In the game: athletes as photographers

Action sports athletes spend their whole careers provoking the camera. Competition shots. Trophy shots. Sponsor shots. Training shots, on- and off-season. Lifestyle shots. And maybe once in a while, they're part of those dream shoots that really define who they are and why they got so passionate about that sport in the first place. Careers are built upon achievements, epic journeys they managed to fund, and the images that tell their story.

The photographers shooting them are normally their buddies, those who competed too but got injured, those who realized that they maybe had more talent behind the camera. But what's really interesting is when a top athlete gets into the photography game. Red Bull Illume got in contact with a selection of inspiring athletes who went out of the spotlight and into the darkroom. Read on to find out about their careers and see a selection of their portfolios.

Explorers

Jimmy Chin is an accomplished climber, mountaineer, skier and photographer. He has organized and participated in numerous climbing, ski-mountaineering and exploratory expeditions to Tibet, China, Pakistan, Nepal, Tanzania, Mali, South Africa and Argentina. His achievements include climbing first ascents of big walls and alpine towers in the Karakoram Mountains of Pakistan; crossing the Chang Tang Plateau in north-western Tibet on foot; and attempting the direct North face of Mount Everest, alpine style. Jimmy has been featured in numerous publications, including National Geographic, Outside and Men's Journal, and has been voted as one of the world’s most eligible bachelors by People magazine.

"There’s no way I could have the career I have as a photographer or filmmaker without going to college" says Chin. "People always ask me what they can do to be a successful photographer. I often say that the education I got, and being able to be a critical thinker and being able to write and communicate clearly, and organize thoughts - all of those things are hugely important".

Thomas Ulrich was born in 1967 in Interlaken, Switzerland, where he lives with his wife, Aasta, and their three daughters. Thomas is a carpenter, mountain guide, filmmaker and self-taught professional photographer who is known for his shots of extreme climbing, BASE jumping, paragliding, kitesailing and freeskiing shots as well as his pictures from mountaineering expeditions in Patagonia, Greenland, California and the North Pole. Thomas's photography was published in issues of "Alpinist" and "Lightning Strikes Last". He works on assignment with clients such as Patagonia and Mammut, and his work has appeared in print for Transworld Snowboarding, Life Magazine, National Geographic Magazine and Black Diamond Equipment. One of his shots was awarded a special mention in the 2003 Banff Mountain Photography Competition. In the future Thomas will be pointing his camera on nature, landscapes and the human element more than on extreme sports. He also has been working more as a cameraman and filmmaker. He also reached the Red Bull Illume Top 50 in 2007.

"I am often asked about my main profession. Well, I think I don't need to decide for just one category" explains Ulrich. "But I learned that many people do have a problem with this, because they can hardly pigeon-hole me. My motto to reach the optimum is simple: everything I do, I do with 100 per cent."

Snowboarders

Andrew Wilz was on the snowboard world cup circuit for 13 years as a Super-G specialist on the PTSA, also including apperance on the Mountain Dew Pro-In-The-Snow tour, the Grundig Invitational and the U.S. Open.

"Getting into the sport from the ground-up when it was banned at every resort in the country, and then watching it slowly gain acceptance and work its way around the planet was interesting," says Wilz.

Turning to photography was a logical step and he has worked with Outside magazine, ESPN, New Balance and Patagonia and had his work published in the Red Bull Illume 2010 Photobook.

"Photo-wise, I point the camera where i'm asked. I shoot commercial running and associated lifestyle with more serious budgets, and mountain bike and ski and some surf with less-serious budgets. I cast, location-scout, produce and direct with my own group, and live for working with amazing clients. The dream-job is actually shooting F1 though!"

Skateboarders

Philipp Schuster was born in 1984 in Vienna, Austria, and has been skating since 1998. He was awarded with "Skateboarder of the Year 2006" and "Rookie of the Year 2006", and has become a successful and regular participant of the X-Games. He is also photographer and editor of the skatemagazine Trottoir.

"I really don’t know where my passion for photography comes from" says Schuster. "I bought myself a professional camera in 2004, and since then I am trying to improve. Today, I am completely mad about photography."

Surfers

Joe Curren is the youngest son of legendary 1950’s surfing pioneer Pat Curren, Joe uses his camera to capture profound yet often-overlooked facets of the surfing journey and beyond. Born in 1973 in Santa Barbara and raised surfing the classic California point breaks of Roncon and The Ranch, Joe spent his younger years earning a reptuation of his own as a world class surfer and far-flung traveller. His older brother Tom, three-time world champion in the 1980’s, not only allowed Joe access to the elite of surfing but also instilled in him an irrevocable sense of style, both understated and moving, which he translated from his surfing into his photography.

