Red Bull Illume winner interviews: Miguel Lopez

Interview with Miguel Lopez

After winning the SanDisk Sequence award at Red Bull Illume, Miguel Angel Lopez had three words to say – “Viva la Mexico!” Even his t-shirt said the same. Although Miguel didn’t say much else that night in English and had fellow South American Orlando Duque translate from Spanish for him on stage, it reminded everyone how international Red Bull Illume is. But a Mexican winner was an awesome surprise nonetheless.

Just look at the map on the Red Bull Illume gallery. The west coast of the US, northern Europe and South Western Australia dominates the action sports world. Rightly, they have some amazing mountain or coastal locations for high-risk outdoor sports or massive metropolitan cities with every scene imaginable – skate, BMX, B-Boying etc. But there are many other undiscovered and less photographed places elsewhere. Look at the winning photo from Chris Burkard, who remembers the last surf photo they saw from Chile?

Likewise, Miguel’s win was a breath of fresh air. Even more so for the SanDisk sequence category, which was supremely technical and competitive. However, the winning photo was an elegantly simple shot, even the trick wasn’t complicated. The photo captured the moment, while the sequence of shadows in the background showed how the move was done which is why sequence shots became so popular in the first place. By being selective and not including too much detail in the photo, which some sequence shots are guilty of, Miguel’s photo elevated the sequence shot into art territory. Ever heard the advice “Keep it simple, stupid”? Well Miguel kept it simple and beautiful at the same time and managed to get an iconic skate image.
(Have a look at the 'Making Of' video in our last feature to see how the shot was taken.)

Working as a photographer for eight years and a director of Urbeskate.com, as well as a Red Bull Illume semi-finalist in 2007, Miguel didn’t come from nowhere however. Read on to find out more about the man behind the lens.

What reception have you received since winning your category in Red Bull Illume?
Well in Mexico, the reaction from my friends, family and people in general has been amazing. Until I came back with the trophy, the book, the magazines that I brought from Dublin, no one knew the magnitude of the event. My parents are very proud that I won. Before, they never really understood my work as a skate photographer and why I was putting so much effort and passion into it. But after seeing everything that’s happened since, they are really happy with me. And everyone is proud that my photo was able to represent Mexico. The Red Bull team in Mexico were really happy for me too. I have worked with them over the years helping to make skateboarding events in Mexico.

In January 2011, together with other photographers, I was present at a gallery in the city of Puebla, Mexico. They showed the pictures I submitted to Red Bull Illume. It was a pleasure to be exhibited. I was treated really well, people took pictures of me, kids asked me for autographs, and some new photographers approached me to say that I am an inspiration for them. Overall, I was so proud to represent Mexico in the contest.

What difference has winning made to your photography career?
Personally I'm still the same photographer with the same idea to keep doing things in action sports photography and more in skateboarding because it’s what I enjoy doing. Professionally, it’s helping my career because Red Bull Illume is the only major event dedicated to action sports photography.

A friend jokingly said to me, “Finally your skateboard photography leaves something in your life” because many people know me for other things within the Mexico skateboarding scene. Apart from being a photographer, I’m the director of Urbeskate and an event organizer. I try to help this sport grow in my country as good as possible and winning Red Bull Illume has helped me to open some more doors.

What’s inspiring you right now as a photographer?
Inspiration! Or as I said in an interview in Dublin, I realize that everything is possible and this event gave me the opportunity to show my work. I'm inspired to improve my photography so winning Red Bull Illume gave me the opportunity for further improvement. I want to do my best during these years and then, if all goes well, retire with a smile of accomplishment.

The funny thing is that I was in the first Red Bull Illume in 2007 and I was in the semi-finals with a photo but I didn’t get any further. I entered the second contest with more enthusiasm and was more optimistic about doing better. Then I won the SanDisk sequence category. Were my photos better or did I just have more enthusiasm for making things happen? What I know is that if you work every day with heart and energy, you will get good results and new opportunities or second chance can always happen. Red Bull Illume has inspired me to believe and keep doing what I like, no matter what happens.


