwater world that most will never see with their own eyes. Significantly, they also highlight the importance of interacting with marine life responsibly. This selection takes you from San Salvador Island in the Bahamas to the White Sea in the Arctic Circle, with many stops in between!

© Liz Rogers / Red Bull Illume

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for some big announcements! 

Talking surf photography in Sweden with Sophie Zander

"The surf is best during the fall and winter, but it’s the worst for photographers. When it rains, it rains horizontally into the lens because of the wind!"

© Sophie Zander / Red Bull Illume

What are your basic stats?

I’m Sophie Zander, born in 1993 and raised in the suburbs of Stockholm, Sweden. I work full time in a warehouse but photography is one of my biggest interests, so sometimes I get photography work too.

How did you first get into photography?

I was pretty much born into photography. When I was a kid, my father and his best friend had a small studio and dark room just for fun. As I got older, my dad and I would go on trips each year, stopping every time he saw a photo opportunity. Instead of complaining and being a pain in the ass, I thought I would try take some photos too. My parents got me a small compact camera as a summer gift and later I got my dad’s old Canon 10D. I went from hanging around in the studio, to studying media in high school with a focus on photography. That’s how I got to where I am now.

What’s in your camera bag?

In my camera bag you’ll find two camera bodies and a bunch of lenses; 24-70mm 2.8, 70-200mm 2.8, 50mm 1.8 and sometimes I’ll steal my dad’s 16-35mm 2.8. I take batteries, memory cards, rain covers for the cameras, reusable hand warmers for both me, the surfers and other photographers. You might find some candy in there too.

Why surf photography?

It all started 10 years ago with what I thought was a lie. My dad told me it was possible to surf in Sweden and I said; “No you can’t, liar!”. However, he kept telling me it was true so I told him we had to go shoot some surfing the next time the forecast looked good. Turned out he wasn’t lying! I fell deeply in love with it and became obsessed with the weather forecasts so I wouldn’t miss the next session. 

I honestly don’t know what the appeal is! If I lived somewhere warmer and more tropical I would understand, but I live in Sweden and it’s the complete opposite!

What are the challenges of shooting surfers in Sweden?   

The surf is best during the fall and winter, but it’s the worst for photographers. When it rains, it rains horizontally into the lens because of the wind! It’s snowing, it’s windy, it’s stormy and it’s so cold that your fingers and toes hurt. You wear so many layers of clothing that you look like you’re going to hunt polar bears! I’ve often questioned myself why we do this to ourselves over and over again. Why do we go outside when there are storm warnings on the news? 

I guess it’s a mix of things I love about it - and it gets better and better each time I go. The first time I went to the surf spot, I didn’t know a single person. Now I have an extra family which means a lot to me in so many ways; I’m forever thankful for everything they’ve done for me. 

How did it feel to be a Red Bull Illume semi finalist? 

It felt so surreal! I’ve been following Red Bull Illume since it all started and I’ve been amazed by every photo. Many of my favorite photographers have done really well in the competition; I never thought I’d stand a chance, but I guess I was wrong.  

Talk us through your semi final photo…

My semi final photo was taken in Unstad, Lofoten Islands, Norway! I went there for the yearly father-daughter trip, my dad is more of a landscape photographer and I’m obviously into extreme sports. Norway has a great mix of both and it’s not too far away from where we live. Unfortunately, the sea decided to be flat the whole week and the day the photo was taken was the only day with some kind of waves, more like surf school kind of waves. I was slightly disappointed in both the weather and the waves. Parts of the mountains were covered by fog, then these three random surfers showed up. It looked really cool so I had to take a photo. When I saw the shot on the camera I was like; “this will be one of my Red Bull Illume photos”.

Are there any other adventure and action sports you like to shoot?

I’ve shot motocross and fmx a few times, once in a while I’ll end up in a skatepark. Last summer a few friends went wake surfing, me and my camera joined them and it was so much fun. If I had to choose one sport to shoot for the rest of my life it would be surfing for sure, but it’s fun to add variety.

What other things do you shoot?

Since I’m a music nerd I love to shoot concerts as well. I’ve also found out how fun it is to shoot portraits, simple portraits, nothing too fancy. When there’s no action sports or concerts there’s always different landscapes to explore, Mother Nature sure knows how to blow our minds.

What lessons has photography taught you?

Photography made me more confident, maybe not in life general, but it’s easier for me to make contact with strangers than it was before. If I have my camera with me and I see someone who will be a perfect model for my kind of portraits I will walk up to them and ask if I can take a photo. It’s almost as if I can hide behind my camera and skills.

Photography has also taught me that there’s no “next time”, the light, the composition, nothing will be the same next time. If you want that specific photo, you have pick up the camera and press the shutter button NOW! Not tomorrow or next month. One thing I know for sure is that it sucks to regret things like that. I guess it’s the same in real life too. I’m still kind of bad at it but I’m always trying to learn by mistakes and regrets!

Any upcoming photography projects?

There are a lot of things I’d like to shoot but I’m trying to focus on photos for Red Bull Illume 2019, it’s getting closer! 

What are your plans for the future?

I try to not have too big plans because life never turns out the way you plan it. I’m just going to see what life has to offer and take it from there! 

But I’d love to travel, both to new places and to revisit some old places. 

Thanks to Sophie for this amazing interview! Check out more of her work on her website and on Instagram.

Gallery: 8 Surf Shots to Stoke Your Summer Sessions

The summer season has got the surfers amongst us dreaming of big swells, so here’s a tribute to some of the great surf photographers from the 2016 Image Quest. The nature of the sport means that surf photographers can wait for hours, days, even weeks for the perfect shot. Here we present 8 times that determination, skill and timing have come together before the lens to create epic moments that will last forever.

