Gabe Rogel: What's in the Bag?

Red Bull Illume’s exploration into the bags of action and adventure sports photographers continue, as we take a look at what photographer and filmmaker Gabe Rogel has stashed away.

© Gabe Rogel

How are those Sony bodies performing?
“Overall, I love them and use them for almost all my shooting. My fingers are crossed for a next-generation a7 body with ultra fast autofocus at 10+ frames per second. This will make me a very, very happy camper.”

Is there a special story behind the beanie?

“Ahahaha! I’ve always had a thing for wearing a goofy toque while skiing… even as a little kid. After failed attempts to be a bro bra in Jackson for 10 years (wearing fashionable beanies), I suppose I’m finding myself again in Washington by donning this thrift store find.”

If you had to pick only 3 items in your bag?
“In terms of camera gear, it would be my Sony a7R II, 24-70mm and 70-200mm… with the fisheye being an equally important contender.” 

Have you ever had to use your avalanche kit?
“I’ve had a small handful of very memorable close calls in the mountains, but thankfully none of them were avalanche related.”

Where was the most challenging location you had to shoot?
“Ooo… there have been a few. The overall commitment and physical demand of documenting a first ski descent on Tibet’s 8027 meter (26,335’), Shishapangma, would put that project atop the pedestal of most challenging locations I’ve shot. We spent 3 weeks hauling loads up the mountain, which, at altitude can take its toll. Due to forecasted trade winds coming in, we decided to make our summit attempt from Camp 2, skipping Camp 3.

Our summit day started around 2am and was of course extremely cold. Feeling like I’d drank a bottle of Jack (which I’ve never done) and puking near the summer, I clicked into my ultralight, 160cm skis, which felt like children’s skis. My partners, Mark Newcomb and Kent McBride, and I, then spent a couple hours traversing across Shishapangma’s north face… at 8000 meters. We then skied the Unche Couloir, that went something like this; turn, turn, turn, collapse and catch breath. Turn, turn, collapse and catch breath. Turn, turn, turn, collapse and catch breath. It felt good to come home…”

Gabe’s full gear list:

Sony a7R II
Sony a6300 (a6000 pictured)
Sony 28mm F2 with Fisheye Converter
Sony 24-70mm f2.8 (f4 pictured)
Sony 70-200mm f2.8 (f4 pictured)
Sony 55mm f1.8
Extra batteries
2-3 lens cloths
Sensor blower
Volkl Two Skis 186cm
Avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel
Marmot Armageddon gloves
Thrift store toque 
Clikelite Contrejour 35 pack

Check out the gallery below some of Gabe’s awesome images and head to his website and Instagram for more on his work.

Less than 3 weeks to go till the submissions for the world's greatest action and adventure sports photography contest close, so get your submissions in NOW! Download the Ultimate Guide to Red Bull Illume here and mark March 31, 2016 on your calendars!

Visit the Red Bull Illume Facebook page and check out our Instagram for regular updates. 

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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 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.

Flashback: Remember the first Red Bull Illume Category Winners?

It's been 10 years since the first-ever Red Bull Illume Winner Award Ceremony took place in Aspen, Colorado. To celebrate this momentous occassion, we're taking a look back at some of the defining moments in Red Bull Illume history!

Red Bull Illume 2007, wings, Andrew Brophy

© Fred Mortagne / Red Bull Illume

Let's take a look back at the 2007 Red Bull Illume Category Winners! 

Shown above is Fred Mortagne's (a.k.a. French Fred) shot of Andrew Brophy for the Wings category, a shot that eventually netted him the very-first Red Bull Illume Overall Winner trophy. 

