Talking surf photography in Sweden with Sophie Zander

"The surf is best during the fall and winter, but it’s the worst for photographers. When it rains, it rains horizontally into the lens because of the wind!"

© Sophie Zander / Red Bull Illume

What are your basic stats?

I’m Sophie Zander, born in 1993 and raised in the suburbs of Stockholm, Sweden. I work full time in a warehouse but photography is one of my biggest interests, so sometimes I get photography work too.

How did you first get into photography?

I was pretty much born into photography. When I was a kid, my father and his best friend had a small studio and dark room just for fun. As I got older, my dad and I would go on trips each year, stopping every time he saw a photo opportunity. Instead of complaining and being a pain in the ass, I thought I would try take some photos too. My parents got me a small compact camera as a summer gift and later I got my dad’s old Canon 10D. I went from hanging around in the studio, to studying media in high school with a focus on photography. That’s how I got to where I am now.

What’s in your camera bag?

In my camera bag you’ll find two camera bodies and a bunch of lenses; 24-70mm 2.8, 70-200mm 2.8, 50mm 1.8 and sometimes I’ll steal my dad’s 16-35mm 2.8. I take batteries, memory cards, rain covers for the cameras, reusable hand warmers for both me, the surfers and other photographers. You might find some candy in there too.

Why surf photography?

It all started 10 years ago with what I thought was a lie. My dad told me it was possible to surf in Sweden and I said; “No you can’t, liar!”. However, he kept telling me it was true so I told him we had to go shoot some surfing the next time the forecast looked good. Turned out he wasn’t lying! I fell deeply in love with it and became obsessed with the weather forecasts so I wouldn’t miss the next session. 

I honestly don’t know what the appeal is! If I lived somewhere warmer and more tropical I would understand, but I live in Sweden and it’s the complete opposite!

What are the challenges of shooting surfers in Sweden?   

The surf is best during the fall and winter, but it’s the worst for photographers. When it rains, it rains horizontally into the lens because of the wind! It’s snowing, it’s windy, it’s stormy and it’s so cold that your fingers and toes hurt. You wear so many layers of clothing that you look like you’re going to hunt polar bears! I’ve often questioned myself why we do this to ourselves over and over again. Why do we go outside when there are storm warnings on the news? 

I guess it’s a mix of things I love about it - and it gets better and better each time I go. The first time I went to the surf spot, I didn’t know a single person. Now I have an extra family which means a lot to me in so many ways; I’m forever thankful for everything they’ve done for me. 

How did it feel to be a Red Bull Illume semi finalist? 

It felt so surreal! I’ve been following Red Bull Illume since it all started and I’ve been amazed by every photo. Many of my favorite photographers have done really well in the competition; I never thought I’d stand a chance, but I guess I was wrong.  

Talk us through your semi final photo…

My semi final photo was taken in Unstad, Lofoten Islands, Norway! I went there for the yearly father-daughter trip, my dad is more of a landscape photographer and I’m obviously into extreme sports. Norway has a great mix of both and it’s not too far away from where we live. Unfortunately, the sea decided to be flat the whole week and the day the photo was taken was the only day with some kind of waves, more like surf school kind of waves. I was slightly disappointed in both the weather and the waves. Parts of the mountains were covered by fog, then these three random surfers showed up. It looked really cool so I had to take a photo. When I saw the shot on the camera I was like; “this will be one of my Red Bull Illume photos”.

Are there any other adventure and action sports you like to shoot?

I’ve shot motocross and fmx a few times, once in a while I’ll end up in a skatepark. Last summer a few friends went wake surfing, me and my camera joined them and it was so much fun. If I had to choose one sport to shoot for the rest of my life it would be surfing for sure, but it’s fun to add variety.

What other things do you shoot?

Since I’m a music nerd I love to shoot concerts as well. I’ve also found out how fun it is to shoot portraits, simple portraits, nothing too fancy. When there’s no action sports or concerts there’s always different landscapes to explore, Mother Nature sure knows how to blow our minds.

