The Illume Effect: Jody MacDonald

Red Bull Illume 2013: Jody MacDonald, Wings category top 25

© Jody MacDonald / Red Bull Content Pool

In a brand-new series leading up to 2016 Red Bull Illume, we sit down with notable former finalists and photographers to find out more about the impact the contest has had on their careers. First up is adventure sport photographer Jody MacDonald, who had two images in the Top 50 and another in the Top 250 in 2013. Here's what she had to say:

Has Red Bull Illume made any difference to your career?
"The great thing about Red Bull Illume is that it validates you as a professional photographer to the outside world. People definitely perceive you more as a professional and because of that you’re simply more inclined to get more work."

Did you get more assignments? 
"I would most definitely say it did! It gave me a lot more exposure. I did a lot of interviews and it got more people interested in featuring my work. But what it really does? It catapults your photography into the mainstream in a way that’s hard to do otherwise. Red Bull has such a broach reach."

Can you give an example?
"It’s not a quantifiable thing but Red Bull Illume has definitely had something to do with a couple of projects I’m working on, including a trip I’m about to go on."

Tell us more…
"I can’t! I signed an NDA but it’s a trip in Africa."

What’s your view on Red Bull Illume photography as a whole?  
"I’m a photographer. It’s candy for me! Over the years the caliber has gone up and up. It’s the best of the best."

So will you enter again? 
"Yes. I have one image that I know for sure I’ll submit."

What’s the secret to an image doing well?
"It has to be well thought through. It can’t just be a lucky shot, that percentage is so small now. It has to be one of the best shots of your entire career! It’s like that quote; ‘you’re lucky if you take 10 great shots in your lifetime’. Those are the ones that go into Red Bull Illume."

Lastly, what’s your own favorite image?
"That one where you got to see the whole dune. That photo encapsulates that whole experience in Mozambique. I love the colors, and it has a bit of meaning for me."

View some of Jody’s images in the gallery and find out more about her work on her website or Facebook page.

The world's greatest action and adventure sports photography contest is back and better than before with the addition of a new mobile category. Find all information here and mark Dec 1, 2015 on your calendars! That's when submissions open. 

Visit the Red Bull Illume Facebook page for regular updates.

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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.

Gallery: 8 Surf Shots to Stoke Your Summer Sessions

The summer season has got the surfers amongst us dreaming of big swells, so here’s a tribute to some of the great surf photographers from the 2016 Image Quest. The nature of the sport means that surf photographers can wait for hours, days, even weeks for the perfect shot. Here we present 8 times that determination, skill and timing have come together before the lens to create epic moments that will last forever.

© Zakary Noyle / Red Bull Illume

Feel inspired? Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more adventure and action sports! 

Behind the lens with Anthony Favennec

"I taped my camera on the rear pegs of my bike with a lot of gaffer tape and a radio trigger mounted on it. To operate my camera remotely, I took the trigger in my left hand to shoot at the right time."

© Anthony Favennec / Red Bull Illume

As the Winner of Red Bull Illume's 2016 Public Choice Award Anthony Favennec is already a well-known name in the world of adventure and action sports photography, especially for two-wheel sports. We decided to catch up with Anthony and find out a little more about the man behind the lens.

Please tell us a bit about your background and how you got into photography?

My interest in photography started with my family, my father especially, and grew when I started riding BMX at 14. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time riding and traveling with my friends to find riding spots along the Atlantic coast of France. I was lucky enough to share both of these passions with my friends, and as they became better at riding BMX, my photography evolved as well. This lead to my work being published in a magazine for the first time when I was 16. At 21, I graduated from photography school, and after working in a few studios, I decided to pursue filmmaking and photography as an independent.

What kind of photography do you like and what is your particular style/ preferences in shooting?