"At first I documented my travels with little more than a disposable point and shoot camera" says Curren. "However, after a trip to New Zealand in 1999 – when I was especially pleased with the results – I decided to invest in a basic 35mm rig that I packed alongside my surfboards and wetsuits".

Ryan Cardone is a professional longboarder turned photographer. After traveling to many inspirational places, he decided to pursue a degree in photography. He graduated from Brooks Institute of Photography with a degree in Commercial Photography. Now he works as a freelance photographer and co-owner of Tidal Advertising and Tidalstock.com.

"I wanted to start a stock photography company that captures the intense influence the ocean has had in my life", says Cadone. "TidalStock.com makes available to the public the peace and serenity as well as excitement and exhilaration the World's oceans have brought to me. My love for the ocean and photography has enabled me to capture a unique and different approach to shooting commercial photography. I see every photograph as a work of art that expresses emotions".

MTB

Sven Martin’s father was a professional photographer on the side, so his first experience with a camera was with his manual high end Canon gear. "I like to trail ride and downhill whenever I can squeeze it in. Often impossible on back to back weekends" says Martin. He still likes to push himself to the limit in the odd race too. Be it in DH or Mega style Enduro DH. Then surfing and skateboarding when times and locations and travel logistics allow. Being on the road for long periods with all the camera gear, multiple bikes, surfboards wetsuits and skateboards is a logistical and excess baggage problem. "I have skate and surf boards, wetsuits and riding and camera gear (helmets, shoes, tripods, etc) stashed on 3 different continents. Half the time I still have a pack on the back with a point and shoot, you never know when that shot will present itself" Martin explains.

"Thanks to all the great riders out there that push themselves and the sport in new directions everyday. We as photographers are blessed to doucument our sports metamorphosis for posterity’s sake. And thanks to all the other photographer and filmer friends on the hill that help pass the time in the dreary wet dark cold mountainous race conditions".

Ski jumpers

Born 7 January 1990, the Austrian Gregor Schlierenzauer is currently one of the world's top ski jumpers. He began his senior career in 2005-06 with one win and three additional podiums in the Ski Jumping Grand Prix, and made his World Cup debut in 2005-06 World Cup. Despite his young age, Schlierenzauer has 35 World Cup victories, only four people have won more. At the beginning of the 2010-11 World Cup, Schlierenzauer suffered an injury and he missed two of four events at Four Hills Tournament. He was out of form, but he fought back taking two victories at Vikersund ski flying hill and later achieved his career's best result winning three gold medals at FIS Nordic World Ski Championships 2011 at Holmenkollen in Oslo. He is also holder of the Austrian Record of 243.5 meters, which means the second longest flight in the world.

Schlierenzauer recently had his first exhibition "Snapshot" in October 2010 at the Studio Kasulke in Vienna.

"I started with photography in 2008. It's absolutely cool, when you're constantly on the run and able to take snapshots whereever you are. This is a great way how to make great emotions last longer" Schlierenzauer explains. "For me it´s like a diary with which I want to show other people, my family and fans what it’s like to live as a professional athlete."

Check out the gallery for a selection of these athletes-turned-photographers and their work. Red Bull Illume has an exclusive interview with the explorer Jimmy Chin coming soon.

Read the latest stories

The New Red Bull Illume Best of Instagram by SanDisk Category Starts Today!

Submit your most gram-worthy adventure and action sports images on Instagram by tagging @redbullillume and #rbi19submission now!

Photographer: Corey Wilson Red Bull Illume 2016 Category: Spirit Athlete: Mick Fanning Location: O'ahu, Hawaii, USA

Photographer: Corey Wilson Red Bull Illume 2016 Category: Spirit Athlete: Mick Fanning Location: O'ahu, Hawaii, USA

Red Bull Illume, the world´s greatest adventure and action sports imagery contest, returns for a fifth edition with the entirely new Best of Instagram by SanDisk category which starts today! This category is for photographers most gram-worthy moments of show-stopping adventure and action sports submitted on Instagram. This category begins on February 1, 2019 which is three months earlier than the submission phase for the main contest and each month a winner will be chosen by the community. However, and this is important, the category is an essential part of the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019 and is not separate to the main contest.

From February to June 2019, photographers can submit their images within the first two weeks of each month, from noon on the 1st until noon on the 14th (CET). They only need to tag @redbullillume and use the hashtag #rbi19submission in the caption on their Instagram post. After the submission phase a shortlist of 25 images will enter the public vote (link to page) which is open from noon on the 15th until noon on the 22nd (CET) of each month. The monthly winner will be announced at the end of the month.