What lessons has photography taught you?

Photography made me more confident, maybe not in life general, but it’s easier for me to make contact with strangers than it was before. If I have my camera with me and I see someone who will be a perfect model for my kind of portraits I will walk up to them and ask if I can take a photo. It’s almost as if I can hide behind my camera and skills.

Photography has also taught me that there’s no “next time”, the light, the composition, nothing will be the same next time. If you want that specific photo, you have pick up the camera and press the shutter button NOW! Not tomorrow or next month. One thing I know for sure is that it sucks to regret things like that. I guess it’s the same in real life too. I’m still kind of bad at it but I’m always trying to learn by mistakes and regrets!

Any upcoming photography projects?

There are a lot of things I’d like to shoot but I’m trying to focus on photos for Red Bull Illume 2019, it’s getting closer! 

What are your plans for the future?

I try to not have too big plans because life never turns out the way you plan it. I’m just going to see what life has to offer and take it from there! 

But I’d love to travel, both to new places and to revisit some old places. 

Thanks to Sophie for this amazing interview! Check out more of her work on her website and on Instagram.

Read the latest stories

Introducing the first ever semi-finalists of the new Moving Image category!

Images are no longer only standing still. That’s why we introduced the Moving Image category for the Image Quest 2019. These creators had just one take to produce a video sequence between 5 and 30 seconds, and the results are spectacular!

© Pierre Henni / Red Bull Illume

Here are the 20 semi-finalists of the new Moving Image category. These creators mastered the challenge and created sequences the are action-packed, evocative and at times gripping. To save your clicks, we have combined all 20 clips into one amazing video. So, take a seat because the Moving Image semi-finalists may have you on the edge of it by the time you’re done!

Here is the full list of Moving Image semi-finalists for 2019:

Steve Storey
Philipp Reinhard
Seppi Schollerbr
Aleksander Osmalek
Matteo Mocellin
Pierre Henni
Laurence Crossman-Emms
Vit Hasek
Markus Anders
Fabian Lentsch
Leo Cittadella
Ondra Eliasek
Phil Pham
Darren McCullough

On November 20, 2019 the 60 finalists, 11 category winners and 1 overall winner will be announced at the Winner Award Ceremony. See all the action live from wherever you are by hitting the links below!

Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, TwitterPinterest and YouTube!

The category where anything goes! Here are the Creative by Skylum semi-finalists

A blank canvas for photographers and content creators everywhere. This is the category where we celebrate the most inventive, extraordinary and surreal image edits in the adventure and action sports photography world!

© Evgeny Pavlov / Red Bull Illume

The 20 semi-finalists in the category without boundaries have been revealed. That’s right, it’s the Creative by Skylum Category. In Skylum, we found the perfect partner for the category where image editing rules are set aside and digital enhancements or darkroom alterations are encouraged. We removed the boundaries, so that photographers can push them and create edits that are both mind-blowing and beautiful!

Huge congratulations go out to these photographers! Their images made it to the Top 260 out of nearly 60,000 submissions and will be in the limited-edition coffee table book and on the website.

Here is the full list of Creative by Skylum Category semi-finalists for 2019:

Brendon Fidek
Eric Yip
Leo Zhukov
Markus Berger
Evgeny Pavlov
David Jaramillo
Ivaylo Donchev
Alexey Shabanov
Alex Buisse
Jonathan Ferreira
Stef Candé
Daniel Vojtech
Petr Polách
Denis Klero
Dan Krauss
Leo Francis
Jan Pelikán
Jan Kozak
Hannes Mautner
Michał Gałczyński

On November 20, 2019 the 60 finalists, 11 category winners and 1 overall winner will be announced at the Winner Award Ceremony. For those not in attendance, we have a seat for you! Follow all the action live from wherever you are by hitting the links below!

Stay up-to-date with the biggest news and best images, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, TwitterPinterest and YouTube!

Winter climbing in Scotland – with Frost!

