Cave Diving Photography with Liz Rogers

Cave Diving Photography with Liz Rogers

Since learning to dive at age 14 and becoming qualified as an Advanced Cave diver at 21, Liz Rogers has taken underwater photographs in caves across Australia. Red Bull Illume caught up with the 2013 finalist to discuss the challenges of underwater cave diving photography and how she captured her Top 250 shot.

Shooting underwater can be rather tricky with off-camera lighting: “Cave photography succeeds when you set up enough lights to show off the space (or lack of space). The ‘dry cavers’ have an advantage here as they can use infrared or wireless triggers to set off their off-camera strobes. However, these signals are very limited when traveling through water, so underwater cave divers usually use the flash from their on-camera strobes to trigger background strobes,” says Rogers.

However, this causes limitations: “As such, a lot of underwater cave photography has a well-lit foreground which gets brighter as the cave gets bigger – the foreground light is necessary to trigger the background strobes. This is necessary, but not fun, as it definitely reduces the artistic possibilities.”

Rogers decided to take a different route when shooting her Top 250 winner: “My shot was taken in the huge underwater tunnels of Weebubbie Cave. The water is ridiculously clear but it still absorbs the light and makes triggering distant strobes tricky, so on this trip we decided to try a new approach,” says Rogers.

“Instead of using the camera to start the strobe chain reaction, the strobes were manually triggered. Myself and my dive buddy Stefan got into approximately the right positions in the water, I opened the shutter, and Stefan triggered the off-camera strobes manually. The catch was that there could be no other light – so no dive lights allowed,” she explains.

“When you turn off all the lights in a cave, it gets really dark. I couldn’t see Stefan, he couldn’t see me, and neither of us could see the walls. This approach took a little bit of practise! On the third dive we nailed it (without swimming into any rocks)… I’m very proud to see this image among so many stunning shots!” says Rogers.

Be sure to check out Rogers’ site.

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Nick Webster: What's in the Bag?

A master at combining natural and artificial lights, it's easy to spot a photo shot by Nick Webster. We caught up with him to talk about gear and take a look into his bag!

© Nick Webster

Talk us through your gear. What are your go-to items? 

I have swapped from the traditional DSLR to smaller mirrorless models now and my favourite camera to use is my Sony A7ii. It is a 24 Megapixel full frame camera which is fast enough to shoot sports. The handling is close to perfect and results are gorgeous. In terms of lenses, I shoot as much as possible with wide angles, as it gives so much more impact, so have zoom lenses in my bag covering everything from 16mm to 200mm. I also love Bowen’s new GenerationX studio lights. They are powered by in-built batteries so I can take them anywhere without the need for a plug socket. 

Is there anything special you carry with you on shoots? 

I always carry two-way radios when shooting. It makes a shoot so much easier. If working with an individual, such as a snowboarder, I can communicate with them without the need for mobile phones and the hassle of removing gloves or patchy reception. When shooting a sport like cycling, I can retune the radio to listen into the commissaire's car which broadcasts time gaps and incidents etc, so I can keep abreast of the action even when it is miles away.

When shooting in the snow, I now always carry a set of crampons with me. It gets very icy at the side of ski slopes and it’s never dignified to fall and end-up 100 metres down the mountain. I learnt this the hard way.

How do you choose gear for different projects? 

Size and weight is the main factor. I have to think how much I can carry with me. Cycling is a great example where my switch to mirrorless cameras has benefitted. I ride in the passenger seat of the team car and everything has to sit in the foot well, together with spare drinking bottles, energy bars and anything else the riders may need, like rain jackets and arm warmers. I also have to consider weight when shooting in the show, as I often have to snowboard to the park from the lift and the lighter my bag, the easier it is to ride.

Which piece of gear would you never leave at home? 

I never leave home without my Sony Cybershot RX100v. It may only be a compact, but it is packed with high-end features and the quality of photo is superb. I can shoot 4K video and super slow motion too. I never leave home without it.

Does your gear sometimes take a pounding to get the shots you’re known for? 

I have never been very precious with my gear. I put screen protector on the back, but apart from that it gets no special treatment. It’s never let me down. Half the time it is banging around as I run to get in position for a photo. In my career I have been run-over, had it hit by wayward footballs and been clamped to the roof of cars as it’s been driven through a storm. It all survived.

