Act like a pro, says Will Gadd

Adventure legend Will Gadd has come on board as a judge for the Image Quest 2021. The Red Bull and Black Diamond athlete explains why pros get the results first before getting experimental, why posing is bad and why if you want to work with athletes, you should never, ever behave like a dick.

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© Christian Pondella / Red Bull Illume

How important has the photography been in your career?

My sports are not spectator friendly, so I count on photographers to bring my world to the public. Without photography my world is invisible, and I can’t have the career I’ve had. It’s that simple: I don’t have a job without both the pro photographers I work with.

What does it take to be an adventure photographer?

My expeditions are normally cold, remote, and dangerous. There are sleeping bags, cameras and fingers that freeze solid, and there’s always the chance of the mountain doing something we don’t expect. So to even go on these trips you have to be a little bit special, and then to capture any images takes extraordinary hard work. But to produce images that grab the world’s attention with their raw visual power takes an incredible set of both survival and art skills that’s very rare. My favorite story is of Christian Pondella making sandwiches every morning on an expedition in -30º temps. That’s how he could help us move forward, and while the images he shot were incredible it’s his constant work ethic that I respect the most. Talent is nothing without working to move the team forward.

“Pros get results first, then take chances to get the mind-blowing shot second"

Is the athlete-photographer relationship important? Do you work together on the creative vision?

Yes and yes! Often, I have to trust what the photographer is seeing in his head, even if I can’t see it. Some of the most amazing images I’ve worked on came about even though I honestly thought the idea was stupid. But I don’t say that, I get out and do my job as an athlete, and over the years I’ve learned to really trust the photographers I work with regularly. And the opposite applies – I often have ideas about what will work well with the light or the feature, and the photographer sometimes doesn’t see it until we’re in it. But the best is when we work together, talk about what needs to happen, and then make some world-class images together. That’s as satisfying to me as doing the climb or flight sometimes.

What makes a great adventure photo?
This is a question with as many answers as shutter clicks on a pro’s camera! In a word, I love images that amaze me, rock me back on my heels and make me forget about anything else for that moment After that immediate emotion I look deeper for a few things: Unique so it grabs my eye, layers to discover, solid craft and composition, integrity, and then sometimes 200 other qualities after those first few that contradict them.

In more detail: It’s a unique view. A totally different moment, perspective, composition, something that grabs my eye from a distance and says, ‘Hey, this is different!’ Maybe it’s the composition, and I ask, ‘How did they get into that position or find that light?’ Or, more simply, ‘WTF!’ The second is that the photo holds my attention in a process of discovery. Maybe a shot with some wild sports action, but also a facial expression that says more about the situation than just the wave or rock or sky alone.

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© Christian Pondella

“If you’re a pain in the ass to be around then you’ll go nowhere.”


If a photographer has used their deep understanding of light and action to make something amazing then I respect that craft and vision a lot. I also respect the amateur who is in a once-in-a-lifetime position and points his phone and nails the image of a lifetime simply because they are there—being in the right place counts for a lot, sometimes more than craft.

Are there particular sports that you like to see?

Whether it’s paragliding or paddling or climbing or biking, [I like] shots that I want to be in; where I can say, ‘Damn, I wish I were there!’ Even if I lack the skills to be there, good shots make me want to be there. That’s why so many BASE images resonate – almost no one looking at them will ever BASE, but they are so out there that it twists our minds and amazes us that a human can do something so wild!

How important is it that an image is legit from an athlete’s perspective?

The image has to ring true to me as an athlete, an athlete with good form, doing something logical for where she or he is. The most perfectly envisioned, composed and timed image of a surfer on dead water is still dead. A climber looking like he or she is bored stupid says a photographer is driving the shoot past where it should have ended.
A perfectly placed paddle into the sun but held in a way no athlete ever would tells me the shot lacks credibility. As athletes we pose, that’s our job, but the pose better be real to our friends and colleagues. Legitimacy is very important. The public may not pick up on the subtleties of what’s going on as an athlete, but over time those athletes who are legit in their sports and their images earn respect from their peers, industry and public. That matters more than people might think.


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© Klaus Fengler / Red Bull Illume

“Every successful photographer is always a businessperson.”


Any tips for aspiring adventure and action sports photographers?#

Don’t be a dick. You can be the most talented person in the world, but if you’re a PITA (pain in the ass) to be around then you’ll go nowhere. Once you’re a mega famous director then you can be a dick maybe, but not today.