Hamish Frost takes us to a place where the best weather to shoot in is - bad weather. Winter climbing in Scotland is a total sensory experience, a place that offers immense history but also the opportunity to send new routes in challenging conditions. What’s it like to shoot there? We asked Hamish!

© Hamish Frost / Red Bull Illume

Hamish Frost credits the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2016 as having a huge influence on his decision to take photography more seriously. Three years on, his shot of Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell trying a new winter route on Bidean nam Bian, Scotland, was voted as June winner of the Best of Instagram by SanDisk Category, securing his place as a finalist of the Image Quest 2019.

We knew a little bit about winter climbing in Scotland, and we had heard it was special, but we thought who better to take us deeper into the subject than Hamish himself! So, check out our interview below, with introductory quotes from Hamish and Greg.

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Hamish Frost:

“There’s something about the ephemeral nature of the winter conditions in Scotland which makes it all quite exciting. Our winters are often quite marginal, with temperatures generally hovering just above or just below freezing. The freeze-thaw cycles that we get can result in some brilliant mixed climbing conditions, but it can be a bit of a hit and miss game trying to work out where the best conditions are.

“You’ll spend most of the winter pouring over weather forecasts in different parts of the Highlands, trying to work out a picture of what’s going on and building your climbing plans around that. Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you can get it spectacularly wrong!

“I think this ultimately makes it all the more rewarding when you do get a good day though, particularly if you’ve gambled slightly and gone somewhere a bit more out there, that others might not have considered.”

Greg Boswell:

“If you’re looking for adventure and a challenge, Scotland is the place to be during the winter months, especially in regards to the climbing. You have to battle the fickle conditions, the long approaches and when you eventually get to the route and find it in condition, they are usually hard won and take a long time to unveil the secrets needed to ascend.

“I suppose there is a lot of uncertainty and challenge involved in Scottish winter climbing, but with the amazing landscapes and abundance of world class cliffs, the rewards are made so much sweeter and are usually well worth the effort.”

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What makes winter ascents in Scotland attractive for a photographer?

Although our mountains aren’t the biggest, they more than make up for it in character! The scenery we have is stunning, with remote, rolling glens and big, gnarly cliff faces. There’s also an attitude in Scottish winter climbing that you go out even on the bad weather days (otherwise you probably wouldn’t get much done!).

I’ve actually taken some of my favorite winter climbing photos on days where the weather hasn’t been amazing. All the wind and snow blowing around can add a lot of drama to a photo and make it look like quite an unpleasant place to be, which I guess it is, but it’s that type two fun which anyone who does stuff in the mountains can probably relate to.

Where does your personal motivation for extreme undertakings like these come from?

Initially I started taking photos in the mountains to try show off how good the mountains were in Scotland and hopefully inspire friends and others to get out and explore them. It was only around 5 or 6 years ago that I actually made the effort to get out of the city and started to explore the Scottish Highlands myself and my mind was blown by how good the local hills were. I wanted to try and encourage others to get out and have the same sort of experiences I was having. My way of doing that was to take photos of my days out and post them online, and it worked!

As I’ve started climbing and skiing more, I’d say my motivations have evolved slightly. It’s now the buzz you get from challenging yourself, pushing your limits and scaring yourself a little in mountainous environments. My favorite shoots to do nowadays are the ones where I get to actually ski or climb some objective whilst trying to take decent photos. I love the challenge of trying to be creative whilst you’re dealing with a whole load of other factors, like staying warm and dry, making sound mountain decisions and trying to get yourself up a route.

How does the snow, ice and sheer coldness affect your photography?

My Sony cameras are pretty hardy and will keep firing even when it gets really cold and wet. There are simple tricks that help like keeping spare batteries in pockets close to your body so they keep warm, having a drybag to hand in case it gets really wet and you want to keep your camera out of the worst of it, and also bringing a spare compact camera on a shoot (if you can afford the weight), in case something does happen!

How heavy is the photography gear you’re carrying up the mountain?

I try and keep the kit I’m using relatively light. I’m already carrying a load of climbing kit and extra clothing to keep warm and if you weigh yourself down with lots of kit during the walk-in then you won’t have much energy to run around taking photos.