Close-Up: Dawn Kish

Red Bull Illume 2007, close up, Dawn Kish

Culture (now known as Lifestyle): Desre Pickers

Red Bull Illume 2007, lifestyle, Desré Pickers

Energy: Thomas Stöckli

Red Bull Illume 2007, energy, Thomas Stöckli

Experimental (now known as Enhance): Tim McKenna

Red Bull Illume 2007, experimental, Tim McKenna

Illumination (now known as Masterpiece by Yodobashi): Gian Paul Lozza

Red Bull Illume 2007, illumination, Gian Paul Lozza

New Creativity: Jimmy Wilson

Red Bull Illume 2007, new creativity, Jimmy Wilson

Playground: Wojtek Antonow

Red Bull Illume 2007, playground, Wojtek Antonow

Sequence (now known as Sequence by Sony): David Blazek

Red Bull Illume 2007, sequence, David Blažek

Spirit: Brian Bielmann

Red Bull Illume 2007, spirit, Brian Bielmann

Red Bull Illume – 10 Year Anniversary

Celebrating a decade of the world’s greatest action and adventure sports photography.

Red Bull Illume 2010: Chris Burkard, Illumination category winner

© Chris Burkard / Red Bull Illume

On this day, 10 years ago, the winner award ceremony for the very first Red Bull Illume contest was held in Aspen, Colorado. At the time, action and adventure sports photography was typically found in niche publications and rarely gained the momentum to reach the masses. It was hard to tell whether the emerging art form could hold its own on the global stage of photography, but there was only one way to find out.

With over 7,000 submitted images in the first contest alone, Red Bull Illume quickly surged in popularity. Having returned every three years since, the most recent edition saw almost 35,000 submissions from 5,642 photographers in 120 different countries. Over the last decade, the competition has exhibited the finalist’s images at 21 tour stops in cultural hubs across Europe, the UK, the USA and Canada. The response has been amazing.

There is a famous saying that goes; ‘if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ In many ways, the same can be said for photographers. Their ability to capture unique moments in a single frame doesn’t just validate an adventure; it immortalizes it. After all, who else would witness a skier’s first descent of an untouched mountain, or document a BMX crew on a 4am mission to downtown New York?

The talent behind the lens is often as important as the athletes in front of it. To capture a great action shot, the photographer must truly understand the sport itself. They must know the composition, perspective, timing and form for every conceivable stunt. Often, they must take risks and put their photography before their comfort. Most importantly, they support the athletes every step of the way. The photographer motivates them when they’re scared, consoles them when they’re hurt and shares the thrill of victory when the battle is won. They really are the unsung heroes of action and adventure sports.

The aim of Red Bull Illume is to give light to those who document the extraordinary. Without them, there would be no way to expose the incredible subcultures that thrive in the hidden corners of our world. Ulrich Grill, founder of Red Bull Illume says: ‘There is a whole lot more to life than wealth and possessions. It’s the experiences we have that matter most; and that’s exactly what Red Bull Illume sets out to do. By showcasing these beautiful moments and promoting our engagement with the great outdoors, we can create a like-minded community of individuals who share a hunger for adventure.’ 

As an anonymously judged contest with a global audience, anyone can participate and anyone can win. Lorenz Holder, two-time winner of Red Bull Illume says: “The contest gave me the confidence to believe in my work and it was a great platform to demonstrate my take on action sports photography. It had a major impact on my photography career. My photos were seen by a huge number of people and I received interview requests and job offers from all around the world. I’m really happy that there is a photo competition like Red Bull Illume.”

For its vision, Red Bull Illume has gained widespread success and is honored to support and promote talented photographers around the world. It is of course those with the cameras who bring action and adventure sports to life. In the future, the hope is for Red Bull Illume to become one of the most globally recognised photography contests. It has been an incredible 10 years and in some ways, an adventure of its own. Here’s to many more!

Want to have a look through Red Bull Illume history? Check out our Gallery

Killer shots

During the making of one image he wanted to kill the photographer. In another he was worried about killing himself. Senad Grosic gives us the lowdown of being the subject of Red Bull Illume winner Lorenz Holder’s Masterpiece by Yodobashi and Playground shots.

© Lorenz Holder / Red Bull Illume

So it’s no secret that you guys spent some time cleaning leaves from the lake?