What new photography equipment and techniques are you using or want to use more of?
You can use any equipment really. Your eyes and your mind is what makes the difference. I have not changed my equipment much. I want to buy a new digital camera, but I will shoot on 35mm until I due. I like the Holga and am starting to work on more video shoots, like this one.

My techniques have also been improving. I always want to improve how I use light, colors and need time to experiment. But it’s hard as my work as a photo editor and director for Urbe Skate consumes me but I have to keep up with new developments. It was amazing to see other professional skateboard photographers that I admire so much in the Red Bull Illume photobook. It made me realize that myself and others are doing a good job in the Mexican skateboarding scene.

What interesting shoots or projects do you have coming up?
I want to make an exhibition next year with friends. I wish we could bring the Red Bull Illume exhibit to Mexico in 2011 but who knows! Still it was cool that there was the tour in Houston, Texas, which was just across the border.

In January, we had the urbeskate.com and we had our own awards, including a best skateboard photographer award. Otherwise I have so much to organize, so 2011 will be a busy year! I’m also hoping to finally have my own website, so I can show eight years of work as a photographer!

What must a photographer keep in mind while shooting an action scene?

The location, angle and equipment. The location is important because to photograph a trick, you have to show the difficulty of the trick and beauty of the place, so anyone will just see the photo and say “wow!” and be amazed.

The angle is an important factor because not all tricks require the same angle. Every trick has its aesthetic.

As for the equipment, you need to know what options your equipment gives you and you need to maximize the technical possibilities using your imagination.

How important is location in sports photography?
Location is as important as in the trick, so it’s 50:50. I sometimes I don’t take photos of some tricks for a particular location, as it just doesn’t fit. Of course there are also occasions that the trick is so difficult that you have the challenge of showing the difficulty and the beauty of the place.

Every day we seek new places to photograph which is so important. The street offers unimaginable places. Definitely the place you will provide the other 50% to your picture.

What are some of the challenges you face while doing action photography? How do you overcome them?
Well in my case there are many. The very common one is that the picture is not taken at the exact moment of the trick and you’ve missed it. Sometimes the trick is so hard you can’t expect the person to retry it. Or they re-do the trick over and over without any luck, then the light changes while you’re waiting. Sometimes you have to just cancel a shoot or forget an idea. You have to know your and the athlete’s capabilities.

Technical issues are normal - empty batteries, your camera fails, your fisheye won’t stay on properly. Stuff happens!

How do you define the 'perfect frame' in sports photography?
Good photos have three critical aspects: difficulty, place and the person being photographed. Obviously, a perfect frame has to amaze you in all three. But I think the perfect frame is the one which shows how exciting that sport is. It’s a moment when you know that as soon as you press the shutter, you feel you have to see that picture.

How do you prepare for action photography, physically and mentally?
Well I have nothing in particular. I just check my equipment is ready and in my mind I just think I have to try to do my best. If you’re shooting a well-known athlete, you have to think that you deserve to shoot someone that good. But I try to enjoy the moment, especially when I’m working with friends.

If you had just 5 pieces of your most important advice for a young action photographer, what would they be?

I have only one:
When taking a picture
Feel the photo. Live the photograph.

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In A Flash: Shooting the Perfect Key Visual

Red Bull Illume In A Flash returns with its latest installment, focused on the most crucial element of any commercial campaign; the key visual.

Shooting a striking key visual is no easy task and it's something that comes down to the finest details. Use the pointers in the video above to help you along the way.

It all starts with brainstorming - nail down the concept and the message you want the visual to bring across. What definitely helps is scribbling what you want your final product to look like, this will help guide you while you're shooting.

Organize the shoot - do you need models, a location or props? Will you shoot in- or outdoors? How are you going to shoot? How many people do you need? These are all things to consider before you head out to the shoot.

Spend some time doing test shots. Make sure you've got your settings dialed in, so that when it's crunchtime, you're good to go and you know you'll get the shots you wanted.

Edit your shots. This is where you make your key visual really shine and come together.

Want more photo tips? Make sure to check out our other In A Flash videos by heading over to our YouTube channel!

