Michael Clark: 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 outdoor photographer and former physicist Michael Clark has stashed in his bag.

© Michael Clark

Do you have a go-to body and lens combo?
“I’m not sure – I tailor the cameras I take to each assignment and shoot a wide variety of adventure sports. If I’m shooting fast-moving action, then I go for the Nikon D4 and a 24-70mm or 70-200mm Nikkor. If it’s a slower adventure sport like rock climbing or ice climbing then I would take the Nikon D810 and the 24-70mm or the 14-24mm Nikkor. 

For portraits, lifestyle and predictable adventure sports I will also add the Hasselblad kit and a few lenses. If I’m shooting portraits, the Hasselblad is my main camera with the ridiculously sharp Hasselblad HC 100mm f/2.2 lens, which is the equivalent to an 80mm f/1.0 lens in 35mm terms. The Nikons are still my go-to kits for 70% of what I shoot. At a bare minimum, I’ll take a Nikon camera body and the big three zoom lenses – the 14-24mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm.”

Tell us about more about that Hasselblad…
“I purchased the Hasselblad H5D 50c WiFi and four lenses in December last year. In the film days I shot a fair bit with medium format cameras and loved the look and feel of the images. These days it’s getting tougher and tougher to set your work apart from the pack. To that end, I opted to get a digital medium format camera for several reasons, including the high shutter speed flash syncs, the shallow depth of field and the insanely amazing 50 MP 16-bit image files. 

Making the decision to buy a camera system that costs way more than my car was a tough decision and there were many factors that went into this purchase. The image quality out of the Hasselblad is stunning. No 35mm DSLR can touch it and the 16-bit files allow me to really work over the image files if I need to with no banding or degradation. 

As for lenses, I have the 24mm, 100mm 150mm and 50-110mm Hasselblad lenses. These lenses are wicked sharp from corner to corner. As far as sharpness goes, these lenses are very nearly just as sharp in the corners as they are in the center. I work with the Hasselblad for everything from portraits to lifestyle images and even action photography – if I can accurately predict the movement of the athlete. 

The Hasselblad certainly isn’t as versatile as my Nikon DSLRs, especially when it comes to adventure sports, but when it works it is a phenomenal tool. It also really slows you down and forces you to get creative in a way that I have not found with DSLRs, so the images end up looking more crafted. For a full explanation of why I added such an expensive camera system to my already extensive DSLR kit, check out this post on my blog.”

Any other items you wish you could add to your bag?
“For still photography I have more gear than I can deal with. The gear images here are only a fraction of all the photo equipment that I own and use. You can see my complete gear list on my blog. I have a ton of lighting gear and work with strobes on just about every shoot. I suppose it would be awesome to add a Red Digital Cinema camera (like an Epic or the Scarlet) and flush out my video gear a bit more.”

Do you carry anything that no one else has? 
“I almost always carry a Lastolite EzyBalance White Balance disc and a Sekonic L-478DR light meter. These may not be super unique but I rarely ever see my peers carrying a light meter or a white balance disc. I learned long ago that setting in-camera custom white balance settings results in better color out of my Nikons and also speeds up my workflow considerably. Using the white balance disc assures that I am capturing accurate ski tones when shooting portraits. 

When using Strobes, I always use a light meter to dial in the lighting perfectly. The Sekonic also has quite a few advanced functions that allow you to control all of your lighting and even tells you if the lighting falls within the dynamic range of your camera. Another item I always take with me is the Sensor Gel Stick to clean my camera sensors. I clean my sensors before (and sometimes during) each and every assignment to avoid dust spots and especially when shooting video.” 

Where was the most challenging location you had to shoot?

“Oddly enough, the most challenging location I have ever had to work in was not on an adventure sports assignment but in the Vale do Javari in the Amazon while documenting indigenous tribes in an extremely remote area of Brazil. I do well in the cold, and even in extreme cold, but heat and humidity are really hard for me. In the Amazon, it was 113°F (45°C) and very nearly 100% humidity. That put us all on the edge of heat stroke. Then add in the mosquitos and no-see-ums eating you alive — it was pretty miserable. 

There were also way more objective hazards including: jaguars, anacondas, pit vipers, giant spiders, caimans, uncontacted indigenous tribes, malaria, diseases etc. With skiing, climbing or most other adventure sports there are objective hazards but at least you can predict them to some degree and make decisions about when and where to go. In the Amazon there were 50 ways to die and you hadn’t even gotten out of your hammock yet. There are still 60ft (18m) long Anacondas in that region of the Amazon that can swallow an adult human in the blink of an eye. 

I don’t really feel the need to ever go back to the Amazon. It was a beautiful and amazing place to see, especially such a remote area, but it was really tough. It took me a month or so to recover and at least six weeks before all of the bug bites went away. I also brought home a parasite on the last trip and it took six months to get rid of that.”

Check out a selection of Michael’s images in the gallery below and find out more about the man on his website, Facebook and Instagram.

Keep coming back to redbullillume.com for your weekly dose of action and adventure sports photography and galleries of inspirational images. 

You can also get a sneak peek of the Red Bull Illume 2016 submissions on Facebook and Instagram.

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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.

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.