Oh, I hated him for this! Lorenz I love you but I hate you. It was 5:00am in the morning. I had these fishing boots on and a net and it was -4ºC.  We were there for three / four / five hours. At this moment I was like, Lorenz how can you put so much love and effort and time into one picture? The whole situation was messed up. It was crazy to do this all for one shot. I laugh now every time I tell the story. It took three days to clean the lake, then half an hour to make the picture. 

But it was worth it in the end? 

Oh definitely. We had a really good time. I knew the picture would be good but not that it would be that good! I was super happy to help him.

How is it to work with Lorenz? 

I really love to work with passionate photographers. It’s so good to have someone who is like you on a bike but with a camera. (I would do a trick 100 times to make it perfect.) To see how much power and energy [Lorenz] puts into one shot? It’s crazy. I have super respect for him. 

Did you try other tricks?

The bridge was quite rocky and not a nice bridge to ride. I tried a few tricks but this one looked the best. 

What about the Playground shot of you on that surreal steel structure?

It was way tougher than the bridge because it was really high. I’m not straight on the railing but just behind it. It was super small and slim and we built a small table just behind in case – I really didn’t want to slide out and fall 15m down. Lorenz was like, ‘can you do it’? I was like, ‘yes I can,’ but it was really f*cked up. I would not do it again! I was really scared as it was quite risky. But it’s done and I’m happy we did it.

We’re guessing you did it just one time?

I told Lorenz: ‘I’m not going to do it 100 times. You have to get the shot in one go.’ Just imagine looking at your front tire and 15m down! Afterwards I realised how much more dangerous it was. 

How important is photography to you?

It’s very important! When you land a trick and there’s another guy who appreciates it so much they capture this one special thing in a unique way? This perfect moment of you on your bike is the best thing you can have in life.

What’s your feeling on Red Bull Illume? Have you seen other images in the contest? 

I was in Chicago for the Winner Award Ceremony, so I’ve seen the other images. I would not want to be a judge! I think they’re all winners. It’s just crazy, every single picture is more than beautiful. I love the contest. It’s just unbelievable how many good young photographers are out there – they’re like athletes, just with cameras.

The Winner’s Circle: Vegard Aasen

We caught up with Norwegian photographer Vegard Aasen to discuss the Chicago Winner Award Ceremony and to talk about his winning shot from the Red Bull Illume mobile category.

© Lucas Gilman

How did it feel to win the mobile category? Did it come as a surprise?

Well, it was awesome. It´s not every day I get to win a category in the world’s biggest action sports photo contest. It was a surprise, yes. The other finalists could all have won. But when I made it to the finals, I thought that I had a good chance. If I´m in the top 5, why not win? 

Tell us about the shot.

Last winter some friends and I went to Hakuba in Japan to ski some deep powder and big mountains. The day this shot was taken was a really windy one but the snow was still really good, so we went out into the backcountry. One of my friends brought his DSLR camera, so I decided to not bring my camera because I wanted to ski instead of taking photos.

We hiked for a while, and discovered a group hiking across the ridge above us. The wind and the clouds looked amazing, so my friend took out his camera and started shooting. I hated myself for not bringing my camera. Luckily I had my mobile phone in my pocket. I could not see anything on the screen, but obviously managed to aim pretty well.

How was Chicago for you?

Chicago was great! It was my first time over there, so I had a good time exploring the city. The event itself was amazing. Cool workshops, good food and great people. The ceremony and the exhibition is something I’ll never forget. 

Did you get to know any of the other finalists?

Yeah, of course. The event was pretty social, so I had plenty of time to get to know some of the other photographers there. It was really cool to get to know some of the photographers that had inspired me even before I knew what Red Bull Illume was.

Do you have any favourite memories from the award ceremony?

The moment they said I was the category winner is hard to forget. My first thought was: "Oh no, now I have to get up on that stage and come up with something to say". The moment when they Illuminated the exhibition was also a pretty cool. Suddenly the whole Millennium Park was lit up by the pictures. 