Wakeboarding meets Architecture

Danish action sports photographer Jesper Grønnemark is known for pushing boundaries when it comes to photography and has an eye for incorporating objects or elements into his photos that you wouldn't think of. For his latest project, he fused elements of architecture with wakeboarding. Read the full story and see the results below...

© Jesper Gronnemark

How do you push the boundaries of what people believe possible in sports photography?

That exact question is the drive behind Jesper Grønnemark, who as a sports-photographer has become used to facing situations with a flexibility and fast thinking only few can brag about.

Location! Location! Location!

The shoot was in a small canal located in front of the Tietgen Residence Hall. A wish to combine sports-photography with architecture contributed to the selection of this very untraditional wakeboard scenario in the heart of Copenhagen.

“I saw this location a couple of years ago, and thought it was perfect for a wakeboard shoot. It is a minimalistic setup, but there is a great contrast between the murky water and the clean lines of the building”.

Did you hear the story about the two guys in the canal?

A wakeboarder in a small canal by the Tietgen Residence Hall is a rare sight and it attracts quite a few curious people. In the different tall houses around the shoot, people gathered in their windows to see what was going on.

Jesper floats in the water in a wetsuit and gets out of the water several times, running around to keep warm; a great example of Jesper’s dedication and hard work getting the perfect image.

The cold and not too clean water doesn’t stop wakeboarder Dres Damgaard either. He gets in as soon as the winch, which will pull him towards the bridge, is on.

“It was quite a challenge I had given myself. The water was very cold, so it didn’t take long before Dres and I were freezing. I had to use a lot of energy not to shake when Dres was being pulled by the winch, and I had to take pictures.”

Patience and equipment

This was an assignment that required patience, endurance and precision to create a great result, but it also demanded having the right equipment.

“This situation puts high demands on the equipment to function each and every time. Since I couldn’t afford to miss a shot it was amazing shooting with the flash system I use, which delivers the power, quality and speed necessary.”

So long, summer!

The Scandinavian summer sun is slowly setting, it has been a tough shoot for both Jesper and Dres. Even though they are tired, wet and longing to go home and take a shower, there is still a sense of satisfaction in the air. The hard work paid off and the images are even better than anticipated.

To see more of Jesper's work, head over to his Instagram, but not before checking out the results and some behind the scenes shots below!

Dusty Walls with Matt Hunter

Sterling Lorence fell in love with photography after biking through what he calls "the moody forests of the North Shore" and has been in the game for over 20 years. Collecting Red Bull Illume Finalist honors on multiple occasions, we decided to take a closer look at one of his more iconic images.

Red Bull Illume 2013: Sterling Lorence, Energy category finalist

© Sterling Lorence / Red Bull Illume

Matt Hunter has a reputation in freeride mountain biking for finding and building very progressive lines. Matt built this air for the filming of his segment in the film, 'Follow Me'. It is a 45-foot air to wall ride move that he hadn't done much practice on.

It is always stressful as a photographer to show up to a shoot like this, with a film crew, and have the majority of the pressure falling onto the athlete to throw down. Especially when the action is dangerously progressive like this and we all are unsure of what the outcome will be. We all want to shoulder more of the responsibility, but ultimately it is the athlete that has to be the most prepared.

I framed up this shot from this perspective to be able to express the entire story of his line and the size of the gap he had to make. I originally thought I would shoot it as a sequence so that the viewer would be able to understand the extreme journey more.

With my motor drive running, Matt nailed his line and I watched him hit the wall and carve out the finish. I was completely floored and in awe by the explosion of dust he had created. I never expected or predicted such a dramatic dust trail to happen as he smashed across the cliff face. As I sat back and reviewed my images, I saw this one frame and I realized that I no longer needed the full sequence. The entire story, speed, impact and energy of this huge air was captured in this single frame. That is why I love photography, telling so much of a story in a single image.

Want to see more images by Sterling Lorence? Head over to his Instagram and check out his website!

From the backcountry to the streets of the Six

Scott Serfas might just be the most well-known Canadian snowboard photographer out there. He took to the streets of Toronto, a.k.a. the Six, during the recent Red Bull Illume Exhibit Tour Stop to show some love to the urban streets.

