Adventure and automobiles: how Marcin Kin combines two very different kinds of photography

I've yet to get hit by a car, but I was once hit by a motorcycle in front of over 1,000 spectators. I pretended it didn't hurt; it did, but no broken bones or significant injuries. Skiers and snowboarders? More times than I can count.

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© Marcin Kin

Polish photographer Marcin Kin is the first tell you: he isn’t an artist, he’s a craftsman. What’s impressive to us is the breadth of what his photography covers – from Moto GP to high alpine climbing in the Himalayas. Read on to find out why he doesn’t have a niche… and doesn’t want one. 

Tell us about your very first camera. 

My first camera was Fuji Finepix 4800 when I was about 14 or 15 years old – it was one of the first digital cameras. My father is quite a tech geek, and he bought this really, really expensive camera. It was only available in Germany and I think he had to drive 100km to get it. When I was trying to shoot sport, such as halfpipe skiing, it was so slow, that I would press the button when the guy went into the halfpipe in order to catch the guy in the air. I think it took about three seconds to take a picture! But I have a few nice pictures from that. It was just so crazy that I could take a picture then go home and deliver it to people that night. Later, in photography school, I learned to work with film. 

What’s your favorite image you’ve ever taken? 

One favorite image? There’s a lot of them… but one that I am really proud of is this shot from my first big expedition to Shishapangma. I really had a certain shot in mind and it took a lot of effort to get to the spot, but then when I did, everything lined up perfectly. This is near Chinese Base Camp, about 30km from the regular base camp of Shishipangma at about 5000m altitude. It’s a long way from any real city. It was me, Andrzej Bargiel, his brother Gregor and Darek Zaluski; a filmmaker who is renowned as a Himalayan climber in Poland. For me, it’s the ultimate journey picture; big mountains in the background, lots of room on top to breathe, and the yaks which are not such well-known animals - and of course Andrew, who simply looks like he is on a real adventure. 

You shoot a lot of different subjects – how do you make it work? 

You have to know the subject you’re shooting. Even shooting skiers and snowboarders is different. The hardest part is making a real emotional contact with the people you’re shooting. Often the athletes or drivers are thinking in the context of their sport, not photography – so it’s a big battle between my ideas and their ideas. But sometimes it’s good to listen to them! 

What’s your everyday carry set up? 

I usually have two Canon 1DX bodies with a 24 - 70 f2.8 and the 70 - 200 f2.8. With that combination, I can usually do a whole job with no problem. Then I keep a couple of fixed focal length lenses in my backpack. I try and avoid super wide angles. At the beginning, I did a lot of skating and snowboarding, and it was really popular to go super wide and get super close. The more experience I have, the more I try and avoid shooting wide – it’s not like what the human eye sees. It’s unnatural. But I do really like to go close to the action! 

How close? 

Close. I’ve yet to get hit by a car, but I was once hit by a motorcycle in front of over 1,000 spectators. I pretended it didn’t hurt; it did, but no broken bones or significant injuries. Skiers and snowboarders? More times than I can count. 

How do you bring variety to your photography? 

I try to clear my mind and try not to imitate someone else’s work. Last year, I did MotoGP for the first time. So I go to Google to see how it looks and what works, but I’m never looking for the work of the best photographer in each sport because I want to leave myself room to be creative. I don’t necessarily want to be influenced by their work. 

Are you an artist, or a technician? 

I’m not an artist. For me an artist is a person who creates something totally new, from nothing. I am a craftsman of photography. If you want me to shoot a wedding, I do a wedding! If you want me to shoot an expedition, I’ll do it. I’m well prepared with my cameras and lenses for anything - and I keep myself in shape to go almost anywhere. 

What do you shoot most often? 

It’s seasonal. During one part of the year it’s cross-country rallies and motorcycle stuff. In the other part of the year it’s free ride skiing and mountain climbing. Then, it’s expeditions. 

What life lessons have you learned from photography? 

Wait. Wait it out to the end. So many times I’ve watched other photographers give up and go home too early. Don’t do that.

Check out more from Red Bull Illume on Instagram, Facebook and Youtube!

Images © Marcin Kin

Get some RAW by Leica inspiration

Wondering which category to enter?