What does Red Bull Illume mean for you?

It was a big inspiration. Even if it was the mobile category, it kind of showed me that my pictures can "compete" on an international level. So I guess Red Bull Illume gave me a confidence boost.

What kind of an impact do you think mobile photography has on the photography world?

The phones are getting better and better, and now the mobile camera is sufficient for most people. Because everybody brings their phones with them all the time, anyone can be a photographer without buying expensive cameras. And there’s less chance you will miss a great shot because you’ll always have a camera in your pocket. 

Do you think mobile photography will become more common in action sports?

For most people, yes. For professionals, not so much. The mobile cameras will never get as good as the professional cameras. But we will see more and more great action shots as mobile cameras continue to get better. And as I mentioned before, the mobile camera will always be in your pocket if your main camera is back at home. 

What do you think is next for action sports photography?

That´s a difficult question. We’ll probably see more low light action, like the northern lights surfing shot that Emil Sollie and Mats Grimsæth just did. We’ll probably see more drone shots as well. 

Any future plans or projects?

My friend and I have just started up a photography/film production company, so that´s the big project now. This winter we´re going to work a lot with skiing. I´m also just getting into using flashes outside in action sports, which is a new learning process for me. A future plan is of course to make it to the finals of Red Bull Illume in 2019. 

Check out the gallery below for a sneak peek at one of his latest projects. Dig Vegard's work? Head over to the Gallery and vote for him for the Public Choice Award. 

Why Ride - A Tribute to Life

After almost a year of hard work and planning, Lucho Vidales' Why Ride Project is nearing completion! Our partner broncolor caught up with him to talk about what went into getting this project off the ground.

© Lucho Vidales

On November of 2015, Lucho Vidales, Xué Gil and Martin Postigo combined their passions without really knowing what would come out from it.

In the beginning, they were heading on a trip to shoot a series of BMX pictures with a medium format camera at different rare locations in between the cities of Granada and Malaga in Spain.

Then, just over a week before they were about to start their journey. On the evening of November 13th, the world was shaken once again by terrorists attacks in Paris. Amongst the victims that day at Ba-Ta-Clan was Mathias Dymarski ( BMX rider and friend of Martin) as well as his girlfriend Marie Lausch.

Several months earlier, Mathias and Martin were riding together at many of the spots they were planning to shoot at, and despite the circumstances the guys decided to continue with the shoot.

Now their project has turned into a tribute to life; too often challenges and loses are viewed as an excuse for failure or as a way to justify unproductivity and idleness. Martin's dedication showed us, that hard times that life throws at us can lead to great outcomes, if we can focus our energy in the right way.

“I called Martin, not sure what to expect, but he chose to move forwards with the project. We arrived on Thursday, the 19th and began shooting the following morning. Days passed and I was very happy with the material, but when Martin left a message for Mathias on a wall at one of the sites, I began to realize he was paying his friend a tribute through our project," says Lucho. 

"I instantly felt profoundly connected to him and the way that he reacted to the situation – deciding to continue with the project despite regrettable circumstances. Seven years ago I too lost someone close to me, but instead of letting it destroy me, I discovered my passion for photography, and it took me to where I am today."

“Why Ride was a great opportunity to do something productive with our passions and everyone involved in the project showed that."  

"We want to keep pushing this further; make Why Ride as big as possible, to create a lasting impact and perhaps even develop it into an annual project and encourage others to follow in our foot steps. I think in this we have an important lesson to teach others. Too often challenges and losses are viewed as an excuse for failure or as a way to justify unproductivity and idleness. Martin’s dedication reminded me once again that the worst obstacles and hard times that life throws at us can lead to great and inspiring outcomes if we can find it in ourselves to focus our energy in the right ways."

To learn more about the Why Ride Project, head over to the website and make sure to follow the project on Facebook

Meet the star of THAT fall

South African climber Jamie Smith relives that fall – and explains why it’s important for photographers to capture moments like this.