Any other advice?

Get ahead of the day’s curve. Think where things are going and why, and be there before it happens. Friends and I joke about photographers we work with who are either ahead of the curve or behind. The really good ones are one step ahead of us all day. The BTC photographers rarely get invited back.

Shoot. Get out and shoot until the craft is second nature. I can tell within a few seconds on a shoot where someone is in their image career by how fast they think and execute, their packing system, their vision. That just takes repetition and critique from both your own eye and hopefully some mentors or at least friends who will be honest. Then try to sell your work, or at least place it. Images without homes are nice, but you’re going to run out of space on your own walls pretty quick. Every successful person learns how to make a living off their work or they don’t become successful. The business of sports photography takes as much creativity, vision, and desire as shooting, so act like a pro and try to sell or place your work. Hustle for the shot, hustle for the sale, hustle for the job, and always work harder than anyone else on the scene. Every successful photographer is always a businessperson.


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© Christian Pondella

“Shoot. Get out and shoot until the craft is second nature.”


Keep going, give us more advice!

Failure is over-rated. Try different things, be inventive, take risks, yes, but get the job done first so you know you’ve got decent results. Don’t get all tricky without having a result on the card. Pros get results first, then take chances to get the mind-blowing shot second. I’ve been on some shoots where I get the selects and think, ‘OK, neat idea with the funky repurposed 1950s Hasselblad lens, but for fuck’s sake where are the super clean action images for the people who paid for all of us to be there?’ Lastly, keep trying. Nobody is all that special, but the people who keep trying make it happen, and that is special.

What kind of images are you looking for?

Yours. It’s an honor to look at other people’s work, and while I can’t promise I’ll see it the same way you do, I know you sent your best stuff in, and I respect the hell out of that.

Black Diamond is a partner of Red Bull Illume, awarding more than $10,000 worth of prizes to the winners.

Red Bull Illume 2021 Photobook - Limited Edition

This limited-edition photobook features the top 256 images of the Image Quest 2021.
Be the first to see those inspiring images printed and pre-order your exclusive copy now! 

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Bursting out of your screen! Here are the Energy by Red Bull Photography semi-finalists

The next round of semi-finalists for the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 have been announced.

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© Gert Perauer / Red Bull Illume

If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that adventure and action sports is jam-packed with pure adrenaline and power. The Energy by Red Bull Photography is for images that perfectly capture the energy, speed, and strength required to perform. We want to see the driving force behind the athlete and their environment. This is a category for images that you can really feel and the images selected for this edition do exactly that!

A huge round of applause to all of the Energy by Red Bull Photography semi-finalists whose images knocked us off our feet:

Toby Cowley
Satchel Cronk
Lindsay Donovan
Paris Gore
Nick Green
Tristan Shu Lebeschu
Sterling Lorence
Sergei Aleksandrovich Martynov
Gert Perauer
Ben Shirakawa
Christian Stadler
Daniel Stewart
David Nogales Tarragó
Chris Tedesco
Ben Thouard
Marc Weiler
Noah Wetzel
Bartek Woliński
Aaron Zwaal

When you capture the real energy of a moment, whether it’s the second before the big move or the ecstatic jump for joy, you evoke something in the viewer. That’s what we’re all about and so is Red Bull Photography, which is why they’re giving the winner of Energy by Red Bull Photography an opportunity to execute the photoshoot of their dreams!

Don’t forget, this is just the first round of announcements, because the finalists, category winners and the overall winner are still to come! These will all be revealed later this year, so make sure you check out our social media channels and our website to receive all of the latest news about the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021. New semi-finalists are out every Thursday!

Don't think too much in advance, just see where it goes

Previous Red Bull Illume category finalist, Jeremy Bernard, follows his passions and tells us how doing this lets him do photography his own way, like with his newest project: ANDREA.

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© Jeremy Bernard

Where did your passion for photography and extreme sports come from?
I grew up alpine skiing. Living in a ski resort allowed me to go skiing every day and so this was my lifestyle. After competing until age 16, I thought I would look more into free skiing, and so it began. I slowly became familiar with free skiing, as well as all kinds of alternative sports. Internet wasn’t huge at that time, but videos were made, on VHS first, then on DVD. So, at the time my friends and I were just able to watch and re-watch our favorite riders, favorite movies, and favorite sport a thousand times. Skiing during winter; skate and bike during summer. Beautiful youth touching a bit of everything.