© Scott Serfas

What are some differences/similarities to shooting sport in the mountains vs urban streets? 

There are a lot of differences between shooting in the mountains versus shooting in the streets, but luckily for me, I grew up shooting skateboarding, so I’m quite comfortable with both.

In the streets, at times you have much more time to set up a shot and think more about placing artificial lighting to create dramatic effects.

On the other hand, in the case of shooting photos that will attract issues with the police or security guards you're going to want to set up your lighting plan ahead of time, metering everything offsite, so all you will need to do is drop the lights into place and shoot.

Or like in this case (the photo of Drew jumping gap) you will need to choose the right time of day to shoot all natural light. If that is not a possibility, then you will have to choose an angle depending on light. In the mountains, you're solely relying on what Mother Nature gives you. You're likely working with natural light, so choosing a location and time of day will be more crucial.

How did you shoot the street spots? (lighting, settings etc)

This particular shoot was a more run and gun style of shoot, so I would work around the existing light. Some locations and obstacles worked really well and others bombed.

On a normal day I would have either brought a few lights to help or shot things at a different time of day.

What’s the hardest part of shooting with a pro athlete?

There are three things that come to mind working with a professional athlete.

One, they are professional, so you likely won’t have their talent to blame when you make mistakes.

Two, because they are pro, your subject will likely have a large bag of tricks and will be able to preform the proper trick that looks better from the angle you choose to shoot from.

And three, one of the more difficult things manage as a photographer, likely they will be trying something so difficult that it becomes a “one and done” shoot. This means they will do it once, stick it and leave. So that means you have once chance to get the shot.

For me, shooting a one and done photo adds so much stress to the shoot.

Want to see more Scott Serfas shots? Head over to his website and give him a follow on Instagram!

Red Bull Illume Visits Home!

Following stops in Chicago and Toronto, the Red Bull Illume Exhibit Tour is coming home for the month of September.

The official tour-stop home of Red Bull Illume has always been the impressive Hangar-7 in Salzburg, and this year is no different. This unique building, which houses a collection of historical aircraft and Formula 1 race cars is the perfect home for the Red Bull Illume Exhibit Tour.

The Exhibit Tour officially opens in the evening on 6 September, and can be visited by the public from 7 September onwards. The exhibit can be visited all day, Hangar-7 opening hours permitting, but we recommend going later in the day when it starts to get dark, as that is when the lightboxes really shine!

The last night of the Exhibit Tour will coincide with the Lange Nacht der Museen, which takes place on 7 October, 2017.

Six Skate Photographers You Need To Know

Time to show some love to the photographers out there who pound the pavement day after day, hoping to capture that outstanding skate shot. Here are six skate photographers you need to know...

© Jonathan Mehring / Red Bull Illume

Davy van Laere

@philzwijsen #ElementWaterproof @elementeurope #Bilbao @soloskatemag @aproposskatemag

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"French" Fred Mortagne

Roberto Alegria

Jonathan Mehring

Roberto Bragotto

Jeroen Nieuwhuis

2/3 Red Bull Illume | CLOSE-UP FINAL IMAGE Early in 2016 I sat down with art director @ElroyKlee & cinematographer @ErikJournee from @NEWDAY.studio to come up with a concept for this year’s @redbullillume After pitching different ideas at each other we quickly agreed to try shooting something with mirrors. Instead of a street spot we decided to go indoors, but not to a typical skatepark. We contacted the guys at skatepark Pier 15 in Breda (The Netherlands). This skatepark is more like an indoor ‘street spot’, with concrete ramps, curbs and stairs. We knew this would fit the image we had in mind. We started cutting mirrors in our studio into different (small and large) shapes and tested them to see how big they needed to be to see the trick and different parts of the obstacle. We opted for triangle shaped mirrors to complement the obstacles in the background, to create a clean, even balanced look. Almost 12 mirrors later we finally had the pieces that would fit the picture. We headed out to Pier 15 together with Dutch skateboarder @RobMaatman. A couple of c-stands were used to angle the mirrors in a way that they almost looked like a puzzle; connect all the pieces and you see the entire obstacle. The outcome is a balanced action picture combined with graphic pieces and skatepark objects. #Photography #behindthescenes #RedBull #RedBullillume #mamiya #mediumformat #broncolor #skateboarding #skateboard #flash #robmaatman #newdaystudio #emerica #iso1200magazine #famousbtsmag

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Did we miss a skate photographer you follow and we should check out? Let us know on Facebook or Instagram!

