Kelvin Trautman's Arctic Expeditions

While being based in Cape Town, South Africa, adventure photographer Kelvin Trautman is no stranger to the Arctic regions and the polar circle. In 2017, he spent time in Svalbard, Greenland, the Canadian Arctic and got closer to the North Pole than ever before. Read his fascinating take on working in the Arctic regions below...

© Kelvin Trautman

You’ve been in the Arctic for a few months for a few expeditions. How was that?

The Arctic is a place of such raw and magnificent beauty that in truth it's very hard to do justice to in words and images. It really is one of those places that needs to be seen and experienced first hand.

My take home sentiment from this time in the high northern latitudes though was that as raw and beautiful this wilderness is, it’s also extremely fragile and rapidly changing.

We know you’re big on environmentalism. Why is it important to share these expedition stories?

I truly believe we will only protect those things that we feel connected to. And there are few mediums more adept at invoking an emotional connection than photo and film. Under this guise I feel compelled to use my craft to tell stories of environmental and social importance. With my personal adventure sport background, I’ve been drawn to the narratives of sportsmen and woman turned activists and campaigners.

For the most part, the idea here is to use pioneering expeditions involving these adventure activists performing extreme physical feats as a way to put the spotlight (spark dialogue, connect, campaign for and against) on some of the planets most pressing environmental issues.

We imagine shooting in the Arctic is tough on body as well as gear. How do you stay “Arctic-Proof”?

Working in harsh and remote conditions like the polar regions, where the margins for error are very small, demands that you have the right gear and knowledge of the risks that the surroundings present. This may go without saying, but something I think is overlooked when proofing yourself here, is your mindset or approach. You really need to be comfortable with the idea of adaptability and resourcefulness - things are going to go wrong and break and you need to be ready and happy to change tack and fix the problem. In many ways this is the same approach that we need to adopt when dealing with environmental problems.

From all the places you visited in the Arctic and shot, what was your favorite and why?

I’m not much into favorites as it’s such an all encompassing word or concept but one of the stand out experiences from my time in the Arctic this year was a day spent with Narwhal scientists and Inuit fisherman in the narrow reaches of Eclipse Sound, high up in the Canadian Arctic. We were there filming a super pod of Narwhals. With a drone we could see and document the whales sparring with their tusks and feeding.

We estimated there were over a thousand animals, and knowing the worldwide population sits at a lowly fifty thousand - due in part to climate change related habitat destruction - made the spectacle even more precious. The footage captured that day forms part of a Sky News documentary, called Arctic Peril premiering on the 20th December.

We read about United Nations Patron for the Oceans and cold water swimmer Lewis Pugh biting your arm to climb out of the freezing Arctic waters on a recent expedition. Can you recount the story?

Lewis Pugh swims (in a speedo) in the freezing waters of the planets polar regions in order to urge world leaders to help protect these wildernesses. My role on these swimming expeditions is not only to take photos but also swim safety.

In July, Lewis did a 1 km swim up at 80˚ North, along the edge of the Arctic sea ice. We were 1200kms from the North Pole, and the water was -0.5˚C water. By the time Lewis had completed the swim distance, he had spent just over 20 minutes in the water. This was right at the edge of what he has done before, and you could see it in his body movements. His swim stroke was severely labored, and he hit the water with clawed, cramping hands.

As he came up to the back of the boat at the end of the swim I handed him the rope loop to put his hand through that would aid him to climb into the boat. He missed it completely. He screamed “get me in the boat”. His words were almost indecipherable, as his lips, mouth and tongue were numb. For the next few minutes I wrestled to get him out of the water - the small and awkward confines of our boat meant I was the only one that could help. We teetered on the edge for what seemed like an age, until Lewis, in desperation, used the only other means of aiding his exit, and that was with his teeth. He bit down into my forearm (luckily I had a drysuit on) and hauled himself up.

It worked, and he was bundled into the boat.

For someone from South Africa, you spend a whole lot of time in Arctic regions. Any plans to head back to the Arctic?

