Chris Burkard: Timeless landscapes and untamed nature

The Californian photographer, Chris Burkard, was the overall winner of the second ever Red Bull Illume Image Quest back in 2010. Since then, Chris has become one of the most famous photographers in the adventure and action sports scene. We (virtually) sat down with him and talked about stand out moments of his career and how the current situation has affected it.

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© Chris Burkard / Red Bull Illume

Chris Burkard is a world-renowned photographer, filmmaker and storyteller. In his images, he captures nature and its many wonders in a spectacular and truly authentic way, which could be due to the fact that he approaches his subjects with caution and humility. Chris is very committed to his work and it seems like nothing can stop him from getting that perfect shot.

Thanks for taking the time Chris! How are you and what’s been going on lately?

I am good! Most of all I am thankful to be healthy and busy through these crazy times we are living in. COVID-19 and the travel restrictions it caused changed my life greatly over the past year, but in some ways it was actually really nice for me to have some time away from traveling to spend quality time at home with my family. Right now I am back in Iceland, I just finished up a surf trip and happened to get extremely lucky and be here for a volcanic eruption. I documented this both personally and for Nat Geo which was a huge honor. And right now I am prepping for another bike trip, this is a fat bike expedition in which I will traverse Iceland from North to South. Long story short, there’s a lot going on but life is good!

How has it affected your work?

The past year certainly brought its challenges and changed the way I work and run my business. Most of all it was a challenge to continue running my studio and making sure I could employ my team, but I am grateful to have adapted and been able to keep everything running as usual. The projects and work I took on certainly changed but I believe that is all part of being a photographer these days.

How would you describe your style of photography?

I would say overall, I have distinguished myself by shooting untamed, powerful landscapes that are layered with outdoor, travel, adventure, surf, and lifestyle subjects. One of the defining elements of my style of photography is instilling a sense of scale and timelessness within a landscape. That is done many times by including a person within the image but I’ve also used planes, boats, etc. By adding this human element it immediately gives a viewer a context to latch onto of how large a landscape or scene is while making it much more relatable. By seeing a human form within a scene it makes it much easier to imagine that person is you. I also utilize a lot of silhouette lighting in order to make my images more timeless. I try and avoid including details like a big branded shirt or anything that will allow you to tell when an image was taken.

How do you get your final images to look so consistent?

I think in some ways this happens naturally, by following the stylistic elements I mentioned above. I tend to stick to these because they’re what I instinctively like and have always gravitated towards which helps keep my portfolio cohesive. I also try not to rely heavily on editing which helps keep things consistent as well.

How did your relationship with action and adventure sports photography develop?

I started shooting photos when I was 19 years old after experimenting with drawing and art in high school. I realized that it enabled me to do art in a mobile state, to explore and adventure, and show people the beauty in the world around me. As a kid growing up on the Central Coast, I was always really into surfing and bodyboarding. As I began shooting photos, I gravitated towards these and was always out shooting photos with my friends doing these things. I would go and shoot surfers at the local beach and try to sell them pictures on DVDs. I shot weddings and senior pictures and interiors store photos. That obviously wasn't my end goal, but I had to start somewhere. I wanted to learn more about action sports and landscapes photography which is what I was excited about but didn't know where to turn so I started applying for internships. I finally got an opportunity to intern with Michael Fatali, a large format landscape photographer, and I got an internship at Transworld Surf magazine which was an incredibly valuable experience and pushed me further into the action sports world.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

It’s pretty simple, I guess. I find my inspiration in nature. Heading out and spending days off the grid and away from the civilization is where I feel most relaxed and can really see things in a different light. I used to draw a ton of inspiration from magazines and photo books but now it’s more in music, architecture, paintings, poetry, and really anything that opens up my senses in new and interesting ways. I have always tried to approach subjects with caution and humility. I never want to be running around taking photos without a clear purpose. So, I try to really take in the places I go and make sure that I am feeling some connection with them before I get to work. It’s an important part of my photographic process.

You often work under difficult and extraordinary conditions. What motivates you to go the extra mile for your work?

I always like to say the best image is the image people haven’t seen before. To be honest, it’s really hard to take a picture of a place or activity people have seen a bunch of times before. But, if you go the extra mile and take a photo of something people have never seen before, all the sudden that image stands out. I think about this a lot and it always pushes me to go further and work harder than most, because the result is always worth it.

Can you share stand out moments/memories of your career (positive and negative) with us?