Red Bull Illume 2021 Gallery Raw 1

© Ben Thouard / Red Bull Illume

We pulled together some of the most inspiring shots from previous editions of Red Bull Illume to give you a better idea of where your winning shot should go. Scroll through the RAW by Leica gallery to get into the category’s vibe, then head over to the submit page and start uploading.


Leica offers several prizes for the overall as well as the category winners, including an SL2 camera with three premium lenses or the Q2 camera.

When you have to descend a mine shaft to get the shot

We talk to Red Bull Illume photographer Christian Pondella about shooting extreme athletes, and why less is more when it comes to equipment, and why lens caps should be left at home.

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© Christian Pondella

How did you get into photography?

I have been a professional photographer for over 25 years now. I got hooked on photography in my freshman year in college and fell in love with the process of developing and printing my black and white film. This went alongside with my passion for the mountains, skiing, climbing, mountain biking and naturally these passions merged together.

What motivates you to keep creating?

My number one motivation to keep creating is getting outdoors into the mountains and firsthand experiencing the beauty of Mother Nature. Then of course combining some type of sport or activity in this beautiful environment.

Are you planning to submit to the Image Quest 2021?

Of course! I am always hoping to get an image displayed in one of those magical cubes!

Could you tell us why other photographers should enter Red Bull Illume? Was entering a good move for you?

It’s an amazing opportunity for any adventure photographer with the chance that your image might make it to the final round. It’s the ultimate showcase to have your image displayed and exhibited around the world.

How did you decide on what image(s) to submit in the end?

As far as images to submit I try to find one that are unique and hopefully have some ethereal mood to them. For me, this is generally something where the forces of nature and human activity merge together.

Any tips for aspiring photographers who also want to submit this year?

Red Bull Illume has so many amazing images submitted, I think your best odds is to have something pretty unique.

What equipment do you trust in when shooting?

Honestly, the top camera manufactures all make amazing equipment, but the one constant that I always use are SanDisk memory cards and an F-Stop pack.

What features are particularly important for your equipment?

I try to keep things simple, less is more especially when it comes to adventure sports. Lens hoods and lens caps usually stay in my closet and I try to stay away from miscellaneous gadgets. When it comes to camera equipment for me it is important to buy the flagship cameras and lenses as they have the best weather sealing which is important for the environments I shoot in.

What are some stand out memories or moments from your career?

Certainly, some of the most unique images I have captured have been with Will Gadd particularly where we have descended into glaciers, moulins, and mine shafts to capture ice climbing. Also, some of my ski mountaineering adventures with Chris Davenport are particularly memorable.

How would you describe your style of photography?

I think I have a hard time describing my style of photography as I feel it changes and evolves. But I guess I have a certain style as I often have people tell me when they see a picture they know I took it before they see the photo credit. I guess the one constant is a small person in a unique environment which gives the viewer something to contemplate when looking at an image.

What makes your images unique?

I think a big part of it is the unique environments I have been fortunate to photograph. Not many people have descended two hundred feet into a glacier to capture photos so these types of images will resonate with people.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

I find a lot of inspiration by following my peers on Instagram, but the biggest inspiration for me is Mother Nature and the spectacular beauty the outdoors has to offer.

Check out more of Christian's work on his website and Instagram @christianpondella.

 

Get some Innovation by EyeEm inspiration

Wondering which category to enter?

Red Bull Illume 2021 Gallery Innovation 1

© Vegard Breie / Red Bull Illume

We pulled together some of the most inspiring shots from previous editions of Red Bull Illume to give you a better idea of where your winning shot should go. Scroll through the Innovation by EyeEm gallery to get into the category’s vibe, then head over to the submit page and start uploading!

What are judges looking for?

Red Bull Illume's founder Ulrich Grill and judges explain what makes a great shot and how the judging process works.

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Are there certain characteristics that define a winning shot? In this video Red Bull Illume's founder Ulrich Grill talks about some of the defining qualities that make an Overall Winner. 

He discusses why technical brilliance isn't enough and how composition, creativitiy and artistic flair all help to make an amazing shot. 

“If we look at some of the winning images of the past editions, one thing connects them all and that’s true excellence,” he says, as he flicks through previous winning shots on Lenovo's Yoga 9i 2-in-1 laptop.