I live in Cape Town, and currently the city is going through the worst drought for over 300 years - the city may well run out of water. This is in no small part due to climate change. Having seen and documented the polar regions over the past few years, I have come to understand how these places are the proverbial canary in the goldmine when it comes to climate change - and what happens there will affect all of us, wherever we live. So yes, I have plans to head back to the Arctic, and soon.

Make sure to check out Kelvin Trautman's work on his website and give him a follow on Instagram to make sure you don't miss a shot from his upcoming work in the Arctic!

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Relive the Red Bull Illume Winner Award Ceremony 2019 at LUMEN!

A memorable three-day program including workshops and photo shoots for the finalists culminated in the Winner Award Ceremony, at which the winners were revealed.

The world’s greatest action and adventure photographers from every side of the world gathered at 2,275m / 7.464 ft. high in the LUMEN – Museum of Mountain Photography in Italy on November, 20 to celebrate the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019. The Overall Winner, 11 Category Winners, and Top 60 finalist images were unveiled at the Winner Award Ceremony by the host Zoran Filicic.

This incredible show, in phenomenal surroundings of Plan de Corones, South Tyrol, Italy, would not have been possible with just us alone, that's why we want to say a huge thank you to our partners Sony, SanDisk, Skylum, COOPH, Salewa, Petzl and Sunnybag for a memorable event and an amazing Image Quest!

Get a taste of the action from the ceremony with our gallery below!

Ben Thouard is crowned overall winner of the Image Quest 2019!

Taking home the grand title as overall winner of the fifth edition of Red Bull Illume is Ben Thouard with his mind-bending underwater image of athlete Ace Buchan surfing in Teahupo’o, Tahiti, in French Polynesia!

© Ben Thouard :

Overall Winner, Image Quest 2019 © Ben Thouard / Red Bull Illume

The Red Bull Illume Image Quest has a new name in the overall winner circle: Ben Thouard! His underwater epic shot in the glassy clear waters of Tahiti was chosen by a panel of 50 esteemed judges as the winner. If perspective were ever needed at a time like this, Ben’s image is number 1 out of a phenomenal 59,551 submissions.

We are delighted to add Ben’s name to the list of overall winners of the world’s greatest adventure and action sports imagery contest. A list that includes iconic photographers Lorenz Holder, Chris Burkard and Fred Mortagne. His progression from edition to edition has seen him rise from semi-finalist in 2013, to finalist in 2016 and now overall winner in 2019!

Every image tells a story, and here’s Ben’s story behind the shot:

“I‘ve dedicated the last few years to shooting underwater, looking for new angles and a new way to shoot surfing and waves. Shooting surfing from underwater is a whole new world and I love it! 

“Tahiti has some of the clearest water in the world so it was easy for me to take advantage of it and explore it as much as I could. 

“This photo was shot during a freesurf session right before the WCT event in Teahupo‘o. This is Ace Buchan kicking out from the barrel through the wave, a technique to escape a close-out wave. 

“Luckily I was right below, breathless with my waterhousing waiting for this moment and I was able to capture the whole sequence of it; this frame from the beginning of the sequence is the most powerful one because of the water around his face and body.”

As overall winner, Ben was selected from the 11 category winners, meaning he will take home the category winning prizes from Red Bull Illume Partners Sony, SanDisk, Skylum and COOPH - PLUS a Sony a9 camera with a 24-70mm f2.8 lens from the G-Master range. SanDisk will also take him on a shooting experience the SanDisk Extreme Team!

That’s not all, his image, along with the other of the 60 finalist images, will now be illuminated on 2x2m lightboxes at the Red Bull Illume Global Outdoor Exhibit Tour which begins tonight at LUMEN

All of the finalists, as well as the rest of the Top 260 images, are also published in the Red Bull Illume 2019 Limited Edition Photobook, which is available to order right now!

Once again, a huge thank you goes out to our partners Sony, SanDisk, Skylum, COOPH, Salewa, Petzl and Sunnybag for a memorable event and an amazing Image Quest!

But, most of all thanks to every photographer and content creator out there that submitted to the contest!

Winner, SanDisk Extreme Award: Philip Platzer!

SanDisk presents the Extreme Award to Philip for his amazing sequence of a record-breaking mountain bike ride.