Best of Instagram by SanDisk is considered as an official Image Quest 2019 category; the five monthly winning images will automatically qualify as one of the 55 finalist images of the overall contest and will be on display at the Exhibit Tour. Winning photographers will also be invited to the Winner Award Ceremony at the end of November 2019 and have the chance to become the category winner as well as the overall winner of Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019.

Remember, Best of Instagram by SanDisk means exactly that; the Best of Instagram.  If a photographer has a great image that’s not best suited to the Instagram category, no problem. From May 1 until July 31, 2019 this image can be submitted to the main contest with 10 other categories that make up the Image Quest 2019.

So, whether you’re an amateur or professional photographer it’s time to submit your images!

Make sure to tag @redbullillume and #rbi19submission to enter!

Red Bull Illume is back! And it’s easier than ever to enter

Red Bull Illume begins again – the contest that was already at the pinnacle of adventure and action sports photography is taking things even higher.

© Chris Burkard / Red Bull Illume

Good news, photography fans: Red Bull Illume returns – and it’s better than ever.  The adventure and action sports imagery contest has evolved – but it’s still the ultimate window into the world of outdoor athletes and the incredible lives of those who document them.

Two incredible new submission categories
There’s two great new categories (yes, including one for video) that bring new challenges to image creators everywhere – and inviting a whole new world of incredible action into the Red Bull Illume ecosystem. The next new category brings some of the best news – it’s easier than ever to enter! For the new Instagram by SanDisk category, with just two tags - @redbullillume and #rbi19submission -on your most gram-worth shots, you’re in – it’s that easy. Learn more here – and start submitting your best Insta stuff ASAP!

Submissions start May 1 – but Instagram by SanDisk starts sooner

For the general contest, the submission period opens on May 1, and ends July 31. As in years past, just register here at redbullillume.com to submit your images for the contest. But for the contest category Best of Instagram by SanDisk, you can start tagging and submitting as soon as February 1 – more on that here.

New Partners arrive, good friends return

A contest of this scale simply wouldn’t be possible without some help from our friends – we’re happy to say that Sonyis on board as a major sponsor, specifically for the Innovation by Sony category – as well SanDisk standing strongly behind the Instagram by SanDisk category.

Other sponsors include Skylum – producers of next-generation photo-editing software – and photography accessory and apparel brand COOPH.

The categories of competition

One of the defining marks that set Red Bull Illume apart as a photo contest was the unique categories for submission. These carefully chosen themes helped shape the atmosphere of the contest, challenged photographers, and helped judges narrow down their selections from thousands of incredible images.

2019 Categories

  • Creative
  • Energy
  • Innovation by Sony
  • Playground
  • Wings
  • Spirit
  • Masterpiece
  • Moving Images
  • Instagram by SanDisk
  • Raw
  • Emerging

A quick note: Raw is a category for images is aptly named after industry term for files ‘straight out of camera’ – RAW. Distilling the requirements means no post-processing – so it’s all about it getting the shot, in camera. Composition, exposure, timing. How good can you get?

The Emerging category is something we’re particularly excited about – it’s for content creators aged 25 and under, who we believe bring a fresh new look to photography and imaging.

Red Bull Illume – now every two years & global exhibitions

2019 marks the fifth edition of the contest, which began in 2006. We’re happy to announce that Red Bull Illume will now happen a little more regularly – with submission phases opening up every other year, with exhibition years following. Exhibitions will be more global than ever before, with three tours running in parallel, including both the famous nighttime outdoor exhibitions, and the new indoor exhibitions – all touching down in capitals and cultural hubs worldwide.

The best Red Bull Illume yet

With all these changes – plus all the stunning images Red Bull Illume photographers have been shooting over the last 2.5 years – we’re absolutely confident this will be the best Red Bull Illume yet. So, don’t waste any time – start shooting and gathering your images for submission now – and maybe drop a couple into the Best of Instagram category right away!

For up-to-date information on the Best of Instagram, make sure you're following Red Bull Illume!

Infographic: Your guide to Red Bull Illume 2019!

The Red Bull Illume Image Quest is back for more! With new categories, new submission dates and more. To help you keep up, we have put everything you need to know in 2019 into one handy infographic!

For up to the minute updates - follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Youtube!

Video Teaser: Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019

Red Bull Illume is back! The world's greatest adventure and actions sports imagery contest returns in 2019 for a 5th edition... and this one is set to be better than ever!

In this video we introduce to you what’s new, what’s returning and how to enter the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019!