Grill explains how the judging process works, how thousands of images are whittled down to 276 semi-finalist images and how a strong judging panel of 50 international and renowned photo editors and photo experts then choose the finalists, category winners and the overall winner. 

The video also contains some top tips from some of this year’s judges, including Laura Stanley, Pexels editor, Ray Bisschop, publisher of Surfing Life and Theo Acworth, an editor at Method Mag. 

Adds Grill: “Red Bull Illume is all about the unsung heroes of adventure and action sports, the photographers behind the lens. It’s about you.”

Get some Playground inspiration

Wondering which category to enter?

Red Bull Illume 2021 Gallery Playground 1

© Rein Rijke / Red Bull Illume

We pulled together some of the most inspiring shots from previous editions of Red Bull Illume to give you a better idea of where your winning shot should go. Scroll through the Playground gallery to get into the category’s vibe, then head over to the submit page and start uploading.

Get some Lifestyle by COOPH inspiration

Wondering which category to enter?

Red Bull Illume 2021 Gallery Lifestyle 1

© Corey Rich / Red Bull Illume

We pulled together some of the most inspiring shots from previous editions of Red Bull Illume to give you a better idea of where your winning shot should go. Scroll through the Lifestyle by COOPH gallery to get into the category’s vibe, then head over to the submit page and start uploading.

Improve your chances with the Photo Story category

Explore the category where you can submit multiple images!

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Entering images into one of the new categories like Photo Story is a good way to boost your odds as it is not as well known as other categories. It takes a bit of effort but the good part is that you don’t necessarily need to go out and shoot something fresh. You can use multiple images that you didn´t previously use to tell the full story behind the action. With only a few days to go, this could be an option worth looking at. To get you inspired, watch the video below, then check your own files and see if you’ve got a story worth sharing.

Who's got the best Mountain Photo

There is an additional prize this year for the Best Mountain Photo.

Red Bull Illume 2021 Gallery Black Diamond 1

© Alexander Wick / Red Bull Illume

Here are some great shots from the Red Bull Illume archives to get you inspired for the Best Mountain Photo. Black Diamond is going to select the winner, and the prize is a generous product deal worth up to $5,000. Shots can belong to any category – it’s just a bonus prize for the best mountain image. So while there’s still time, head to the hills and nail that shot. 

10 days to go!

Only 10 days left to enter the world’s greatest adventure and action sports imagery contest – and achieve your break-out moment.

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© Simone di Mondino / Red Bull Illume

When it comes to planning and executing the perfect Red Bull Illume-winning shot, there are still quite a few things you can do in ten days; you can go on a roadtrip; head backcountry with some athlete friends or organize a last-minute shoot on your doorstep.

You could also create a reportage collection of images for the newest Red Bull Illume category – Photo Story. As one of the lesser known of Red Bull Illume’s ten categories, any entries stand a higher chance of going through to the next round.

Struggling for reasons on why you should submit? We say two words – prestige and prizes. Get an image selected into Red Bull Illume and you’ll receive lots of kudos. It’s a badge of honor that marks you out as a photographer that can open doors for your photography career.

Prizes include computers and tablets from Lenovo, workflow bundles from SanDisk Professional, a Leica SL2 for the winner and a paid photoshoot with Black Diamond for the winner of the Emerging category.  

Says Ulrich Grill, founder of Red Bull Illume: “Red Bull Illume is really the most prestigious photo contest in adventure and action sports and has been the spark that ignited many photographers’ careers. It’s also totally unbiased. If you have one great shot you could win. What unites previous winners Fred Mortagne, Chris Burkard, Lorenz Holder and Ben Thouard is photographic excellence. We look forward to seeing your images in the contest. Just think, this year it could be you!”

For your chance to enter and win great prizes and the prestige of being a Red Bull Illume winner, get shooting and submit your work here – there’s still time, but only just!

Get some Masterpiece by SanDisk Professional inspiration

Wondering which category to enter?

Red Bull Illume 2021 Gallery Masterpiece 1

© Ydwer van der Heide / Red Bull Illume

We pulled together some of the most inspiring shots from previous editions of Red Bull Illume to give you a better idea of where your winning shot should go. Scroll through the Masterpiece gallery to get into the category’s vibe, then head over to the submit page and start uploading.