I tend to use one full frame Sony mirrorless body with a wide-angle zoom lens on it (I reckon I use this lens for about 80-90% of my shots) and then maybe a Sony APS-C mirrorless body with a telephoto lens as well if I reckon I can afford the weight. This gives me a bit of redundancy and avoids having to change lenses if the weather’s bad (which is a quick route to getting a tonne of snow in your camera).

Do you have to be a decent (mixed) climber yourself to shoot in these conditions or do you consider abseiling from the top?

It certainly helps, as it opens up options to shoot bigger routes where you can climb as two pairs and photograph the second pair on the route as they climb behind you. Most of the time I’ll just work independently though and either photograph the climb from a distance with a long lens, or set up a static rope at the top of the cliff and rappel into a position to shoot from. If you’re doing this then it definitely pays to be good with the cold!

Bad or even no views due to weather puts more focus on the climber and the wall right in front of you. What are the challenges and techniques to overcome this and get good shots?

For sure, the bad weather days can make it a bit more challenging and you have to be a bit more creative about getting a shot. If the visibility is bad, then you need to think about getting close to the action, otherwise your photos aren’t gonna have much in them! Sometimes you just need to have a little patience too. Even on the total white-out days, you will get patches where the visibility improves, and you might be able to get something from further away, you just need to be very aware of what’s going on, even checking updated forecasts out on the hill, and then reacting quickly when the weather does change.

I would say that some of the most challenging weather conditions to work in are actually the sunny days. This is because the routes being climbed are often on north faces, which don’t catch much sun during the winter. As such you can end up with your subject climbing in the shade against a brightly lit up background, which is a hard shot to edit well as it’s got far too much contrast in it. My favorite days are the slightly overcast days, where the clouds almost act like a giant softbox and you get this really nice soft, diffused light coming through.

Check out more of Hamish on Instagram!

Sofia Sjöberg dances with light

Sofia Sjöberg is a photographer from Stockholm, Sweden. For as long as she can remember she has had a camera in her hand, but felt that making a living from her passion was out of reach. Now, she is an Image Quest 2019 semi-finalist in the Lifestyle Category and thriving on opportunities that come her way!

Red Bull Illume Lifestyle submission

© Sofia Sjöberg / Red Bull Illume

Back in 2013, an image of skier Jacob Wester spraying powder at sunset lit up the Image Quest – that image was shot by Daniel Rönnbäck. They return to the Image Quest 2019, but this time both are in front of the lens! The image, captured by Lifestyle semi-finalist Sofia Sjöberg takes us behind the scenes of the things we love – adventure and action sports, and photography!

Sofia has been on our radar for most of the year, as she also made the Top 25 of the Best of Instagram by SanDisk Category back in February. We wanted to know more, check out the interview below!

Now you’re a semi-finalist, describe what the ‘Lifestyle’ Category means to you…

I find that athletes in the action sport community tend to let their sports define their entire lives in a way that seems unique to them. It provides them an identity as well as a social context. The Lifestyle category for me is not only about portraying the way of life of the athletes, photographers and cinematographers by capturing the moments around the action and the moments that show their dedication and level of commitment but also the relationship between the individuals in the community. 

How would you describe your Lifestyle?

Unlike the athletes, I have not chosen a specific sport to live my life through. I have rather chosen my lifestyle around being outdoors and experiencing nature through my camera. Due to this, my lifestyle is pretty much based on the seasons. During winter it is very focused on skiing and being out in the mountains, spring is all about camping and ski touring, summer time is computer time and, in the autumn, I focus on documenting surfing somewhere in the world.

Is your lifestyle visible in your photography?