Any items you wish you could add to your bag?

I really wish Sony made a 300mm f/4 for it’s mirrorless range. I don’t need the big white f/2.8 lenses sports photographers traditionally use any longer. In the days when we all shot on film and the early days of shooting digital SLRs, you could only shoot up to ISO 400 before the quality was really compromised. As a result, I needed lenses which would suck in as much light as possible in order to allow me to shoot at lower sensitivities. The latest generations of sensors are so good it’s easy to shoot up to ISO6400 before seeing a significant drop-off, so swapping my big, cumbersome 300mm f/2.8 for a compact 300mm f/4 lens would be amazing.

Any tips for aspiring photographers? 

Don’t worry about your gear. You don’t need the fastest or best and latest model to take great shots. You just have to remember that before the late 1980s nobody had autofocus and it was that long ago that there were no motorwinds or in-built metering and the professionals were still producing outstanding results, because they were often anticipating the picture and with this skill and a little luck producing jaw-dropping pictures. Slow down and practice your technique. In my opinion, it’s a common mistake to hold your finger down on the shutter and hope you get one picture from the hundreds being captured. I often find it’s the shots I plan and know I want to take are the ones I like best.

Nick's Gear: 

  • Sony a7 Mark ii
  • Sony a6500
  • Sony 16-35mm f/4 Zeiss
  • Sony 24-70mm f/4 Zeiss
  • Sony 70-200mm f/4 G
  • Sony 55m f/1.8 Zeiss
  • Sony HVL-F60M Flash (x2)
  • Cactus V6iiS Remote triggers 
  • Memory Cards
  • Batteries
  • Business Cards
  • Sony Xperia XZ
  • Two Way Radio
  • Sensor Blower
  • Lens Cloth

See more of Nick's work on his website and by following him on Instagram. While you're there, make sure to give us a follow as well! 

5 Surf Photographers You Need To Know!

With the summer days coming up and the swells coming in, we wanted to show some love to the extremely talented surf photographers out there, who spend days on end floating in the deep blue trying to get that perfect union between wave and rider...

© Corey Wilson / Red Bull Illume

Stuart "Stu" Gibson

Could easily already be considered Red Bull Illume royalty, with Category Finalist spots in 2010, 2013 and 2016. 

"I was born in Tasmania in 1983 and became a photographer around 2003, although I’ve always loved cameras and filming. It wasn’t until I borrowed a friend’s Canon EOS 5 that I fell in love with still photography – the quality amazed me! Shooting on 35mm slide film was a true test to learn the skills to become a photographer.

My main passions are surfing, snowboarding and skateboarding. But my photos are more than 90% surfing, or in the water in some way. I was practically born surfing so it’s hard to be away from the coast for too long. My life as a photographer consists of traveling, swimming, sun, and sitting behind a computer – a lot!"

Green pits @tilodge @nikonaustralia

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Zakary "Zak" Noyle

"I was born in Hawaii in 1985 and have been in and around the ocean all my life. My father is a commercial photographer who helped me find my love and passion for shooting in the ocean. Working as a staff photographer for Surfer Magazine for the past five years has allowed me to travel to many exotic locations such as Tahiti, Rapa Nui and Indonesia to name just a few.Being in the water is my specialty, shooting mainly heavy and large waves with shallow reefs. I have a passion to show people a world they have never seen before, from a perspective that is almost inconceivable. I try to bring the viewers into my images and make them feel as if they’re right there alongside me in the world's most famous surf breaks."

Corey Wilson

"I am from Santa Cruz, CA. I started photography about eight years ago when I was in high school and I fell in love with shooting photos, deciding to make a career out of it.I currently live in Newport Beach, CA and I travel the world all year round, working as a staff photographer for Surfing Magazine, Rip Curl, and freelancing for other companies. I’m constantly on the road going on surf trips and fashion shoots etc."

Creating mind tricks with/ @microsurfacademy

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Ben Thouard

"My name is Ben Thouard, and I’ve lived in Tahiti for eight years. I started photography when I was a teenager, using an old Nikon camera from my father that I’d found at home.Being a surfer since a very young age, it was natural that I started shooting my friends surfing. After going to photography school in Paris, I flew to Hawaii when I was 19, and this was my first professional challenge.Since then I’ve traveled around the world to shoot watersports in search of great conditions, encounters and stories. Nine years ago I was invited to make a trip to Teahupo’o, Tahiti, a place I completely fell in love with. A year after moving it became my favorite playground."