Is there one sport you love capturing the most?
As mentioned, skiing is part of my life. That’s how I was introduced to extreme sports, but also into photography. This is still what I like the most, being out there, up high in the snowy mountains. Capturing ski is quite intense, snow is one of the hardest things I’ve worked with but also the most beautiful. It needs lot of patience and lot of luck to get the perfect shot, snow isn’t predictable and its aspects are changing every minute. This is what makes it magical to me, cause when it works, when the magic happens, it is a beautiful moment of elements moving together and aligning. It’s ephemeral and can’t be reproduced. I love it.

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© Jeremy Bernard

Currently you’re working with Nina Caprez on a new project called ANDREA, which aims to share your passion with the world. Could you tell us more? 
Of course photography is now part of my DNA, but above all else, my partner and I want to share our love for sports and the outdoors. We strongly believe that sports bring happiness and help improve personal development. We’re not trying to save the world, but we thought about how we could use our passion and energy to help to people in need. So, ANDREA was born. 
Founded in 2020 with my partner, world-class Swiss climber, Nina Caprez, ANDREA is a Swiss non-profit organization whose goal is to explore, meet, and share through sports, often of the extreme kind. ANDREA is also an expedition truck, in which we’ll travel through to remote regions to meet and learn from the communities that live there.
Our card tricks? A removable climbing wall and a multimedia platform that will allow us to engage with communities through sport, particularly in climbing. A platform for life, a moving basecamp for exchange, a common spring of momentum.

How did you come up with the idea for ANDREA?
ANDREA was born during lockdown in Switzerland. First, the idea was to get a bigger van so we could live in it properly. We love being outdoors and it’s where we feel the happiest. After lots of online research looking for the perfect van, our minds started wandering. My longtime dream was to get an off-road vehicle so that we could drive in remote places. The idea of pushing the project a little bit further to give a special meaning to our lives. And here we are, with a project 10 times bigger than the original one but more fired up and excited than ever for what’s to come.

What is the main goal of this project?
We want to offer a bubble of escape for locals whose paths we cross, who often live in precarious and marginalized conditions. Between the two of us, Nina and I have traveled a good chunk of the planet, had hundreds of sporting adventures, and met many people. We want to stop on the side of the road, listen to stories, exchange views on small things and universes.  And who knows, maybe it will change the course of a life? ANDREA will use sport to promote positive social connections and relationships.

When you started your career, did you have a plan to head in this direction?
I’m not a big career guy. I do not have many expectations regarding this and I didn’t think about the where and how I would see my career going too much. At first, I just followed a passion for skiing. It brought me to photography and traveling, always with sports. Then, it took me more into photojournalism, always with a sport aspect but more focusing on socializing and people - which I prefer more than just photographing sports now. Today, different experiences in my life brought me where I am now and I couldn’t feel more happy, grateful and accomplished than I do today.

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© Jeremy Bernard

How do you want to combine your main profession – photography – with this project?
Nina and I have chosen climbing and photography (mainly) to share and exchange with the communities. On top of this, sharing it with people on the way is also a great opportunity for me to talk and share my love for photography. I plan to do some workshops on the way, the goal is to share a maximum with everybody.
ANDREA also has a professional aspect because we plan on having projects along the way where video and photography will be the main way of telling stories.
I do not leave photography behind. I just organize things the way I want them, as opposed to being a classic photographer, like what I’ve been doing with commercial shoots. I’m now making my own path.

What are certain challenges you face when working together with athletes and capturing extreme sports?
There are many challenging aspects when shooting. If I take skiing for example; the cold, the snow, the altitude and the humidity are things I have to be very careful with. But again, it all depends what exactly you’re shooting. It is a totally different job to work on a groomer for a client than it is to be on an expedition in Pakistan, like the last one I did with Jeremie Heitz & Samuel Anthamatten. We had set a camp at 5000m high, it was -20° at night for ten days; plus, on top of managing your body, energy and physical ability, you also have to manage your equipment and safety. All these aspects are challenging.

You can find more of Jeremys work on Instagram, @Jeremy_bernard_photography, at Neuf Dixieme and @andreabasecamp for more information about his project.