Markus Stoeckl performs during VMax 200 at the Atacama Desert, Chile on December 10, 2016
Editors Note: Pictures is stitched from multiple photos!

Winner, SanDisk Extreme Award © Philip Platzer / Red Bull Illume

Our partners at SanDisk are experts in making photography storage solutions ready to deal with the toughest of conditions, that’s why they present the SanDisk Extreme Award to Philip Platzer!

Here’s the story of the image:

“I took the photo for Red Bull during the V-Max Project at the Atacama Desert in Chile, in 2016. The highspeed mountainbiker Markus Stöckl tried to beat the world record in speed with a serial MTB – which was a success, he reached 167.6 km/h. After I did a few classic close-up shots and pans, I wanted to show the whole scenery in one shot. The problem was I could not go close enough to do it with a wide-angle lens and with a longer focal length I didn’t get the view in the frame.

”The solution was to do a panorama shot. After I found my position, I did multiple photos in portrait format on 35mm before Max did his run. When Max was riding I did the sequence of him with the same focal length and perspective. No tripod was required.

“To get the final result I had to do some extra work in photoshop: First of all I stitched the panorama, in the end it was made out of six single shots. After this I had to add the sequence, which was quite an issue because of the stitching. Everything was slightly distorted and it took some time to fit the 44 shots of Max back into the scenery.”

You can follow the Winner Award Ceremony live here!

Winner, Salewa Trophy: Kamil Sustiak!

Kamil Sustiak was chosen by our partner as the winner of the Salewa Trophy, awarded to the Best Mountain Sports Image!

Winner, Salewa Trophy © Kamil Sustiak / Red Bull Illume

The Dolomite based outdoor gear, clothing and shoes company Salewa, a partner of the Red Bull Illume Winner Award Ceremony, definitely has the necessary experience and knowledge to choose the Best Mountain Sports Image from the thousands of mountain sports submissions to the Image Quest 2019.

They chose Kamil Sustiak! Here is the info about the winning shot:

“We woke up and the first thought that came to my mind was that this morning was going to be special. I always say that as it makes snoozing the early morning alarm way harder. Little did I know that the nature had already started working on its magic tricks. We arrived to the line surrounded by fog so thick that we could almost not see each other. An hour passed and we could only sense the sunrise that was supposed to make this morning so special.

“I thought, well not today mate, happened before, will happen again … the world is not turning around your camera to make you happy every time you press the shutter. I was ready to bail when all of a sudden the fog dropped just a tiny bit down into the valley and showed us what was actually going on around us. This spectacular scenery lasted for about an hour before the clouds underneath us disappeared and the world turned normal again.”

Follow the Winner Award Ceremony live!

Category Winner, Wings: Philip Platzer!

The Megaswing gets the win! This phenomenal capture by Philip Platzer is the Wings category winner in 2019!

Marco Fuerst performs at the Red Bull Megaswing 2016 in Fromberg, Austria on July 7, 2016.

Category Winner, Creative by Skylum © Philip Platzer / Red Bull Illume

Take the Red Bull Sky Dive Team, two hot air balloons and a giant swing and what do you get? That’s right, it’s the winner of the Wings category!

Philip Platzer’s image is as joyful as it is exciting, and he told us all about it:

“Together with the Red Bull Skydive Team, I did this crazy Project called “Megaswing“ back in 2016. After my assignment I already knew this had to be a tricky one: Two Hot Air Balloons, one with a long rope attached and the other one to jump out with the swing, and of course the Skydiver with his parachute.

“After the first couple of jumps I realized that I wouldn’t get the perfect shot by simply shooting from the inside of the basket they were jumping out of. Lucky me, I had my monopod in the car as well as a pair of radio-triggers. My solution to get the right angle was to hold the camera, that I had attached to my monopod, as deep under the basket and just hope to get the perfect framing.

“Another thing, I asked the athlete Marco Fürst to turn a little bit towards my direction to avoid getting an ass-shot and to get this playful mood in the image. In the end it was the very last try which gave us the moneyshot.”

Congratulations to the other finalists; Pablo Jiménez, Martin Golob, Lachie Carracher, Marcelo Maragni and Jairo Díaz Dévora.

Head over to our Facebook live stream to see the overall winner announced!