Follow me ! @kaulivaast shot with @aquatech_imagingsolutions @airtahitinui

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Fred Pompermayer

"I have been shooting big wave surfing and action shots for more than a decade. I was born in Brazil. From a very young age I was transfixed by the ocean and waves. I majored in architecture at college; afterwards I travelled the world taking photos as my hobby and surfing as much as I could.I live in Los Angeles where I can catch a quick flight to most places – most of the time it’s last minute to catch the swells – and where I can surf year round."

Make sure to check out Instagram next week (18.4 to 21.4), as we're hosting surf week, with a bunch of cool surf photos from throughout Red Bull Illume history! 

How To Shoot Action Sequences

Sequences can capture an entire range of motion in one single image, but you will need a little editing magic to put the action together. Photographer Leo Rosas Morin shows you a few easy steps you'll need to make it work.

Skater: Armando Rodriguez © Leo Rosas Morin

A sequence shot is the perfect chance to show an athlete in action, from start to finish and arguably is also the category that takes the most time. Check out some tips and tricks on how to shoot a great sequence brought to you by Leo Rosas Morin.  

A while back, Leo travelled to Austria's Absolut Park, recruited some local shredders and snapped away, but because we want to bring you summer vibes, we decided to include Leo's shot of Armando Rodriguez. 

Step 1: Set your camera to continuos shooting mode and the highest fps possible

Screen_Shot_2017-03-30_at_11.17.28_AM.png

Depending on what you're shooting (biking, snowboarding, diving, surfing, freestyle motocross etc.), you'll want to catch as much of the action in as little time as possible. 

To achieve this, you'll want to have a camera that shoots at a relatively high fps (or Frames Per Second). For this tutorial, Leo used a Sony RX10 Mark iii, which shoots at up to 14 frames per second. You won't need that many frames, but you'll want something that shoots at least at 5fps. 

Quick tip: Use continuos shooting mode, which will keep making photos as long as you're keeping the shutter button pressed down. 

Step 2: Find the best angle to capture all of the action

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You'll want to find a sick spot for the shoot, but more importantly; you'll want to be in a position that let's you capture all of the action in one smooth motion - so stand back a little (or use a wide-angle), get ready to shoot and make sure nobody is going to walk in front of your camera. Oh, and of course tell your athlete to get ready. 

A few other things to keep in mind: 

Manual focus: If you have a "slow" lens, switch your focus to manual and focus on the spot where the action will happen. 

Fast Shutter Speed: Start at 1/500 when shooting action sports, do a couple test shots, and see whether you need to go even faster. 

Small aperture: A small aperture will result in a greater depth of field. This means more of the image will be in focus - anything above 5,6 will keep all of the action in focus. 

Step 3: Shoot the Action!

Screen_Shot_2017-03-30_at_11.43.39_AM.png

Ready, steady, shoot...

Just make it smooth and keep holding on to that shutter button! 

Step 4: Now it's time for post-processing

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Screen_Shot_2017-03-30_at_11.44.28_AM.png

Go through your shots, choose which ones you want to turn into a sequence and import them into your photo-editing software of choice (we used Photoshop for this, and the below instructions are based on that). 

1. Open Photoshop, then go to File > Automate > Photomerge

2. Select Browse, choose your images, then make sure to tick Reposition and untick Blend Images Together and click Ok. 

3. Grab a cup of tea, because this will take a while. 

4. For each photo, create a new layer by going to Layer > Layer Mask > From Transparency

5. Select your brush, make sure it's black and turn down the "Hardness"

6. Paint over the mask, which will make the image below it appear

7. Refine the edges with a smaller, harder brush to mask out any overlapping edges

8. Repeat for the other layers. 

9. Once your done and happy with your sequence, crop out any transparent edges and edit the look of the sequence to your liking. 

Step 5: Share your sequence with the world!

Seqeunce_2.jpg

Now it's time to hop on Instagram, Facebook and any other platform you use and share your sequence with the world! 

While you're at it, make sure to follow Red Bull Illume on Instagram and Facebook

Flashback: Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2010

It's been 7 years since the Winner Award Ceremony in Dublin, Ireland. Do you remember the winners? Which photo impressed you the most? Relive that moment by looking back at the Overall Winner and the Category Winners of Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2010...