All Out with Ale di Lullo

We caught up with crazy Italian MTB photographer Ale di Lullo to talk about what's been going on with him since that fateful evening in Chicago, when he took home a Category Winner Award for his shot of Aaron Chase rolling over a New York taxi cab.

© Ale di Lullo

What’s been going on with you since the Winner Award Ceremony?

It's been a very busy off-season and my Air Miles Award program is just on fire. I've been shooting catalogs and some adventure stuff all over the world, from New Zealand to the Dolomites, passing through British Columbia, Oregon, California and most of Europe.

Has anything changed for you since making it to the Top 55 and in the Top 275?

It didn't change anything with clients and the kind of shooting I do, but it gave me more tranquility and confidence in trying to experiment a bit more, or at least as far as a mostly commercial bike photographer can go.

And you know what?

I think that the Red Bull Illume categories really make sense and summarize the shots in them really well. When I'm on assignment I often find myself thinking "Oh this could be a good shot for Spirit category...or for Wings or for Playground!"

So maybe it slightly changed the way I think when I'm shooting...at least it helped me to categorize things.

Actually, there is something that changed in me after the Red bull Illume finals...it was already an ongoing process, but now it's annoying...I became my own worst critic! I struggle to be happy with any of my shots!! (Fortunately, my clients still are...ahahah)

Any cool projects you’re working on?

I'm trying to bring a new way into what I do for my clients and bringing them more exclusive shoots and less contest/event stuff. More planning, more research, more exploration and bringing back the essence of mountain biking, which is just out there in nature.

Can we expect a new project with Aaron Chase? Involving other forms of transport?

I have some ideas following the transportation wave...but the shot was more on the point of view, the new angle. The car was just a medium, so my mind is roaming more for new angles or new things to ride.
But I cannot exclude that I won't be back with some new vehicles!

I also found a mountain location where I want to try a Masterpiece shot...I'm studying angles and light right now. Hopefully it will happen before the end of the year...but there is a lot of building involved.

Aaron is probably gonna be part of a couple of adventures during the summer, but nothing for a specific Red Bull Illume project...but you never know when the next Illume shot could happen, right?

I try to keep myself active and exposed to cool situations when the magic could happen and if Aaron is around, chances are just higher!

What do you think the secret is to an image doing well in Red Bull Illume?

I think it's a very unpredictable balance between the classic photography rules (like composition and light) and the ability to tell a story...also for people who don't practice the sport or are passionate about a specific sport, which is hard to keep in mind sometimes for insiders.

You need to put yourself in the shoes of someone who has no knowledge of that sport and get the outside perspective. It's easy to forget that a Regular Joe won't have the same perception of the shot... so I believe that, in the end, it has to be an simple, essential, perfectly executed shot that tells a great story or the lifestyle around it. It's not easy.

Working together with any other Red Bull Illume finalists?

Well, I do some Downhill World Cup and Rampage shoots where a few finalists shoot as well, but we are just at the same event and not really working together. But it's always great to share ideas when you're there together with them.

And what’s your personal favorite from Red Bull Illume?

I clearly remember Dean Treml's shot which won the Enhance category...and Jody MacDonald Lifestyle winner shot. Lifestyle shots are the hardest to take...when you see the moment you want to capture, it's gone. Most of the time you're living it and it's hard to understand when the right moment is that will tell the whole story.

What's one crazy photo assignment you've been on?

That has to be shooting a bike catalog in British Columbia and California. 3 weeks, 15 bikes, 5 different riders, 10 different locations, 2 injuries, cold, hot, rain, snow, fog, high wind, customs delays with the bikes and the shortest daylight time of the year...and the specific request to shoot lifestyle in trashy and sketchy parts of different cities.