© Micky Wiswedel / Red Bull Illume

How was that fall for you?

It was terrifying for sure, and huge, but it was fairly safe because the wall is so steep. I also had a great belayer who would jump up as the rope caught me. This meant the fall was pretty soft. But yeah if things went wrong, there was a chance that you would swing into the rock and smash yourself up. In fact, when Alex Honnold was here, he bruised his ankle pretty badly falling from exactly the same place.

Walk us through what happened? 

This was a project of mine on Table Mountain that I was trying. It’s this beautiful wall of rock with a blank overhanging prow that has no gear for about five meters. The climbing there is tricky and the holds run out right at the top so I had to get my feet up really high and do this off balance jump to the final hold. I knew that if I missed it, I would kick off backwards.

Did you scream? 

I can’t remember. I think I was too scared to scream! Screaming is a funny thing – sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. And when it happens my mates like to remind me about it afterwards.

What did you think when you first saw the image? 

Yeah the image is amazing. It far exceeded my expectations. It’s a really difficult position to shoot from because the rock is in shade but the background is super bright. I thought I would be silhouetted, so Micky did a great job balancing the exposures. The image also captures both the scale of the fall and the sense of weightlessness that I felt moments before the acceleration kicked in. I knew it was a great shot when I saw it.

As a climber, would you prefer that falls are not shown? 

On the contrary. I think falling off is an important part of climbing. I fall off a lot and I embrace it. I wouldn’t have managed to climb many of these hard routes if I hadn’t been prepared to take falls like this while trying. Falling is actually quite complex, both technically and mentally, and it’s something you need to practice all the time, otherwise it can be a real mental block and limits progress. The more you fall, the more you learn what is safe and what is not. This is super important for risk assessment. You also become better at focusing on the climbing rather than the fear of falling. It’s really rewarding being able to stay calm and focused, while climbing at your absolute limit. 

What makes a great climbing shot in your view? 

A great shot captures the movement and emotion of the climber and the aesthetics of the climb and setting. Bum shots, taken from below, really annoy me.
Can you give a sense of what it takes to be a climbing photographer? Climbing photography takes a huge amount of effort and skill. To get a good shot, the photographer needs to get in position above or to the side of the climber and they need to be able to move around while hanging on a rope. This normally involves either climbing a route or abseiling in from the top. 

They need to be able to ascend and descend the ropes as the climber moves and must be comfortable operating a camera and changing lenses high above the ground, without dropping anything. They also need to control their swing on the rope, which takes a fair amount of core strength. They have to understand what the climber will to do next and what positions look good in a photo. Basically, they need to be a pretty good climber themselves, which Micky is. He had to climb up a route next to me and dangle there for a few hours until the light was good enough to shoot.

Have you come across Red Bull Illume before? 

No I hadn’t but I think it’s awesome to see a role reversal where the photographer gets the limelight. All too often the athlete gets all the glory. Micky is a good friend of mine so I am super psyched for him. 

The Winner's Circle: Daniel Vojtech

Czech photographer Dan Vojtěch is one of the more creative action sports photographers working today – three of the 11 finalist images in the New Creativity category were his. He also won the category last time. He tells us why photographers need to train like athletes – and what skill separates the pros from the amateurs.

© Lucas Gilman

You need to train like an athlete? 

With GoPros and smartphones, everyone’s a photographer. It’s a bit scary, the game is changing so much. You need to stay ahead. You have to improve your level. Cameras are much better now, they shoot in the dark, they’re smaller, you can mount them everywhere and now there are drones which are cheaper and smaller. We see many more photos. 

So how do you stay ahead? 

You have to shoot a lot. It’s like practice, it’s like sport. If you don’t train, you won’t be any good. It’s the same with photography.

What distinguishes the pros from a good amateur?