We are social! Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Youtube!

Gallery: 9 Ice Cold Images from Red Bull Illume History

Shooting epic photography in icy conditions is challenging, but that makes it even more rewarding. Here's 9 of the most stunning ice images from Red Bull Illume history that show you why!

© Kirsten Quist / Red Bull Illume

Shooting epic photography in icy conditions can be one of the most challenging yet rewarding jobs in all of adventure and action sports. Whether you’re in an ice cave, or climbing the north face of a mountain, it’s definitely not an activity for the sun chasers among us. Ice formations and landscapes, however, provide one of the purest aesthetics in photography. Add to this a human aspect, and suddenly you have a powerful visual metaphor of the relationship between people and nature. So, find a warm space, get comfortable, and enjoy this gallery of 9 of the most stunning ice images from Red Bull Illume history!

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

A new year, a new Red Bull Illume!

A new year is upon us – and this new year brings a lot of change to the most respected Image Quest in the adventure and action sports world.

Red Bull Illume 2013: Morgan Maassen, Lifestyle category winner

© Morgan Maassen / Red Bull Illume

The first Red Bull Illume edition happened in 2006 – and while it’s just over a decade ago, it’s safe to say the world of photography has changed significantly in that time. How? Let’s talk about it.

The first ‘digital’ photo contest

The first Red Bull Illume that spread across 2006 and 2007 was a smashing success – largely thanks a revolution in print-quality digital photography. The ability to shoot practically unlimited amounts of images with no concern for the amount of film to develop brought down the cost and difficulty of photography. This meant that adventure and action sports – typically happening in far away or difficult to access places, with the key moment only happening for an instant – saw a flood of incredible images from established photographers, and new ones.  While images shot on film were (and still are) by all means allowed, the digital revolution played no small part in the number of images taken and shared – and seen. Why? Because in 2007, the smartphone appeared – ushering in a totally new era of media consumption.

A new standard set, a global audience

Coupled with an explosion of interest in adventure and action sports, Red Bull Illume quickly gained notoriety as the place to see incredible images. The number of submissions grew ever higher, and so did the standards – to make it as a finalist, an image had to be not great, but unforgettable. The unique ten-category format gave images the opportunity to uniquely stand out from other similarly fantastic images – and what quickly became clear at the global exhibit tours was that people couldn’t get enough of great photography.

The ultimate career Launchpad

For young, aspiring photographers looking to make their name in an increasingly competitive industry, Red Bull Illume became a take-off point – finalist images caught the eyes of photo editors and marketing managers everywhere. Surf photographer Chris Burkard’s winning image from 2010, entitled ‘The Perfect Day’, established him as one of the most widely-known surf photographers on the planet.

Working for the photos

In 2013, a sharp eye would notice a slight shift in the best photos: rather than submitting their best shots from being at the right place at the right time, photographers were going out to shoot specifically for the contest. It was in this edition that we saw the first winning image from German photographer Lorenz Holder, whose images are notable for the amount of research and work that goes into making them happen. With an eye for finding unique landmarks to frame his action, plenty of planning, and some patience he’s managed to take home top honors for the last two contests in 2013 and 2016.

Bigger, better, broader

Like the art of creating images, Red Bull Illume has done nothing other than evolve. As the numbers of photos being submitted grew, so did the contest change. In 2016, an 11th category was added, in fitting with the times: the mobile category. This category is for shots taken only on a phone, challenging photographers to think beyond their equipment and truly get to the photo itself. As a result, the fourth edition saw a record 34,624 breathtaking images submitted by 5,646 photographers from 120 countries.

2019 will mark the fifth edition of the contest, and after a three-year break, we can’t wait to see what images are out there simply waiting to be seen. And in the spirit of evolution, this year’s contest will bring some unique new challenges. Exactly what? You’ll have to stay tuned to find out.

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

Gallery: 12 Mountain Sports Images That Will Light Up LUMEN!

To celebrate the opening of an exhibition of the world’s greatest mountain sports photography from the four previous editions of Red Bull Illume at the brand-new LUMEN - Museum of Mountain Photography, we wanted to give you a little teaser of what visitors will see.

© Christian Pondella / Red Bull Illume

So here we present a selection of 12 of the images that will be lighting up the ‘Adrenaline Room’ for the next three years! The museum is now open, so get your adventure gear out and meet us at the peak to see the rest of the exhibition set against the incredible backdrop of the Alps!

Red Bull Illume enlightens the new LUMEN - Museum of Mountain Photography with a permanent exhibition

The new partnership of Red Bull Illume and LUMEN will include the opening of a permanent exhibition to display the world´s greatest mountain sports photography from all four previous editions of the Red Bull Illume Image Quest.