Looking back: Energy by Red Bull Photography

It’s Energy by Red Bull Photography week, which means we are taking a look back to get in the mood for the semi-finalists announcement coming this Thursday. We’ve selected eight of the most noteworthy images of recent years, showing energy, speed and strength of athletes, so check them out while you get ready for this years new semi-finalists!

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© Michael Clark / Red Bull Illume

The next generation is here - Introducing the Emerging by Black Diamond semi-finalists!

This round of semi-finalists is bursting with new talent in the category reserved for photographers 25 years and younger.

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© Kristiyan Dimitrov Markov / Red Bull Illume

The Emerging by Black Diamond category is specifically created to shine a light on the youngsters, the newbies, the fresh talent, and essentially the next generation of adventure and action sports photographers. This is a category that levels the playing field, giving everyone 25 years and younger an opportunity to compete at the same level as the pros and they did not disappoint!

We are super stoked to finally share the unbelievable creativity coming out of these photographers who made it to the semi-final stage:

Moritz Ablinger
Chris Anderson
Keiron Berndt
Andrew Dixon
Nick Green
Ian Harland
Nick James
Peter Kaiser
Manuel Kokseder
Pablo León
Jb Liautard
Kristiyan Dimitrov Markov
Thomas Meurot
Marco Müller
Aarón Sio Pretel
Patricio José Díaz Rios
Scott Robb
Gonzalo Robert
Anna Rossini
Mathieu Ruffray

Our partner and sponsor of this category, Black Diamond, is all about climbing and skiing and is known for engineering the best gear possible. Everyone was super stoked to have them on board, especially the young photographers. Why? Well, because the category winner of Emerging by Black Diamond wins a three-day photoshoot with the equipment and apparel manufacturer. On top of that, they’re rewarding a prize for the Best Mountain Photo with a product deal worth up to $5,000 which will be shared with the public at the winner’s unveiling at the end of the year.

A new collection of semi-finalists will be announced every week, so make sure you follow us on social media and visit our website to stay up to date.

Looking back: Emerging by Black Diamond

We wanted to kickstart Emerging by Black Diamond week the right way, by taking a look back and reminiscing on some of the semi-finalists from 2019. We’ve selected eight of the most noteworthy images, shot by up-and-coming talents, so check them out while you get ready for the big semi-finalist announcement coming on Thursday!

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© Brodie Hood / Red Bull Illume

Light up your imagination with the Creative by Skylum semi-finalists!

Starting today, we are sharing the semi-finalists from this year's Red Bull Illume Image Quest on a weekly basis. You can expect a great new collection of mind-blowing images each Thursday, so get ready for your dose of inspiring content coming in 3...2...1!

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© Jason Colledge / Red Bull Illume

This is the moment we have all been waiting for! Here are the first semi-finalists of the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021, which were selected by our official jury. Let's start with Creative by Skylum, the category where anything goes because images can be enhanced digitally or altered in the darkroom to bring an idea to life. It’s the category with the most freedom, giving photographers the opportunity to let their imagination run wild.

Of course, we’d like to say a huge round of congratulations to everyone who brought their ideas to life and pushed the boundaries of creativity in adventure and action sports photography. These photos will be printed in the limited-edition Red Bull Illume Photobook, to be released towards the end of the year with the unveiling of the final Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 winners.

Creative by Skylum semi-finalists:

Didier Barontini
Jan Burkert
Jason Colledge
Marco Dullnig
Oskar Enander
Nejc Ferjan
Ryan Fernette
Enric Adrian Gener
Denis Klero
Kuba Konwent
Marcelo Maragni
Yuya Matsui
Kevin Molano
Andrew Soria
Daniel Stewart
Mikołaj Walczewski
Mitch Winton

It’s no wonder that Skylum is the perfect partner for this category with their award-winning image enhancement software, especially in a category that encourages editing and changing the original photo. You can see the photographers took full advantage this edition bringing across crazy scenes in all of these unbelievable images.

This is just the first category of semi-finalists to be announced, so make sure you stay up to date on our website and our social media channels for even more semi-finalists next week!

The picture is the reward

We talked with surf photographer Fred Pompermayer about what sparked his love for big waves, where he finds inspiration, and which equipment he relies on.

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© Fred Pompermayer

Where does your passion for photography come from? 
I think my passion for photography was cultivated within my artistic family. My father had a picture frame shop and a lot of artistic friends. My sister is an amazing artist. I have always felt confident behind the lens.