Red Bull Illume 2010: Chris Burkard, Illumination category winner

© Chris Burkard / Red Bull Illume

2010 marked the second edition of Red Bull Illume and once again, the level of action and adventure sports photography got pushed to a new level. Chris Burkard's shot of Peter Mendia conquering the Chilean surf stood out among the thousands of entries, taking home the Overall Winner for 2010. 

Here's the story behind the shot: 

"It was a last minute decision to go to Chile. We sat in the pouring rain for days and days waiting for the swell to come. We thought we had planned it perfectly, but even in the fall you can still get a winter storm."

"We woke up the morning after the rains to howling offshore winds, swell was pulsing and the conditions were as good as they get. We drove to a spot in the afternoon that the locals had said, “rarely breaks.” When we pulled up it was reeling left barrels for almost a football field’s length. We scrambled to get out and surf. I was sun burnt and tired and had no idea how to document this moment. The waves were some of the most I had ever seen, so I decided to risk it. I sprinted down the beach and hiked up a sand dune to get a pulled back perspective."

"The shore break was so big, and the offshores’ plumes so high, that I was missing most of the best waves, but finally a set came through. The light, the wind, and the swell were perfect. It was as if everything in nature fell into perfect harmony for this single moment. As Peter Mendia eased into this wave, the backwash hit, sending a golden shower of water 10-feet above his head, and sending him down the line of another 20-second barrel."

Now check out the other 9 winners below and let us know your favorite. 

Close Up: Nathan Smith

Red Bull Illume 2010: Nathan Smith, Close Up category winner

Culture (now known as Lifestyle): Vincent Perraud

Red Bull Illume 2010: Vincent Perraud, Culture category winner

Energy: Stuart Gibson

Red Bull Illume 2010: Stuart Gibson, Energy category winner

Experimental (now known as Enhance): Daniel Grund

Red Bull Illume 2010: Daniel Grund, Experimental category winner

New Creativity: Eric Berger

Red Bull Illume 2010: Eric Berger, New Creativity category winner

Playground: Tim Korbmacher

Red Bull Illume 2010: Tim Korbmacher, Playground category winner

Sequence: Miguel Lopez Virgen

Red Bull Illume 2010: Miguel Angel López Virgen, SanDisk sequence category winner

Spirit: Adam Kokot

Red Bull Illume 2010: Adam Kokot, Spirit category winner

Wings: Marcel Lammerhirt

Red Bull Illume 2010: Marcel Laemmerhirt, Wings category winner

We're ready to illuminate Toronto

The world’s greatest action and adventure sports images are on the road again, with the first stop of the year being Toronto, Canada. For almost two weeks, Toronto's Union Station will be home to the Red Bull Illume Exhibit Tour.

© Lucas Gilman

The finalist images of the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2016 are currently on their world tour with unique night-time exhibitions at prominent landmarks across the globe.

The first tour stop of 2017 will take place in Toronto, Canada, in the bustling forecourt of Union Station; a National Historic Site and the busiest transportation hub in Canada. Located just off of Front Street, it serves as the perfect location for residents, tourists and even commuters.

To showcase the amazing imagery in a unique way, the exhibition will only be open after the sun goes down between the hours of 7.30pm and 11.00pm. The illuminated images will be displayed on stunning 2x2m light boxes.

The outdoor exhibition will present the top 55 images from 11 different categories. The five Canadian finalists from Red Bull Ilume’s newly introduced National Mobile Contest will also see their work on display. Union Station will undoubtedly be a spectacular and immersive backdrop for the most creative and captivating photography on the planet.

Visitors can enjoy the exhibit from March 31st to April 9th 2017.Parking for the exhibition is located near the intersection between Front and University Street. Public transit is recommended as visitors can get off at Union Station and simply head to street level.

Catching up with the Winners: Chris Burkard

Back in 2010, Chris Burkard was an action and adventure sports photographer trying to make a name for himself. Submitting a number of images to Image Quest 2010, he says his goal was to have an image considered. Then, he won. We caught up with the California native to talk about what he's been upto since that faithful day...

© Carlo Cruz

What have been some of the memorable projects you have worked on in the years since winning Red Bull Illume back in 2010?