I sure hope it is. I try to capture as many moments as possible of my life. I find that the most difficult part of capturing the lifestyle is that during the less good times it is hard to see the beauty in what you are doing. It is so much more work behind the action than just the performance of the athletes. I have spent weeks in a campervan in Iceland, looking for a decent wave, only to have found stormy oceans with pouring rain. I've spent days in my campervan in Northern Norway, not being able to be outside because of winds and snow, waiting for a potentially sunny window so we can show that specific line or jump. How do you show that in an interesting way and how do you find the inspiration to pick up your camera, when the dream of capturing that specific shot is slowly fading away due to difficult weather?

In your words, what type of photographer are you?

I'm a lifestyle action sport photographer with a passion for camping and raw scenery.

What’s more important in photography, action or emotion?

It is all about the light if you ask me, haha, but if I have to choose I pick action. If you have a powerful action shot it will most likely bring forth emotions in the viewer.  

Do you always have your camera with you?

Yes, I always have a camera with me. I have different cameras for different situations. I use a DSLR and a drone for work. I don't really use my phone to take photos since I have noticed that I never look at them and they don't bring me any joy. Therefore, I got a small analog point and shoot camera from the late 90s for everyday situations like parties and lifestyle. Since I have to spend a bit of money on each frame, I just tend to plan the shot more, as well as treasure them more when they are developed. And it is always fun to see what got captured a month later or so.

How did you discover Red Bull Illume?

It was all over my social media feeds in 2016 ;) 

You made it into the Top 25 of the Best of Instagram by SanDisk Category, did this give you confidence to enter the main contest?

It sure did. I have not worked that long as a photographer so when I entered the Best of Instagram by SanDisk category I wasn't sure if I had what it takes to compete with all the amazing photographers out there. When I made the top 25 I decided it was worth giving a shot and I'm so honored to have made the semi-finals with not one but two photos!

What’s next for you, and where can we find more of your work?

Winter is just around the corner so Chamonix, France is first up. Then ski touring in Iceland and Northern Norway. I put up some of my work on Instagram, other than that you can find them in ski magazines, so go pick one up and support this amazing community that works so hard to show what action sports is all about!

Follow Sofia on Instagram!

Before, between, after - these are the Lifestyle Category semi-finalists!

It’s not a hobby, it’s a lifestyle as the saying goes and this category is a testament to that. The 20 Lifestyle Category semi-finalist images highlight the passion of photography away from the action. With some big names behind the camera, and some even bigger guests in front of it!

© Manuel Miguelez / Red Bull Illume

When you think of a great photograph, often it’s one that takes you away to a memory, a far away location or a certain feeling. The Lifestyle Category does just that, with images ideal for those who understand that the moments before, during and after the action are what fills the soul and make each adventure complete. The 20 semi-finalists take you behind the curtain to see the previously unseen, with some big names and some even bigger guests!

Here is the full list of Lifestyle category semi-finalists in 2019:

Jimmy Chin
Brian Nevins
Bryce Piwek
Will McKay
Jason Halayko
Marc Daviet
Luis Gallo
Sofia Sjöberg
Ale Di Lullo
Bruno Long
Jara Sijka
Alex Buisse
Christoph Oberschneider
Tal Roberts
Tom McNally
Paris Gore
Andy Parant
Manuel Miguelez
Reuben Krabbe

Huge congratulations go out to these photographers! Their images will grace the limited-edition coffee table book and be on the website gallery for years to come.

Tune in next week for a new category and don’t forget, the only way to follow all the action live from the Winner Award Ceremony night on November 20, 2019 is to hit the links below!

Don’t miss a minute, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, TwitterPinterest and YouTube!

Climbing photography with natural ingredients - Armin Walcher

Back in the Image Quest 2016, Armin Walcher was a semi-finalist in the Spirit category with an image that featured an incredible ray of light beaming through a bike. He tells us about his latest project, entitled SKRIK, in which he endeavoured to take images of climbing using only natural light and no manipulation.

SKRIK

© Armin Walcher

© Armin Walcher

Inspired by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch and his artwork "Der Schrei" a series came to life with natural ingredients and no manipulation.

The photographs were taken with natural light from the counter ridge of the wall. It was a perfect place to get the right angle without any help or additional gear. The only thing was not to be afraid of height!