I really appreciate pictures of car advertising, it’s a really technical style of "action" photography. But I also like fashion communications, there are fabulous photographers like David Lachapelle, Gregory Crewdson…

I’m not sure if I have a particular style. I like to shoot whatever I feel like shooting but as natural as possible. I'm in my element when I shoot sports, especially biking and motorsports. I try to remain close to my BMX origins, partly because it offers endless opportunities to be creative, but also because this sport is the starting point of my passion for capturing life on film.

What was it like to win Red Bull Illume's Public Choice Award?

It’s a really great to win the Red Bull Illume’s Public Choice Award. I have to admit I thought I had no chance. Some pictures are just so fabulous in the contest that my picture is almost "flat" compared to them in my opinion, but obviously not to the public. I have to thank everyone who voted for me.

How did you produce this shot?

Haha I'm not sure if I should reveal the way I took this picture, it was so rock&roll. I taped my camera on the rear pegs of my bike with a lot of gaffer tape and a radio trigger mounted on it. To operate my camera remotely, I took the trigger in my left hand to shoot at the right time. I had set up my camera, a Canon EOS 40D with a Sigma 10mm f2,8 on 1/20 to get that nice curved motion blur of the street. I’m really in love with that kind of light – the springtime evenings have the best warm lights.

Was this a planned shot or more of a "nice surprise"?

I was looking to improve a black and white photo I took few years ago with the same setup. That was during the only sunny day of winter 2015 in Brittany; the kind of day that allows you to ride your BMX without the need for an indoor skatepark. But I have to admit than I looked at all the pictures of the last Red Bull Illume Image Quests to see what works and what doesn't, so I decided to use the same color, light, and the same way to work with the sunset.

Why BMX? Is it a particular passion?

This is for me a big part of my life, I have been taking bmx pictures since I was 14 and I have been riding for 14 years now, so I try to capture the identity of what bmx looks like for me because this is where everything started.

What other sports do you shoot?

I'm shooting a lot of Motorsports now, since I'm working in the car industry I have the chance to be in a totally different environment. I really enjoy shooting fmx too, one of my best friends is a really good fmx rider so we can meet and try to organize shoots. I really would like to shoot more water sport like surfing.

What other projects are you working on now?

In extreme sports I have many ideas of images, some easy, others really hard to create in organization/place/light but I’ll try to do all I can to make it happen. And I already have pictures to share with you for the next Red Bull Illume Image Quest.

Feel inspired? Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more adventure and action sports! 

Gallery: 7 Wild Shots from the Urban Jungle

Urban areas are built to contain people; from private spaces to their rules and regulations. In this gallery, we salute those who push their limits out on the streets. For many of the world’s best adventure and action sports photographers, it’s here on the public stage that they find their playground. Let’s explore!

© Ale Di Lullo / Red Bull Illume

Feel inspired? Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more adventure and action sports! 

The Votes are in…

The Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2016 saw thousands of adventure and action sports photos submitted to the contest. A judging panel of renowned photo editors from all over the world chose 55 finalists with one overall winner. Since 2016, the images have traveled to major cities and cultural hubs around the world as part of a global Exhibit Tour - but the contest didn't end there!

© Anthony Favennec / Red Bull Illume

The top 275 photos competed once again. The difference? The fans decided who won. The Public Choice Award was a great chance for followers of Red Bull Illume to pick their favorite shots from the top 275 images.

It’s with great excitement that we can announce the official winner of the Public Choice Award for the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2016. A huge congratulations goes out to Anthony Favennec! There was fierce competition for the number one spot and some stunning images in the running. However, as the polls came to a close last Friday on June 15, it was Anthony’s photo that came out on top.

The photo is an exceptional play on a natural, backlit composition and was captured, as the photographer describes, “on the only sunny day of winter 2015 in Brittany; the kind of day that allows you to ride your BMX without the need for an indoor skatepark. I taped my camera on the rear pegs of my bike with a lot of gaffer tape”. (Read the full story here)

Want to win the world`s greatest adventure and action sports photography contest? For a chance to take part and claim victory, stay tuned at redbullillume.com for the next edition in 2019.