That was very hard, but really rewarding from a strictly professional point of view. There was a lot of variety and that specific type of lifestyle shot that only comes from a long road trip. Priceless. Unfortunately, logistically, it was a nightmare for the client, so next year we'll probably go back to a more traditional way of doing a catalog shoot.

Last question: will we see you again in 2019?

I'll be submitting a few shots for sure!! The fact of having 4 shots in the top 275 and a Category Winner set the bar pretty high for me. I don't have the 'illuminated idea' as it was for Chase cab driver shot just yet... but I already have a few nugs ready for the 2019 submission from a different shoot I did and maybe a new idea will pop into my mind while I'm on the road, just as it was for the cab shot.

Make sure to follow Ale di Lullo on Facebook and Instagram!

How It's Made: Bike on Bike Action

Falling into photography through writing and after a crash course shooting BMX with some of the world's biggest photographers, Ryan Fudger's passion for still images was triggered.

© Ryan Fudger / Red Bull Illume

"I really don’t know anything about motorcycles. I’ve actually spent most of my life with an unnatural fear of them. There’s just something about BMXers and motorcycles that don’t go well together. Putting my personal fear aside I spent ten or so days on the road chasing Corey Martinez, Garrett Reynolds, and Tony Neyer through the South, as they mobbed through small towns on motorcycles with their bikes strapped to the backs.

This particular photo was shot on a stretch of road known as Tail Of The Dragon in Deals Gap, North Carolina – 318 curves in 11 miles, all of which I spent hanging out the back of a minivan maxing out the memory buffer on my Canon 6D to the point I actually got motion sickness.

This particular photo was shot with a Canon 20-200 F2.8L at a motion-blur inducing 1/50th of a second shutter speed at f4.5 and ISO 400.

In all seriousness, I had the easy part hanging out of that minivan, as it was only a few miles after this photo was shot that one of the crew ended up over-cooking a turn and crashing. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt, and although the bike did need some repairs, we eventually continued south to Florida until we hit the Keys."

For more epic photos, head over to our Instagram and follow us on Facebook.

Behind the Shot: Neon Wakeskate

Daniel Vojtech is known for pushing his photography to the limit, and he's come up with some mindbending imagery. For this shot, he combined 3D printing with wakeskating. Not only that, he also used a contraption made up of over 130 DSLR's. Check the story behind the shot below!

© Daniel Vojtech / Red Bull Illume

"3D printing is new and a very popular industry so I wanted to see if it was possible to combine it with sports photography. My concept was to scan an athlete with a 3D scanner, print it and then reshoot this final 3D print in a real environment Wakeskating was a real challenge and also interesting to me so for this project I invited the best wakeskate female athlete Zuzana Vrablova.

For the final image Zuzana and I decided together to shoot a slide on the rail. The first part of the photoshoot was in the 3D scanner which was in a room with more than 130 DSLRs photographing Zuzana from all different angles. Because I wanted a more interesting and complex project I decided to shoot nine different positions instead of one, to show the entire sequence.

So we simulated the same positions as during the trick in the real environment. Rendering 3D models and creating final 3D prints took more than one month. When I had all the figures I started to think about an environment for them. Wakeskate is a water sport so water is must. After some time I created a night skyline with more than 300 liters of water in my studio. This took more than the next month.

The final photoshoot wasn’t so complicated because everything was built and ready. The only problem were the splashes. For this I had two assistants with small water pumps to create splashes from the board."

To see more epic shots, head over to our Instagram and make sure to give us a follow!

Climb through the Red Bull Illume years

Ever since Red Bull Illume started in 2007, it has been witness to some spectacular climbing imagery. Not only that, climbing photos have also consistently impressed the judges every single edition.

Red Bull Illume 2010: Adam Kokot, Spirit category winner

© Adam Kokot / Red Bull Illume

So let's take a look at some of the coolest climbing photos that have made it into the final rounds throughout Red Bull Illume history!

Make sure to follow Red Bull Illume on Facebook and Instagram for more amazing adventure and action shots!