The final shots were taken waiting for the perfect light, when the sun sets with limited time to get the last rays of sun on the climber. The blue wall created by the setting sun. With natural light from the counter ridge of the wall.

For more from Armin, follow him on Instagram!

A fresh view, a new approach

What did you do before you turned 25? Mathis Dumas is a photographer, filmmaker, IFMGA Mountain Guide and mountain sports athlete – and he is now a semi-finalist in the Emerging by Red Bull Photography category!

© Mathis Dumas / Red Bull Illume

Based out of Chamonix in the French Alps, Mathis Dumas came to the attention of the judges in the Emerging by Red Bull Photography category with this epic image shot on one of the most famous ridges in the Mont Blanc range.

Known for his ability to capture extraordinary imagery while climbing and skiing in extremely high-risk environments, Mathis is one of a new breed of content creators. He scouted the pillar route, guided the athlete Mathilde Becerra on one of the world’s hardest 8a+ routes at 3800m, and captured the shot!

We wanted to find out a bit more about him…

How does it feel to be a semi-finalist in the new Emerging by Red Bull Photography category?

I’m super excited and proud to represent the new generation of outdoor photographers. It’s an honor for me to be a semi-finalist of the new Emerging by Red Bull Photography category of the Image Quest 2019.

What came first - then mountain guide or the photographer?

I’ve been in the mountain for a while now, but actually the photography came first. Photography is what transported me further into the mountains…

What are your biggest influences in adventure and action sports photography?

There is a lot of very talented photographers out there, just take a look at Red Bull Illume! But for me Jimmy Chin, Tim Kemple, Seb Montaz and Ben Thouard are the masters - and I take a lot of inspiration from them. 

How did you discover Red Bull Illume and what made you want to submit?

I had heard a lot about this prestigious contest, and this year for the first time I took the step of submitting my photos. It wasn’t as smooth as it sounds, everything was a bit last minute, which makes me even more stoked to be a semi-finalist! 

Winter or summer?

Winter is more my environment - I really love skiing and ice climbing! 

What are your main goals in photography?

My main goals are to work with the best athletes in the world, going on serious expeditions to explore, document the world and the effect of global warming in the mountains. 

Do you have some big adventures planned? Where can we find you in the near future?

I’m about to go on my first expedition in Népal for a project with athletes for a month. After that, I’m going in Banff to do some ice climbing in November.

You can find me on Instagram!

The kids are alright! Meet the Emerging by Red Bull Photography semi-finalists

The future of adventure and action sports photography is in safe hands! Marvel at the skill and passion of the under-25s with these 20 semi-finalist images, seen for the first time right here!

© Satchel Cronk / Red Bull Illume

We are proud to present the rising stars of the Emerging by Red Bull Photography category. These photographers offer a fresh approach and a different angle, while showing knowledge and imagination that is sure to excite you for many years to come. When we had the idea of creating a category specifically for under-25s, we couldn't have foreseen the incredible level of images that it would produce.  

So, enough talking! Check out the semi-finalist images for yourself, and see the full list of the Emerging by Red Bull Photography category semi-finalists below:

Kyle Lieberman
Noam Keydar
Grégoire Sigaud
Jan Pelikan
Elias Lundh
Pierre Beurier
Brynjar Tvedt
Brodie Hood
Theo Burette
Joseph Roby
Aarón Sio
Julien Blanc
Florent Barberet
Joseph Eaton
Will Saunders
Manojit Mitra
Nathan Starzynski
Mathis Dumas
Satchel Cronk
Lukas Kahn

Huge congratulations go out to them - making it into the Top 260 images out of a whopping 59,551 submissions is an outstanding achievement! Their images will forever be a part of Red Bull Illume history as part of the limited-edition coffee table book and on the website.

Don't forget, we will be announcing the semi-finalists to another category next week! And put a huge red mark around November 20, 2019 in your calendar so you remember to tune in live to the Winner Award Ceremony night - to see the finalists and winners unveiled!

The only way to catch all the action is to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, TwitterPinterest and YouTube!