Be sure to head over to our Gallery if you want to see the Top 275 images from the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2016 and learn more about how the shots were created.

Shooting wide with adventure and action sports photographer Jason Halayko

Jason explains why and how to shoot with wide-angle lenses - so you don't get kicked in the head by a break dancer. Experience is wisdom!

© Jason Halayko

1. Why shoot wide for adventure and action sports photography?

I find there are several reasons I use a wide-angle lens while shooting adventure and action sports photography. By using a wide lens, you can get really close in on the action and capture dynamic angles that put the viewer in a position they would almost never be able to achieve on their own. Also, a lot of times I will want to put both the take off and the landing (along with the sick action of course) all in one photo. By using a wide-angle lens I can do this while also being closer to the action myself, which is often more practical when thinking about having to move around quickly at a busy event. Another advantage of using wide-angle (especially fisheye) lenses is that it can make your subject seem to be jumping quite a bit higher than they actually are. I will use this when shooting smaller jumps to make them more exciting for the viewer and more epic for the athlete as well.

2. Which wide-angle lenses are in your bag?

I currently have a Nikon 16mm fisheye, Nikon 24mm 1.4 prime, and a Nikon 24-70mm 2.8.

3. What’s the biggest challenge with wide-angle lenses?

I would say one of the biggest challenges I have had shooting wide-angle lenses would be safety. With these lenses (again, especially the fisheye) you end up getting much closer than you realize at times. I have been millimeters away from a snowboarder, been almost hit by motorbikes, and even got kicked in the head by a breakdancer once at a Red Bull BC One event. It hurt, but everyone was fine, hahaha.

Also, when shooting with wide-angle lenses you get so much more in your image than you would with a 200mm lens, so you really need to be aware of what you are capturing other than just the action. Is your camera bag in the shot? Are people you don’t want there in the shot?

4. A 200mm lens is usually recommended for shooting football. Why is this different when it comes to adventure and action sports?

Compared to shooting football, practicality wise, it would be impossible to have even one photographer on the pitch shooting up close with a wide-angle lens. They would get in the way and be a danger to themselves and the players they are trying to capture. However, during most adventure or action sports events, take skateboarding for example, it is possible to have a few photographers inside the park shooting right up close to the action. I have shot like this in the past and it can be quite intense, but very fun for sure. You just have to be aware of what’s going on.

Also, I think when shooting a sport like football you want more close up shots of just the player(s) with the ball so a 200mm plus lens is best for cutting out unwanted information and getting a nice dynamic action shot, but for adventure and action sports it can be very important to get the whole environment of the action in the shot. I find the best images give the viewer a real sense of where the action is taking place.

5. Any crucial tips for shooting fisheye?

Have courage to get close to the action, but safety should be your first concern. I find the best fisheye images are ones taken super up close to the action, literally having the camera several centimeters from the subject. However, by getting so close with your body you can be putting yourself and the athlete in unwanted danger, so I often hold the camera with one hand and hold out my arm while keeping my body back and ready to dive out of the way if needed (and I have done this in the snow a couple times).  When shooting in this way it can be difficult to properly frame, time, and focus your images though so shooting at a high frame rate while using a continuous focus mode can help you get more usable images as well. 

6. You’ve been trying out 360º cameras right?

I have recently picked up a 360 camera and have been enjoying playing with it for the last month or so. So far I have been mainly using it for my InstaStories and things like this, but as I learn better how to use it I think it would be fun to add a few 360 images here and there to my shots taken with my normal camera. With the current apps out there it is actually really easy to edit your images on the fly so I think adding a few 360 images to a stack of event shots is not all that impossible these days. I am excited to see what I can get with my 360 camera in the near future.

See more of Jason's work on his Website and Instagram.

Why Markus Berger went the extra mile to make these incredible images

Getting shots of athletes leading up to the Olympics is never easy – the Olympics likes it that way. Try to connect your visual material with anything vaguely Games-related, and you’re risking a lawsuit.