That’s a tough one, I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked on a lot of projects since winning Illume back in 2010. However perhaps my favorite is a recent personal project to surf under the northern lights in Iceland this past winter. With three hours of light each day, brutal winter storms, and freezing temperatures, Iceland was far from the ideal surf trip. I’ve been working pretty tirelessly on a feature length film from the trip and it should be releasing this March. You can check out the trailer here.

What stuff do you enjoy shooting right now?

When I started to get into photography I was inspired by landscapes and I think that still holds true today. Whether I’m shooting surf, skiing, or even hiking I always try to incorporate the surrounding landscapes. From the slopes of Utah to the ocean in Norway. Beyond anything I’m inspired by our interactions with the outdoors and the places we get to experience. 

What impact has Red Bull Illume had on you?

When I first started shooting it was obviously a benchmark and goal to have an image considered. When I won in 2010 I was amped! It’s hard to put into words what it felt like to win this award in front of all of my peers and the people I respect, it was truly a blessing. When I submitted my image, my expectation was just to hope that a few editors would see it. It definitely helped me to get my name out there and gave me a great platform for future projects.

What do you think makes Red Bull Illume different from other contests?

It’s unlike most contests in that it’s only held every three years and is limited to the action sports realm. What that translates to in terms of the content submitted is that only photographer’s very best work is submitted. The images can’t be re-created easily. The images took tons of careful planning, potentially had elements that weren’t planned for, and still required a high level of skill from both the athlete and the photographer to fully execute. 

What tips would you give to beginners who are planning to enter photo contests?

The best thing that you can do as an aspiring photographer is to identify a style that represents you well, develop within that style, and keep shooting to perfect it. It’s super important to have your images be recognizable by editors and others who are looking at your work. With the large number of photographers that are out there now you must find ways to stand out. The best compliment I can ever receive is when people know an image was mine instantly when they see it.

What would you look for in an image if you were judging Red Bull Illume?

Honestly it would need to be something that couldn’t be recreated. A combination of spectacular light, a unique perspective, and a talented athlete excelling in their craft. I would personally look at things in two ways: a photo that was conceived, planned and executed beautifully, or a photograph that is simply a once in a lifetime moment that the photographer put themselves in the right place to capture. 

What has changed in adventure and action sports photography in the last 10 years? 

This is all my personal perspective, but for the longest time I felt like the action sports and adventure worlds were so focused on getting high action imagery at the expense of storytelling. Now with social media and other platforms you can share a more complete story. While high action photography is still the core of the adventure and action sports world, the importance now has somewhat shifted to imagery that can help showcase the whole story.

Which action and adventure sports photographers do you like right now?

Christian Pondella is one of my all-time favorites. So humble and always pushing the limits simply because he is an athlete himself and is just as good as many of the guys he shoots. Also Reuben Krabbe! Both guys are just as talented in their sports as the people they are shooting and it reflects in the images they produce.

What do you think is next for action and adventure sports photography?

That’s a really tough question. From my perspective, it’s about going to more remote and wild places to pursue the sports we document. I think the stakes need to be raised. Less large scale productions and more about getting way out into nature and finding that image. 

What plans and projects do you have lined up for the future?

Future goals would always be to simply inspire people. Create work that is meant to last a lot longer than I am. I always hope to continue exploring parts of the globe that feel wild and remote and ideally bring those experiences back to people through social media, books, films, editorial publications, etc. There are a couple remote Russian islands I’ve had my eyes on that I want to visit. Additionally, I have a book about Iceland’s glacial rivers, and my film about surfing under the northern lights that releases this Spring!

Check out more of Chris Burkard's work on his website and follow his adventures by giving him a follow on Instagram. 

Sign up for the Wings For Life World Run 2017

Running to cure spinal cord injuries one step at a time.

The Wings for Life World Run is returning this year on May 7th. The charity event will take place simultaneously in multiple locations across the globe. With a moving finish line, the participants must attempt to outrun the Catcher Car for as long as possible. Those who take part help support crucial research into curing spinal cord injuries.

Red Bull Illume is proud to support the cause and has chosen to donate a portion of the proceeds from the Red Bull Illume 2016 Coffee Table Book to the Wings for Life Foundation. The money will be used to fund world class scientific research and clinical trials aimed at curing spinal cord injuries.