Biking in BC with Blake Jorgensen

Blake shares with us some epic images from his trip to Retallack, BC and lets us in on what it's like to be an action and adventure sports photographer on a trip such as this!

© Blake Jorgensen

Hailing from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Blake Jorgensen found the ideal outlet for his creative instincts and love of the outdoors in the mountains of British Columbia. Read our interview with Blake below and check out his sensational images!

How did you get started as an adventure and action sport photographer? 

My start in action sport photography started when I decided to move to Whistler BC from Toronto. Whistler seem to draw me in with its adventurous community and atmosphere. I became passionate about documenting all the exciting adventures and outdoor experiences I was having. I loved showing people the photos (even though they were on slides back then) of what me and my friends were experiencing. 

The ski and snowboard scene was growing at that point and being a part of that growth was exciting and started to work with athletes that were trying to build a career and identity out of those sports and lifestyle. Year by year at a slow base I slowly build a carrier and relationships that ultimately allowed me to do it full time. I moved to Whistler at age 18 and was shooting full time by the time I was 23. During that time, I worked for Blackcomb tuning skis at night and skiing/biking and shooting photos in the day. 

Please provide us a little background to this trip… 

I have been to Retallack many times over the years for so many photo shoots. It has been like my home away from home. I have also worked with Richie Schley and Cam Zink for many years and been on many grand adventures in the past so when they asked me about going on this trip with them I was easily sold. 

Any excuse to go to Retallack and hang with these boys and talk about past adventures while being on a new one was something to look forward to. Richie was one of the first people to ever believe in my photography from the beginning and I remember shooting with Cam when he was a teenager just getting going so it’s really awesome to shooting new images with them after all these years in the awesome majesty of Retallack. 

What are the main challenges for a photographer on a trip like this? 

I think the only real challenge is stopping to take photos instead of having too much fun haha! I look as this trip as a fun trip, but at the end of the day everybody still expects images of a certain quality so there is both the pressure to ride and have fun but also create some amazing content. Keeping that in balance is really the only challenge. 

Have you shot at high profile events, how does this compare to shooting on other projects? 

Events are their own beast as that ship sails with or without you. Its straight up journalism where you have to be tuning into what’s happening and make sure you capture the moments to help describe the event in recap. Shooting with the riders at Retallack has a much more creative approach and freedom because you get to communicate and work with the athletes directly and create something together. 

Do you have a dream trip in mind? Which spot & location? 

SO many places I have not been but to put something down here I think I would like to go to Antarctica. 

Follow Blake on Instagram!

Turning rocks to rainbows

Luke Rasmussen combines two of his passions - climbing and photography - to create spectacular long exposure images that chart the path of his ascents with vibrant colors. A semi-finalist in the Innovation by Sony category, we caught up with Luke to discover more!

© Luke Rasmussen / Red Bull Illume

On the outskirts of Las Vegas, a city well-known for its bright lights, you might find Luke Rasmussen with LED’s strapped to his body, climbing while his Sony a7rii captures the geometric patterns of light that follow his motion, “freezing time in a moment”, as he so gracefully describes it. From a city where you should expect the unexpected, Luke has created something that the judges had never seen before – innovation at its finest!

Read our interview with Luke below!

How did the idea for this shot come about?

This shot comes about at the intersection of my two passions. I have been a rock climber since I was 11 years old, a lifelong passion. My interest in photography came later and truly began to grow under the influence of long exposure photography techniques. These techniques allowed me to capture a long-running fascination of mine, the passage of time.

This study of the passage of time led to an immediate passion for long exposure photography. Soon after discovering this passion, I knew I had to find a way to connect it to my other passion: rock climbing.

The experience of climbing is rooted in a flowing state, moving from one hold to the next, connecting the natural features in a rock face. In order to study this flow, this passage of time, I wanted to be able to visualize it in a single image.

How long did it take you to capture the image?