Mountain life is something deeply ingrained in human history. For hundreds of years, men and women have tried to tell the story of this ever-changing landscape by capturing light through photography; a story in which adventure and action sports photography has played a large part. Now this story has a home; LUMEN – the Museum of Mountain Photography which opens its doors on December 20, 2018. On this note, Red Bull Illume, the world’s greatest adventure and action sports photography contest is delighted to announce its new partnership with the LUMEN Museum.

Located on the top of Mount Kronplatz-Plan de Corones at an altitude of 2,275m, the Lumen Museum lies in the heart of the South Tyrolean Alps and the Italian Dolomites. The legendary Kronplatz offers 119 kilometers of ski slopes, attracting thousands of visitors every day during the winter season. In summer, the resort transforms into a colorful paradise for mountain bikers and hiking enthusiasts. Best of all, LUMEN is perfectly located next to the Messner Mountain Museum, just a few hundred meters away on a neighboring peak.

The museum will showcase a range of stunning mountain photography from different perspectives such as alpinism, tourism, politics, spirituality and history. Visitors of the museum will be treated to a captivating exhibition space which spans the past, present and future of mountain photography. All of this is set against the incredible backdrop of the Alps and the museum’s stunning architecture.

The new partnership of Red Bull Illume and LUMEN will include the opening of a permanent exhibition to display the world's greatest mountain sports photography from all four previous editions of the Red Bull Illume Image Quest. This unique exhibit will be found in the museum’s mind blowing ‘Adrenaline Room’. In total, around 50 images and videos will be displayed on lightboxes and screens, providing an interactive digital experience that is both visual and audible. The exhibition will run for an initial three years and guarantees an unforgettable visit to a truly innovative exhibition space.

The LUMEN Museum at an enormous 1,800m2 in size will also act as an event venue perfect for conferences, product launch events, seminars or workshops. Additionally, visitors can dine in the AlpiNN Mountain Restaurant with mouth-watering cuisine by Three-Michelin-Star legend Norbert Niederkofler. Sound good? Then get your adventure gear out and join Red Bull Illume at the LUMEN Museum of Mountain Photography! We’ll see you at the peak for true enlightenment! 

More information on the LUMEN Museum can be found on their website.

Gallery: 10 Photos Capturing The Emotions Of Adventure And Action Sports

Emotion is something that belongs to both photography and action sports. Attempting a stunt can be as emotional as it is physical. There’s fear, frustration, pain and glory. One trick can have it all and it’s the photographer’s job to capture it. Here are 10 photos to celebrate those feelings that you won’t find anywhere else.

© Syo van Vliet / Red Bull Illume

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

Red Bull Illume Image Quest: Timeline Revised for 2019 Edition

Red Bull Illume, the world`s greatest adventure and action sports photography contest returns in 2019 for its fifth edition. But what’s new? The sheer volume and quality of the submissions has grown exponentially since it started, so the decision has been made to hold the event every two years, rather than the original three-year interval. With this comes a new timeline, so here’s what you need to know if you’re planning to take part.

In May 2019, the submission phase for the contest will officially kick off. This gives photographers a chance to enter their most spectacular adventure and action sports images before the closing deadline in July. Keep an eye out though; a special announcement in January is set to revolutionize the contest and may well inspire an entirely new approach from those who wish to participate!  

After the submission phase comes the judging stage. Between August and October 2019, a panel of widely renowned photo experts will vote to determine the top five images from each of the contest’s categories. This is no easy task when you consider the record-breaking 34,624 photos that were submitted to the contest in 2016 – and 2019 looks set to be bigger than ever! As the judging gets under way, preparation for the Winner Award Ceremony will begin.

The ceremony itself is widely regarded as the most prestigious event in the world of adventure and action sports photography. It’s here that the finalists, category winners and the overall contest winner will be announced. With each edition of the Red Bull Illume Image Quest comes a new and exciting venue in the heart of a vibrant cultural hub. Although the location for the next ceremony is still to be announced, it promises to be an unforgettable night for the world of adventure and action sports photography. Just wait and see! 

Once concluded, the year 2020 will be devoted to a series of international exhibitions. The winning images will be displayed in major cities around the world, giving the photographers an unprecedented level of exposure. There will also be a few innovative changes to the tour that will revolutionize the contest as we know it, but all will be revealed soon! Sound appealing? Then get shooting and submit your images for a chance to make history at the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019!

For upcoming announcements and more information, keep an eye on our website and social channels.