There have definitely been lots of ups and downs over the years. Getting my first internship at Transworld Surf was a stand out moment for real because it was something I wanted so bad. Scoring waves under the Northern Lights was definitely an all-time positive moment for me, sitting in a jail cell in Russia was definitely an all-time negative stand out for me! There are almost too many ups and downs to list them, I’m just grateful for all the moments I’ve gotten to experience whether good or bad. Winning the Red Bull Illume Contest in 2010 was definitely a stand out moment for my career as well.

You’ve travelled to a lot of awesome spots all over the world. Do you have favorite places/locations to shoot in and why?

By far my favorite place in the world is Iceland. It holds so much opportunity for adventure and surf. Everytime I shoot here it is like walking on another planet. The geography along with the people of Iceland keep you coming back. Breanne (my wife) and I joke about living in Iceland when our boys get a little older for six-months at a time. I’ve been 40+ times and have no intentions of stopping.

What are the three most important things aspiring photographers should keep in mind?

The best thing that you can do as an aspiring photographer is to identify a style that represents you well, develop within that style, and keep shooting to perfect it. It’s super important to have your images be recognizable by editors and others who are looking at your work. With the large number of photographers that are out there now you must find ways to stand out. The best compliment I can ever receive is when people know my photography work instantly when they see it. I would also say persistence and willingness to learn.

What’s important when taking images for Red Bull Illume? Any tips?

I think similar to what I answered before, it’s really important and helpful to develop your own style and take images that are unique. There are so many amazing photographers out there today it’s absolutely mind-blowing, you need to do something that makes your photos stand out in a consistent way.

What’s the most valuable thing you learnt from taking part in Red Bull Illume?

Mostly the value of community within the creative industry and the opportunities there are to connect with people. Illume really fostered some amazing relationships with other photographers that I still value and hold dearly today. That is honestly the most important part of the whole thing.

What do you try to capture for the Image Quest 2021? Have you already shot something?

To be honest I have been really enjoying mentoring photographers and focusing on my own expeditions as an athlete. It’s been challenging to give as much focus as it takes to create an image for Illume so if something happens I’ll be excited to share it.. but it’s not as much of a focus for me now as it was years ago.

Where can we find more of your work?

You can find more of my work on my website or on my Instagram.

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 order your exclusive copy now! 

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Gallery: Winter Wonderland

This gallery is perfect for all the winter enthusiasts out there. Check out these insane Red Bull Illume images from previous editions if you are looking for some inspiration or if you just want to daydream about awesome winter locations!

P.S. Maybe you shouldn't look at these images if you can't hit the slopes this weekend.

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© Ryan Fernette / Red Bull Illume

Out in the wild with Marc Stickler and the Leica SL2-S

The Leica SL2-S supports nature photographer and filmmaker Marc Stickler as he travels the world. In the interview he tells us more about what he looks for in a camera when he’s out in the wild.

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© Marc Stickler

The best moments happen when we collaborate, which is why we decided to team up with the world-renowned German camera manufacturer, Leica, who are also supporter of the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021. Why? Well, we wanted to show you how amazing the Leica SL2-S camera is because it’s perfect for adventure and action sports photography! Today, the incredible photographer and filmmaker, Marc Stickler, tells us why the SL2-S is everything he looks for in a camera.

After years of training and working as a biologist focused on wild animals, Marc Stickler’s unmatched knowledge has led him to capturing some of the most unique images in countless places around the world. In this interview, the Austrian photographer and filmmaker shares his experiences and tells us why he truly believes photography can be used to protect nature.

What has been biggest influence on your photography?
My emotional state at any given time is most important. I want my photography to trigger emotions in the viewer. If a person feels something when looking at my pictures, then half the race is won, so to speak; and if the beauty and uniqueness of the animals and nature then impel someone to become a spokesperson for our planet, I feel that my job has been done.

Which moments incite you to hit the shutter button?
It’s the beauty of nature expressed in so many facets. Sometimes what inspires me is a lovely natural pattern, a particular animal behavior, a person’s smile, colors, waterfalls or a magical starry night sky. There are so many moments worthy of hitting the trigger – what matters is to stay in the here and now, and not just see life through the viewfinder.

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© Marc Stickler

Are there places where you especially like to take photographs?
I refer to the Okavango Delta in Botswana as my second home. It has become my goal to portray the fascinating beauty of this fragile ecosystem. I would also like to arouse awareness of the great danger to this natural spectacle, due to oil rigs, fracking and dams in Angola. I’m also very impressed by the vastness of the Maasai Mara and Serengeti, which offer special photographic conditions, whatever the season.
Photographing mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda is something special: Sigmund Freud once said that eyes are the windows to the soul – you can see and feel that very particularly in their case.