Category Winner, RAW: Noah Wetzel!

So good you can’t believe that this image is straight out of camera – this winner of the all-new RAW category is Noah Wetzel!

Category Winner, Creative by Skylum © Noah Wetzel / Red Bull Illume

When we introduced the RAW category, the goal was to take photographers back to the fundamentals of photography, with composition, exposure and lighting all done in front of the lens. We knew we would see some expert creativity, but nothing quite as insane as this!

That’s right, the winner of the RAW category is Noah Wetzel:

“After weeks of preparation and creative conception, I loaded my Subaru and headed north to Wyoming for the Total Solar Eclipse in August of 2017. Arriving a couple days before the eclipse, I linked up with athletes Chris Brule, Evan Grott, and Blake Sommer. The imagery goal was to capture the Eclipse and showcase mountain biking utilizing an in-camera double exposure – a very complex process.

“The morning of, we loaded our packs well before sunrise with light stands, powerful flashes, extra camera gear, and two magnum bottles of champagne to celebrate. After capturing the first image successfully during two minutes of totality, all we had to do was endure the midday sun, waiting for twilight and the attempt at the second frame.

”Unfortunately, I was unaware I had damaged the hot shoe connection on my camera four weeks prior while shooting fly fishing, preventing me from triggering my flashes.

“Our only option required athlete Chris Brule to hit the feature in near darkness at 9pm, allowing me to set the camera to a 2.5 second exposure, manually firing the flashes and freezing Chris mid-air. Nearly escaping complete failure, we hiked out in darkness while sipping on champagne, truly in awe of the total solar eclipse and thankful we were able to capture something special.”

Congrats also to the other four finalists; Jan Kasl, Christian Gisi, Michael Clark and Daniel Bernstål!

Tune in to the Winner Award Ceremony live to see the remaining winners announced!

Category Winner, Playground: Lorenz Holder!

It’s that man again! Lorenz Holder wins his second category of the Image Quest 2019, and this time it’s in Playground!

Category Winner, Playground © Lorenz Holder / Red Bull Illume

The Playground category showcases not only the athlete, but the landscapes, locations, platforms and environments in which they play. The reputation of Lorenz Holder as one of the greatest ever location scouts continues with this unique image taken at the Ouse Valley Viaduct, that would look equally as good hung in a gallery as it would on the cover of a skateboard magazine!

“The Ouse Valley Viaduct is pretty cool old railway bridge in the South of England. When you approach it from the side, you can‘t really see the secret this bridge has to offer, but once you get underneath of one of the arches you can‘t believe your eyes. You are caught in a place that could easily be in the movie Inception. The arches create a very surreal visual effect – when you are taking a picture, you don‘t understand if you are looking down into something or at least you get very confused about what you‘re actually seeing. I was blown away by this fact, but also blown away that this looked like a pretty good spot for skateboarding.

“When I showed Vladic an image of the viaduct, he was on fire to try it out. To be honest it was super hard to ride and Vladic‘s quote that got stuck in my mind was: “This is so hard, when my brain is going down in the transition, my body is already going up again – this will be difficult to get something done here.“ A couple of hours later, when his brain and body came together, he landed this kickflip while the sun was just at the perfect angle as well.”

Lorenz beat other finalists Chris Tedesco, Kamil Sustiak, Geoff Coombs, Matt Georges and Andrius Aleksandravičius to win his second category of the night!

Follow all the action live!

Category Winner, Moving Image: Rupert Walker!

For the first time in Red Bull Illume history, images are no longer standing still. The winner of this brand-new category is Rupert Walker!

Category Winner, Moving Image © Rupert Walker / Red Bull Illume

Congratulations to Rupert Walker and the team at Revel co., who mastered the challenge set by the Moving Image category and in one take created a winning sequence that is dynamic and action packed. Well worthy of being the first ever champion of this brand-new category!

Here’s the story behind the video:

“This shot features Brandon Semenuk and Ryan Howard riding down a custom-built slalom line built and designed by Revel Co. The idea for the shot was to have Brandon Semenuk start out solo in the shot, and have Ryan Howard appear in frame and then exit, doing this a couple times during the shot.