© Markus Berger

That’s just one reason why, when photographer Markus Berger was commissioned by Red Bull to produce a photo series with some of the participating athletes, he had to get creative. The other reason why? To make incredible photos, of course. The goal? Make the athletes look awesome – with a nod to a authentic Korean culture.

Markus explains. “We had athletes from different countries, performing different winter sports, and  wanted to come up with a concept that would tell the complete story in one striking visual,” says Markus. Not easy to imagine, and not easy to execute. “At first we were looking into manga art and other modern comic styles but had to accept that manga is 100% Japanese and that there is no specific comic style attributed to Korea. Our research then led us to traditional Korean painting, sketching and calligraphy. Teaming up with Korean artist Chan Jun Jung, we were able to create a harmonious mix of these art forms. We also created a story behind the images by adding creatures that either live in Korea, or are deeply bound to Korean mythology.”

What he created was a mix of the reality and fantasy – combining striking original art with striking poses. It’s an impressive feat – while the athletes (and art) were still, the final images were anything but.

More impressive: they did this in the brief moments between the athlete’s pre-Games training. Markus and his assistant custom-built a set that they could easily take apart and reassemble. This allowed them to bring the shoot to the athletes by transporting all their gear in two small trucks. 

"We ended up building and shooting at parking lots, school gyms and photo studios, often travelling more than 300km each day between the locations and shoots. Eventually, the whole project ended up being one big road trip that was really fun and brought the whole team together. By the end of it, the set-up just became automatic.”

To see more work from Markus, head over to his website, Facebook, Instagram and 500px.

Gallery: 7 Awe-Inspiring Climbing Shots

Climber or non-climber, there are certain perspectives that just make you stop and wonder. First, for the athletes that seem to blur the lines between dedication and daredevilry. Second, for the nature that these athletes are exposed to and third, for the photographers that accomplish astonishing feats of bringing these perspectives to life.

To get you out and on the wall, we present 7 images from Red Bull Illume that make our palms sweat.

© Ken Etzel / Red Bull Illume

Feel inspired? Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more adventure and action sports! 

Shooting BMX in Morocco with Jason Colledge

The one crazy moment we did have on the trip was running away from the police I guess. That was a weird situation that didn't need to be like that.

© Jason Colledge

What are your basic stats?

My name is Jason Colledge, some people know me as Fooman. I am 29 years old from Torquay, England. I ride BMX and spend most of my time taking photos of BMX too.

How did you start shooting BMX?

Well I finished school not knowing what to do. I was doing carpentry with my Dad and had decided this was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my working life. I was told I needed further education so I decided to do something fun. Art and design was my choice. The first year covered every aspect of art and the second year we were able to specialise what we studied. I chose photography. Taking photos of BMX was natural for me, as I had always ridden my BMX growing up.

You recently went to Morocco?

So I’m actually working for UnitedBikeCo as the brand/team manager and of course shooting photographs for them. We were out in Morocco to film the second instalment of a video series called “No Foreign Lands”. We are just a crew of friends doing what we love and documenting it as we go.

The crew consisted of Sebastian Anton, Fernando laczko, Ben Gordon, Harry Mills Wakley, Justin Care, Tom Deville and Filmer Peter Adam.

What were your impressions of Morocco and how was it shooting there?

This was my first time there and I really didn’t know what to expect. It was apparent that there isn’t a lot of money here but everyone seemed to be happy and very closely knit; just like one big community. The hospitality was incredible too. I’ve never felt so welcome before in my life. We had it pretty easy in all honesty; we stayed at a great hostel and were spoilt big time. We had a van and a spot guide to show us around all the spots so we couldn’t complain. As for taking photos, Morocco is probably every photographers dream. Everywhere you look posed as a photographic moment.

Morocco isn’t usually associated with action sports… how did the locals react?

To be honest this worked in our favour. We had one run in with security that resulted in the police being called out, but most of the time the locals or security would have no idea what we were up to and when we explained, they would encourage us to ride. I think they liked to see this as it was new to them.