The beauty of being a Las Vegas climber is that I can decide to go rock climbing at 8pm, leave my house, drive 10 minutes to the crag, get a good session of climbing and shooting in, and be back in bed before 11pm. That being said, these shoots always take longer than expected and I always end up with fewer shots than expected.

It’s an odd feeling to get home with your arms thrashed and your skin gone from what felt like an all-night shoot, to open your laptop and transfer a grand total of 14 photos. Not only is the set-up time consuming, but each individual exposure takes the duration of the climb, and I almost never get it right the first time. 

This particular 60 foot 5.11d route was taking me around 100 seconds to climb. The final shot was a 92 second exposure that I got on my sixth and last try of the night.

Did the final image go exactly to plan?

From the first time I went to this crag, I knew I was going to take this photo. The sweep of the road heading towards the mountains drew my eyes. It begged to be photographed. And I knew that it would be especially interesting to see the road at night, lit up by the commuting cars on their way to and from Vegas

I also knew that I had to wait for a night with a quarter moon to add light to the mountains without taking away too much from the stars. From there it was just a matter of nailing the climbing element, the most important part.

That part of the shot takes very little planning. In fact, my goal is to capture the unplanned, natural movement of climbing. I leave it up to the climb itself and its intrinsic movement to do the “painting.” In a certain way, it’s a lucky coincidence that the flowing motion of climbing produces such aesthetic patterns.

How did you find this location? 

Vegas had an unusually wet winter this year. It even snowed! And while the snow was certainly beautiful and great for some stunning landscape photography, it really put a damper on the sandstone climbing in nearby Red Rock (sandstone is a porous rock that becomes fragile when wet). However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it really made me open my horizons and check out all the nearby limestone climbing that Vegas has to offer.

This particular cave is known as The Blue Diamond Cave and the route is called M16 (5.11d). It was established by the late Flyin’ Brian McCray.

Biggest challenge with this shot?

The biggest challenge with this shot, and really all my shots, is the climbing itself. I have a fairly good grasp on the gear needed to make the shot work. My Sony a7rii has been the perfect tool that I needed to be able to just focus on dealing with the challenges of the climb. I can use my phone to wirelessly control my camera and even preview the images at the top of the route. 

I have realized that you have to climb as quickly and evenly as possible. If your speed is varied, or if you stop for just a second in one position, the image will contain hotspots where the lights are overexposed and blown out. Climbing quickly produces the most even exposure as well as the best sense of a flowing movement up the climb. On many climbs, especially more difficult ones such as the one in this shot, this becomes my biggest challenge.

How do you achieve the change of color?

The lights are the second cheapest programable LED strip I could find. Sometimes I choose to shoot in a solid color. Other times, I will bring the remote with me, so that I can manually change the color as I reach certain sections of the climb. I’ll do this if I’m trying to highlight different features of the route with different colors. I also have the option of choosing preset effects.

For this particular shot, I had them cycling from red, to green, to blue every 3 seconds. By cycling through the colors at set intervals this allows you to track the difficult sections of the climb in the image. Even though, I am trying to climb as consistently as possible, there will invariably be difficult “crux” sections where my climbing slows down. These sections appear in the final image as more jumbled, brighter spots, where the colors begin to meld into each other.

Are there any plans to further develop your style of shooting? Any upcoming hot projects?

Currently, I’m really struggling with getting an image that I’m happy with of longer (100+ feet) routes. From a climbing perspective, these are much more interesting to me. In my personal climbing, I enjoy climbing long multi-pitch routes, so I would love to successfully photograph one.

Many of the routes that I would like to photograph traditionally take hours to climb if not all day. And that’s in the daylight without a string of distracting LEDs tied to me. Climbing them in the dark through the night will certainly add a much stronger sense of adventure. And, I can’t wait to take on that adventure.

I look forward to bringing my photography to the canyon walls of The Black and the sandstone spires of Utah. To combine photography and climbing in these magical places will certainly carry a much deeper meaning for me. And hopefully, that deeper meaning will translate into a “better” photograph (whatever that may mean).

For more, head over to motionilluminated.com or follow Luke on Instagram!