“It was particularly challenging because it required extreme precision from the FPV drone pilot, Jonny Durst, and during this shoot we experienced very heavy rains, which caused the track to be nearly unrideable. From the moisture the track was riding much slower than anticipated and caused the athletes to struggle at performing their best. The dig crew was all hands-on deck with tiger torches and shovels to dry up any wet spots and dig out any soft spots. With hard work from all, a solid shot plan, and great coordination between the drone pilot and the athletes, the shot was accomplished.”

Huge congrats also to the other four finalists; Ben Thouard, Stu Gibson, Maxime Moulin and Joey Schusler!

As we’re on the subject of vide, the Winner Award Ceremony is being stream live right now – check it out!

Category Winner, Masterpiece by EyeEm: Lorenz Holder!

Followers of Red Bull Illume will instantly recognize the photographer, and fans of Game of Thrones will instantly recognize the location! The Masterpiece by EyeEm winner is Lorenz Holder!

Category Winner, Masterpiece by EyeEm © Lorenz Holder / Red Bull Illume

If you go down into the woods today you’ll never believe your eyes. That’s right, it’s two-time overall winner of Red Bull Illume Lorenz Holder teaming up with Senad Grosic again to make another incredible image!

Lorenz goes back-to-back adding the Masterpiece by EyeEm category crown in 2019 to his victory in the Masterpiece category back in 2016! Here’s how the image was made:

“The first time I saw this location was when I was watching Game of Thrones and I was blown away by the pure magic this road generated in me. First, I thought that it‘s of course a CGI composition, but after a little research I found out that this place is actually real and located in Northern Ireland. A year later I was actually standing there with Senad Grosic and trying to get a bunny-hop-tailwhip on camera.

“It was early in the morning with the first sun rays hitting the road and we managed to get a pretty cool shot, but somehow I knew that there was pure potential in the spot. So, we decided to stay a couple days longer and waited for some kind of rain, fog or other particles in the air, so I could use one flash from behind and create a white background to make Senad stand out a bit more and get the focus a bit more on the action. The rain came on our last day and I still remember the goose-bumps I had when I saw the image appearing on the screen of the camera. That‘s when I felt the same magical feeling I got when I watched Game of Thrones for the first time.”

Big shout-out to the other finalists: Kevin Molano, Morgan Maassen, Daniel Rönnbäck, Robin Pearson and Jeffrey Kiefer!

Find out if Lorenz will be the overall winner again! Follow the Winner Award Ceremony live!

Category Winner, Lifestyle: Alexander Wick!

The category for those who always have their camera on hand ready to capture the moments before, after and in-between the action. The winner is Alexander Wick!

Category Winner, Lifestyle © Alexander Wick / Red Bull Illume

When you think of a great photograph, it’s often one that allows you to reflect on a memory, a location or a certain feeling. The Lifestyle category takes us behind the scenes, away from the action and lets us, as viewers in on these moments.

The winner of the category is Alexander Wick and here his story behind the shot!

“Together with my boys Phil and Chris I went on a US West-Coast climbing trip. Obviously Yosemite is a must and so we tested our very humble European crack climbing skills right away on El Capitan‘s Salathé Wall. A climb I‘ve been dreaming of for quite a while.

“The first Ascent of this line was a master piece way ahead of its time. Climber and photographer Tom Frost was part of the three-man team back then. His photography of the same climb is just breathtaking. The picture of Royal Robbins napping on a rock atop El Cap Spire with loads of exposure is one of my favorites, so of course I planned on getting a tribute shot to the old masters once we reached the spot. As we got stuck behind another climbing party just up on El Cap spire I used the moment, aided my way up the next pitch and took the shot as the boys and our new friend Luke actually took a nap.

“No old hemp ropes and linen haul bags like in 1961 but modern nylon and Dyneema this time. No uncharted terrain but a well-known and established route. Having a rest amidst a sea of granite: probably almost as amazing as back in the days.”

In this insightful category, Alexander beat out fellow finalists Tyrone Bradley, Nicolás Pina Calvin, Denis Klero, Andrew Miller and Kohei Ueno to take the crown.

See if is image will be the overall winner! Follow the Winner Award Ceremony live!