© Zakary Noyle / Red Bull Illume

Feel inspired? Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more adventure and action sports! 

Behind the lens with Anthony Favennec

As the Winner of Red Bull Illume's 2016 Public Choice Award Anthony Favennec is already a well-known name in the world of adventure and action sports photography, especially for two-wheel sports. We decided to catch up with Anthony and find out a little more about the man behind the lens.

© Anthony Favennec / Red Bull Illume

"I taped my camera on the rear pegs of my bike with a lot of gaffer tape and a radio trigger mounted on it. To operate my camera remotely, I took the trigger in my left hand to shoot at the right time."

As the Winner of Red Bull Illume's 2016 Public Choice Award Anthony Favennec is already a well-known name in the world of adventure and action sports photography, especially for two-wheel sports. We decided to catch up with Anthony and find out a little more about the man behind the lens.

Please tell us a bit about your background and how you got into photography?

My interest in photography started with my family, my father especially, and grew when I started riding BMX at 14. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time riding and traveling with my friends to find riding spots along the Atlantic coast of France. I was lucky enough to share both of these passions with my friends, and as they became better at riding BMX, my photography evolved as well. This lead to my work being published in a magazine for the first time when I was 16. At 21, I graduated from photography school, and after working in a few studios, I decided to pursue filmmaking and photography as an independent.

What kind of photography do you like and what is your particular style/ preferences in shooting?

I really appreciate pictures of car advertising, it’s a really technical style of "action" photography. But I also like fashion communications, there are fabulous photographers like David Lachapelle, Gregory Crewdson…

I’m not sure if I have a particular style. I like to shoot whatever I feel like shooting but as natural as possible. I'm in my element when I shoot sports, especially biking and motorsports. I try to remain close to my BMX origins, partly because it offers endless opportunities to be creative, but also because this sport is the starting point of my passion for capturing life on film.

What was it like to win Red Bull Illume's Public Choice Award?

It’s a really great to win the Red Bull Illume’s Public Choice Award. I have to admit I thought I had no chance. Some pictures are just so fabulous in the contest that my picture is almost "flat" compared to them in my opinion, but obviously not to the public. I have to thank everyone who voted for me.

How did you produce this shot?

Haha I'm not sure if I should reveal the way I took this picture, it was so rock&roll. I taped my camera on the rear pegs of my bike with a lot of gaffer tape and a radio trigger mounted on it. To operate my camera remotely, I took the trigger in my left hand to shoot at the right time. I had set up my camera, a Canon EOS 40D with a Sigma 10mm f2,8 on 1/20 to get that nice curved motion blur of the street. I’m really in love with that kind of light – the springtime evenings have the best warm lights.

Was this a planned shot or more of a "nice surprise"?

I was looking to improve a black and white photo I took few years ago with the same setup. That was during the only sunny day of winter 2015 in Brittany; the kind of day that allows you to ride your BMX without the need for an indoor skatepark. But I have to admit than I looked at all the pictures of the last Red Bull Illume Image Quests to see what works and what doesn't, so I decided to use the same color, light, and the same way to work with the sunset.

Why BMX? Is it a particular passion?

This is for me a big part of my life, I have been taking bmx pictures since I was 14 and I have been riding for 14 years now, so I try to capture the identity of what bmx looks like for me because this is where everything started.

What other sports do you shoot?

I'm shooting a lot of Motorsports now, since I'm working in the car industry I have the chance to be in a totally different environment. I really enjoy shooting fmx too, one of my best friends is a really good fmx rider so we can meet and try to organize shoots. I really would like to shoot more water sport like surfing.

What other projects are you working on now?

In extreme sports I have many ideas of images, some easy, others really hard to create in organization/place/light but I’ll try to do all I can to make it happen. And I already have pictures to share with you for the next Red Bull Illume Image Quest.

Feel inspired? Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more adventure and action sports! 

Gallery: 7 Wild Shots from the Urban Jungle

Urban areas are built to contain people; from private spaces to their rules and regulations. In this gallery, we salute those who push their limits out on the streets. For many of the world’s best adventure and action sports photographers, it’s here on the public stage that they find their playground. Let’s explore!

© Ale Di Lullo / Red Bull Illume

Feel inspired? Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more adventure and action sports! 

The Votes are in…

The Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2016 saw thousands of adventure and action sports photos submitted to the contest. A judging panel of renowned photo editors from all over the world chose 55 finalists with one overall winner. Since 2016, the images have traveled to major cities and cultural hubs around the world as part of a global Exhibit Tour - but the contest didn't end there!

© Anthony Favennec / Red Bull Illume

The top 275 photos competed once again. The difference? The fans decided who won. The Public Choice Award was a great chance for followers of Red Bull Illume to pick their favorite shots from the top 275 images.

It’s with great excitement that we can announce the official winner of the Public Choice Award for the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2016. A huge congratulations goes out to Anthony Favennec! There was fierce competition for the number one spot and some stunning images in the running. However, as the polls came to a close last Friday on June 15, it was Anthony’s photo that came out on top.

The photo is an exceptional play on a natural, backlit composition and was captured, as the photographer describes, “on the only sunny day of winter 2015 in Brittany; the kind of day that allows you to ride your BMX without the need for an indoor skatepark. I taped my camera on the rear pegs of my bike with a lot of gaffer tape”. (Read the full story here)

Want to win the world`s greatest adventure and action sports photography contest? For a chance to take part and claim victory, stay tuned at redbullillume.com for the next edition in 2019.

Be sure to head over to our Gallery if you want to see the Top 275 images from the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2016 and learn more about how the shots were created.