You left Brazil to pursue photography - what are some of your favorite locations to see big waves? 
What drove me to pursue big waves was Mavericks. I remember one day in 1993, at my friend’s house, I saw a photo of Jay Moriarity on the cover of a magazine. He was on a giant wave at Mavericks - it did not look real! That image embedded in my mind and was when my pursuit for big waves actually started. Finally, in 2001, I got to see Mavericks with my own eyes, luckily for me, it was the biggest and baddest day ever.  

In what way do you think growing up in Brazil has influenced you? Do you find yourself returning there frequently? 
Growing up in Brazil was challenging, you have to constantly adapt to new situations. There was not a lot of support and information about becoming a photographer. After moving to California, I continued to visit Brazil every year.  

Where do you spend most of your time these days? What made you choose that country? Does it inspire you? 
California is the mecca of the surfing industry. In Los Angeles, you can find a flight to anywhere in the world. For big wave surfing I am always flying last minute because it's hard to anticipate the conditions, so I have to wait until the very last minute to make my final decision.

You’re well-known for surf photography, but also shoot extreme action sports like base jumping or mountain climbing. What makes extreme action sports interesting for you? 
Outdoor adventure has always been my passion. Extreme sports are interesting to me because of the amount of dedication athletes put into challenging themselves, it’s not only physical, but also mental and spiritual. I also love the community. Plus, to capture these sports you have to be exposed to the elements and this challenge drives me. The picture is the reward.  

What's important regarding equipment?
Throughout my career I’ve always believed it's important to experiment with a variety of cameras and lenses so that you can understand the possibilities and perspectives. For some of my ideas I’ve had to adapt. I’ve had to create my own water housing for big waves and flash photography because I didn't find what I wanted on the market at that time. Doing that expanded my horizons. The important thing about shooting extreme sports is trusting your equipment. Most moments can never be recreated, so you have to capture the shot in the moment. I chose SanDisk for all my memory cards after a really bad experience with another company, I lost all of my data and after that, I only use SanDisk. 

Did Red Bull Illume have an impact on your professional career? 
By far, Red Bull Illume is the best adventure and action sports photography contest in the world and it has inspired me a lot. Seeing all of these talented photographers pushing themselves to capture incredible moments is very motivating to me.

Do you have any projects planned for the coming months? 
I have just finished an incredible climbing documentary in Yosemite. I am still working on that.

You can find more of Fred’s work on Instagram, @fred_pompermayer, or on his website.

Looking back: Creative by Skylum

We wanted to kickstart Creative by Skylum week the right way, by taking a look back and reminiscing on some of those from the previous editions. We’ve selected eight of the most noteworthy images, shot by the semi-finalists of recent years, so check them out while you get ready for the big semi-finalist announcement coming later this week!

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© Leo Francis / Red Bull Illume

WhiteWall joins the team for Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021

The Playground category is officially brought to you by WhiteWall, the photo lab for everyone who loves photography.

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© WhiteWall

Every photographer knows the importance of teamwork, especially when your subject matter is adventure and action sports. Red Bull Illume is all about working together, which is why we’re super excited to have WhiteWall on our team for the Image Quest 2021 and as an official partner of the Playground category: for images that showcase the landscapes, locations, platforms, and environments in which athletes play.

WhiteWall is a leading photo lab in Germany with fourteen years of experience, run by a team of passionate experts. They have a global presence with stores in thirteen countries which ship to the professional photography industry all around the world. Their award-winning photo printing uses high-quality prints under acrylic glass, premium backing materials, and handcrafted frames. The trick is their combination of traditional development methods with state-of-the-art technology, and you want to know what’s really awesome? WhiteWall is giving all category winners of the Image Quest 2021 their very own winning image, printed and framed!

When you think about it, the partnership with WhiteWall is a natural fit in the Red Bull Illume journey; from discovering the world’s greatest adventure and action sports images to honoring the art with premium printing. We just can’t wait to find out whose images are going to win! Stay tuned to our website and social media to find out all the latest news.

Gallery: In the spotlight

We’re shining a light on all the women who are out there shooting adventure and action sports, a male-dominated field, even to this day. Here’s a collection filled with some of the amazing shots that were shared with us over the years. Check it out and get your daily fix of inspiration!

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© Claudia Ziegler / Red Bull Illume