To do your part, sign up for the Wings for Life World Run today and run for those who can’t! Register here and become part of the global movement by downloading the official Wings for Life World Run APP, available for both iOS and Android.

How To Win Photography Contests With The ‘POP’ Principle

The Cooperative of Photography caught up with Red Bull Illume 2016 Overall Winner Lorenz Holder to learn more about the story behind the shot that made everyone utter a collective "Wow" and asked him about his winning formula - the POP Principle...

A two-time winner of Red Bull Illume, Lorenz Holder shares his secrets in the video above and talks us through the process of making sure that your images POP - plan, organize, position - as a guide for other photographers to improve the quality of their work.

While it's in no way a guarantee to help win photography contests (photography skills are fundamental), it could just give you that edge you're looking for while preparing for your next photo shoot. 

Make sure to check out his website and give him a follow on Instagram

Catching up with the Winners: Fred Mortagne

Following the recent celebration of Red Bull Illume’s 10th anniversary, it was time to find out what the winners have been up to. Fred Mortagne, aka French Fred, was the winner of the very first contest back in 2007.

© Christian Pondella

It’s been 10 years since you won the first ever Red Bull Illume. How have things been since and what are some memorable projects you have worked on?

I never stopped working and shooting passionately, so it’s always been good. I just released my first major publication, which is so far the highlight of my photographic career.

Can you tell us a bit about your publication ‘Attraper Au Vol’ ?

It compiles 15 years of work, although it is not a massive book. We went through a very selective editing process. It was published by Um Yeah Arts, the entity of Thomas Campbell who I love to work with. As of now, the book is already sold out. It has been a huge success and I’m glad it can be found in great bookstores, not just through the skateboarding network. I guess we have to print a second edition! You can still find the remaining copies in some stores, as well as on eu.elementbrand.com for example.

What do you think makes Red Bull Illume special, or different from other contests?

Its diversity and its modernity; focusing strictly on the new school extreme sports, while television for example still mostly cares about the classic stuff. I like the format of the contest, with all these different categories that highlight various aspects of the sports such as “Playground” which is about the location. This of course for me has always been an important category. For many years, in skateboarding for example, the focus was strictly on the action and nothing else. It was a big surprise to win in 2007 with a picture that was the opposite of the current standards.

Do you think Red Bull Illume helped you to get your work out there?

In life, I learned that sometimes things come much later on; sometimes even years after you do an exhibition. It’s wrong to have instant expectations.  So to my good surprise, when Leica became a partner of Red Bull Illume in 2013, a collaboration was started with them that has been very enjoyable and productive. Although winning the competition didn’t lead to any direct jobs, it eventually brought something very important to my career.

What tips would you give to beginners who are planning to enter Red Bull Illume?

Maybe I can just say that when I first entered, I thought I didn’t stand a chance, so it doesn’t matter what expectations you have.

There have now been 4 Red Bull Illume contests. What do you think is the winning formula?

If I would know, I would have won 4 times! But I’m glad that I made it to the finals twice, and to the semi-finals twice. Looking at the 4 winning images, it seems that they all brought something that you are not used to seeing within these sports, something that is not the standard, a little surprising, a little refreshing. They were unformatted expressions of individuals who want to bring something new and dare to step outside of the norm.

What has changed in adventure and action sports photography in the last 10 years? 

I think it became a little less formatted. People have started to experiment more and are not following any so-called rules. I always say that there shouldn’t be any rules to follow except those that you create for yourself. This is the best way to create your own unique style and will help you to stand out from the rest.

Any advice for up and coming adventure/action sports photographers that you could share?

As I also always say, anyone can become a photographer… and in the age of social networks, this is totally obvious. No one has specific genes to become a great photographer. Indeed we become photographer by chance, coincidence, and also often because we are passionate about something. We all have the potential. Then it’s about developing a unique view on life to bring something interesting. I like to make little photo competitions on Instagram to create some energy around photography, just like Illume is doing on a much larger scale!

Where do you see action and adventure sports photography going in the next 10 years?

Every athlete will shoot themselves without any outside help other than technology. All the devices are here already. Is it the end of professional photographers? Surely not, but we will have to adapt and work with it. It will require us to have a much more conceptual approach rather than focusing on just capturing the action. This is what I have been doing and it is stronger than ever right now. 

What plans and projects do you have lined up for the future?