The best athletes sometimes risk their lives doing tricks. You just have one attempt. If you don’t capture it, you miss it. So those athletes will always prefer professional photographers because they guarantee not just the quality, but to not miss the shot. It’s easy to create one good shot. If you’re an amateur and using a cellphone, and you shoot 100,000 photos, there will be two to three good ones. But if you’re a pro, you need to shoot 10 and have three that are good. For action photography, you need this quality. 

Tell us about your Sequence shot: 

I love concepts, creating stories… The plane was quite small – it was not built for tall people like me! I’m 193cm and it was quite hard to fit inside. But it was a great experience. The action was amazing. I was in the rear plane and the plane in front made a circle. It seems quite far away because I’m using a fisheye, but actually it was only a few meters! 

Did your stomach flip? 

No! I’d already done a few flights with the Flying Bulls in aerobatic planes – I knew what to expect. 

You must be really pleased to win. Again! 

It’s an amazing feeling because it’s like the Olympic Games for photographers. There are thousands of submitted photos, so it’s an amazing feeling to be in the top 11. 

What do you think of the other shots in the contest?

I liked Victor Sukhorukov’s Masterpiece shot of the lighthouse BASE jumper. It’s a really nice picture, nice atmosphere. But all of them are amazing. Every photographer has a unique style and it’s nice to see that. I can’t shoot surfing or motorsports, so it’s nice to see things I cannot do! 

Is Red Bull Illume important to a photographer like yourself?

It’s kind of [acknowledgement] that you are doing a good job. It’s important. It’s not easy to be a photographer. But Red Bull Illume is a big motivation to do other projects – that’s the most important thing. If you win, it’s a big motivation! 

What recent projects have you been working on? 

I was in Hawaii for the Ironman championships. I created a concept to shoot athletes on a large format polaroid camera which was a bit different.

It’s not easy to shoot with this big camera and the athletes were doing a lot of photoshoots and were stressed. But after they saw the image, they were super pleased. It was a great project: there’s almost no value to digital images; you can print many times. But with Polaroid, you only have one moment to capture the image and you have just one print – if you lose or destroy it, it’s gone. 

Kelvin Trautman: What's in the Bag?

The Red Bull Illume mobile category finalist talks us through what he takes on his back.

© Kelvin Trautman

Seems as though there’s as much adventure gear there as camera stuff?

To date, a lot of my work has involved following athletes to remote locations, which means I have to be physically prepared and have the right gear to capture what I need to. I really enjoy this participatory approach.

What gear did you start out with? 

It was during my sailing days – I did a four-year yacht racing stint, which took me around the world and made me enough money to buy some decent camera equipment. The first camera was a Canon 40D and one wide-angle lens. I shot a lot of onboard shoot briefs at the time but I didn’t really have money to afford waterproof housings so I had my gear wrapped in ziplock bags and duct tape – needless to say that green corrosion became a feature on most of my camera gear. 

Any specific reason why you use Nikon cameras?

When all my gear got stolen in South Africa. A determined thief scaled a three story drain pipe, climbed in a window and left with all my camera equipment. I wrote to Canon and Nikon asking for help and Nikon came back with a good deal. I’ve been with them ever since. 

Is there one piece of gear you wouldn’t leave home without?

It would probably be the Nikon D500, the one I took to Iceland and a 50mm prime lens. Having less gear is not always a bad thing –  it means your camera bag is lighter and you are forced to be more creative when taking pictures

What item do you wish you could add to your bag?

A packable drone that shoots medium format images. Most of my photography is about putting humans in perspective in mother nature and aerial images are a great way to show scale. With the advances in technology, this could be a reality soon. Exciting times!

Check out what Kelvin Trautman carried with him on his recent Iceland trip! 

1. Nikon D5002. Nikon 14-24mm3. Nikon 70-200mm4. Nikon 16mm fisheye5. iPhone6. Llama Bars - nougat snack bars7. Spot tracker 8. Favorite sun hat9. Silva Head torch10. Salomon waterproof shell jacket11. Gloves12. Salomon running shoes13. Water bottle14. Stuff sacks