What challenges did you face on the trip?

I think the most obvious challenge for everyone was the heat. Morocco is known for its 300 days of sun and we had picked a week that was forecasted to rain every day. We ended up with one day of rain and the rest was scorching hot sun, so I think finding shade was the biggest challenge. The only challenge I had whilst shooting photos would be carrying my heavy bag about in such heat. I managed to get a nose bleed whilst shooting a photo on one of the days due to the dry heat, it was so weird.

Does Morocco have its own BMX scene?

Morocco does have its own BMX scene, it was quite a small scene but the riders were super friendly and weren’t shy of killing it whilst we were there.

Any favourite from the trip?

I think a favourite moment for everyone, (apart from Justin), was trying all the local food on offer.

Another favourite would be riding the mopeds there. These things were everywhere and the locals were more than happy to let us jump on them and blast about which was super fun to do. The one crazy moment we did have on the trip was running away from the police I guess. That was a weird situation that didn’t need to be like that.

Where else have you shot BMX and what have been some of your favourite trips?

I am fortunate to have travelled quite a bit all from riding my bike and taking photos. I have travelled all over Europe, been to the States, Australia and now Africa. Every trip has its own quality so it is hard to choose a favourite. I get to hang out with friends and do what I love so it really is hard to pick one. Alicante on a “Young Bloods” trip is definitely up there though. This trip was pretty much perfect; four of my best friends, Harry Mills Wakley, Sam Jones, Jordan Godwin and Callum Earnshaw, plus beautiful weather with an endless amount of spots to ride. The party life was on point too.

What else do you shoot outside of BMX?

Well I do like to shoot pet portraits, sucker for that. Automotive photography is an aspect of photography I have always been fond of. I just like to shoot subjects that I have an interest in really.

Any tips or advice for aspiring action sport photographers?

Don’t be shy to try something different; if it doesn’t work then it doesn’t work. It’s all trial and error. Learn from your mistakes. Oh and be prepared to carry a heavy bag full of camera equipment haha.

For a free zine about Jason’s trip to Morocco, ask your local Unitedbikeco dealer.

The video from the trip can be viewed here.

To see more of Jason’s work, check out his website and Instagram.

Shooting break dancers in the canals of Amsterdam with Broncolor

Add Dramatic Light with a Silver Beauty Dish

Bboy Shane and Bboy Menno dancing on a canal in Amsterdam

By Rutger Pauw

When I found out Red Bull Netherlands hosted the world finals of their BC One breakdance competition, I pitched an idea to them of having break dancers spinning and jumping on the water of an Amsterdam canal with out the use of post production.

They liked the idea, and we ended up building a wooden platform just under the water surface that supported the weight of the dancers, it was connected to a wooden jetty that was big enough to have our lights and crew on. With the photo taken from low down, the under water platform wasn’t noticeable, and it made for a very dynamic image.

I used a fisheye to get really close to the dancers, and get water splashes near the lens.

Two Siros L 400’s were used to light the dancers, with one of the lights holding a silver beauty dish on a boom stand, so the light could ‘hover’ above the water to get more dramatic light. The HS function made sure all those drops in the air were nicely frozen, although I ended up lowering the shutter speed just a little to get a tiny bit of movement in there, adding a feeling of movement.

Since this was a collaboration with Samsung, they were keen to also get some slow mo footage with their own Galaxy phone, which ended up being quite fun to experiment with. The modelling light on the Siros is flicker free,  and still very bright during the day, so I used them in the same position as in the still images to fill in the dancers, which gave us a nice light balance with the sun coming from the back.

About Rutger Pauw

The thing I like most about photography is that it’s like riding bikes. It allows me to come up with ideas and tricks I haven’t seen before. Somehow that’s what has always intrigued me most. It’s a little personal victory, maybe unnoticed by others but the feeling of having created something you haven’t seen before is why I take photos.

See the original story from Broncolor here.

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