I will keep on doing stuff to do with the book for a while and shoot for my personal projects. Working on the book gave me a lot of ideas for stuff to shoot, within and outside of skateboarding. Also, as I am an advocate for Element Skateboards, I will keep on shooting for them and their great Element Perspective programs which beautifully showcase photography.

Check out more of French Fred's work by checking out his website and give him a follow on Instagram

Craig Coker: What's in the Bag?

Never one to shy away from trying out new technology, action sports photographer Craig Coker tries to put a unique twist on his images by adding drones into the mix, especially when it comes to lighting his shots. Check out his go-to gear below!

© Craig Coker

Talk us through your gear. What are your go-to items? 

For most, this might be considered an unusual assortment of gear. Particularly, the lighting equipment attached to my drones. It has been my biggest, newest addiction in the world of photography. It’s a perspective rarely explored but with reason. This genre of drone technology is sparsely practiced because there isn't plug in, and play equipment at the caliber of images I’m looking to create. Lucky for me, I’m technologically knowledgeable in this field and have fabricated my own setups. The right lighting equipment is key for night drone operations. Not just on the drone but on ground as well so that you can illuminate your gear for preparation. Most locations I go to are pitch dark so I rely on Foxfury LED’s to help me throughout the night.

For my go-to glass coupled with my a7R II is Sony’s FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA. It’s fast and sharp for night shooting. I’ve also found that these wireless triggers by Aputure are affordable and reliable with exceptional range. That is a must when your drone is over 1000ft from you.

Why does one person need three drones? 

Each one provides a different use. One 3DR Solo has a flash while the other has a powerful LED lighting system for a constant spotlight. I sometimes operate both drones simultaneously. This enables you to shoot a long exposure and light paint with the spotlight while using the flash to capture a moving subject. It’s a complex operation but the end result is pretty unique. The DJI Mavic is my mid grade photo/video drone. It's not necessarily a part of my drone light projects but It’s small enough that I can take it everywhere without sacrificing much space.

How do you choose gear for different projects? 

For me, step one is to pre-meditate the project. It’s the same process as what an athlete does before they physically preform a trick. In my mind, I virtually process the shoot and think of all the details and tools I need to capture the perspective I desire. Step two is physically gathering the gear I pre-meditated and then grabbing alternative gear just in case my vision doesn't pan out.

Which piece of gear would you never leave at home? 

Lately I haven't left home without my Mavic drone. Mainly because its small yet so powerful and easy to use. I can get up in the air and fire off shots faster then mounting a camera on sticks. Plus I get the aerial perspective.

Does your gear sometimes take a pounding to get the shots you’re known for? 

Yes. I’m constantly pushing my drones to their max capabilities. Drones are notorious for rapid battery discharge in high altitude and cold temperature and thats when I put them to the test. I'm always putting stress on these mechanical creatures with hundreds of flight hours in every weather situation. Although, I still have a vigorous maintenance ritual to make sure my drones are in top shape for the next project. With drones, the slightest doubts can quickly turn into disasters so if theres a part in question I replace it immediately.

Any items you wish you could add to your bag?

I’m working on a drone light that is so bright it can illuminate large mountains. I’ll be using this for some future projects that are, at the moment, concealed of secrecy. 

Any tips for aspiring photographers? 

I believe if you can stand out from the crowed you will be successful. Be unique and try to think steps ahead of the trends. Drone crashes can get expensive and cause serious injury if not operated correctly. Be comfortable and confident in your abilities to operate a drone before jumping into light projects. Night flying takes a different skill set from day flying. Your perception of distance from you, the drone and subjects are misleading. For cameras, I suggest something that can provide exceptional results in low light scenarios but also accommodates high resolution capability. I’m a mirrorless guy so the Sony a7R II is my go-to. If I was on a budget I would look to the Sony a6500. It’s compact, 24.2mp, fast and a fraction of the cost versus the a7R II.

Craig's Gear: 

  • Sony A7Rii
  • Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G
  • Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM
  • Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA
  • Sony FE 16-35 f/4 ZA
  • Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 Sonnar T ZA
  • 3DR Solo x2
  • DJI Mavic Pro
  • GoPro Session + GoPro Hero4
  • Aputure Trigmaster +II
  • FoxFury Nomad Now + Rugo (x3)
  • Selens Light Modifiers

Check out Craig's website and make sure to give him a follow on Instagram.