Are there places you absolutely want to go to, or projects you want to do?
So far, I’ve avoided colder regions. However, I’ll soon have a chance to travel to the Arctic and the Antarctic. The immediate projects in my future are photography workshops with the Leica Academy in Austria, and an international photo safari in Kenya.

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© Marc Stickler

How was it to work with the SL2-S? What did you enjoy in particular?
I find the combination of film and photo outstanding. It has never been so easy to produce incredible video material, while also holding such a fast camera in my hands. Furthermore, the camera’s robustness was of great value in Africa. It often fell on the ground, during unintended braking maneuvers… and nothing happened to it! The size of the sensor allows you to go into ISO ranges that would have been unthinkable in the past. The autofocus is phenomenal and, combined with the Leica lenses, the SL2-S is a very convincing camera.

In what way has this camera system enlightened your work?
Thanks to its dependability, under unimaginable conditions of dust, heat and humidity, the SL2-S system has earned my complete trust. The built-in microphone allows me to make video recordings directly with sound, and without much hassle.

Want to know more about the Leica SL2-S and if it is a camera that works for you as well? You can find out more here.

Illuminate your holidays

We found some of the best adventure and action sports images to illuminate the festive season and get you in the holiday mood. We’re shining a light on the unbelievable creativity and hard work of the photographers and athletes, so go on and check out these images, they’ll definitely inspire you to get into the spirit of things!

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© Denis Klero / Red Bull Illume

Illuminate your space with the incredible winning images

The winners of Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 have all been unveiled and you can now experience all of the winning images like never before!

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2021 was an edition like no other, with the one-of-a-kind Winners’ Unveiling Week from November 29 to December 4, in which all of the finalists and winning images were revealed on Instagram Live. The overall winner, Will Saunders, received his trophy on the final night on the snow-covered mountains in Aspen Snowmass, CO, USA.

Visiting a tour stop is just one of the ways you can experience these incredible images, or you could buy your very own. What are we talking about? Well, for the first time ever, you can own a high-end print and turn your home into an art gallery. Buy one of the limited-edition art prints right here.
It's a totally new way to experience these incredible images, thanks to our partners WhiteWall and COOPH.

Can't choose which winning image you love the most? The limited-edition Red Bull Illume Photobook contains the top 256 images from the contest, all within the pages of this high-quality hardcover book. There are only 3,000 copies available, each individually numbered and stamped. It's the ultimate collector's item and makes an incredible gift for any photography lover. Order your very own copy here.

Red Bull Illume 2021 Photobook inside

Check out all the limited-edition prints that are available to order on COOPH, including Will Saunders' winning shot. More prints will be released soon, so keep your eyes peeled on our website and social media for more exciting news and updates. And don’t forget to order your limited-edition photobook today at store.cooph.com before they’re sold out!

Will Saunders crowned overall winner for astounding image

U.S. photographer becomes the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 Overall Winner with his shot of a falling climber.

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© Will Saunders / Red Bull Illume

After months of anticipation, the wait is finally over – this year’s Red Bull Illume Overall Winner is revealed and it goes to Will Saunders for his shot of climber Jake Talley striking a pose as he takes a lead fall on a spectacular rock tower in Indian Creek, Utah. The image was voted overall winner by a panel of 53 judges from around the world. 

Saunders was handed the overall winner trophy at a ceremony in Aspen Snowmass, CO, USA, as the resort officially opened the first tour stop of the Red Bull Illume Exhibition. He said it was a great honor to receive the award. 

“I’m just super grateful, I never thought I would be here. But it really is a team effort, it takes so much more than an individual.”

Ulrich Grill, founder of Red Bull Illume said: “I offer my sincere congratulations to Will for his outstanding image. It’s a great shot and a worthy winner to take the Red Bull Illume crown, joining many other iconic shots that have won in the past. This year we saw an unbelievable display of talent from adventure and action sports photographers from around the world – 41,447 images were submitted. To select the finalists, category winners and overall winner has been a tough choice. There were so many creative, unique and technically brilliant images this edition. Of course, I would also like to thank all the partners who make this event happen.”

Saunders wins a selection of prizes worth €50,000 including a Lenovo 9i laptop, a Leica SL2 camera, a workflow bundle from SanDisk Professional, and gear from Black Diamond and COOPH. In addition, he will receive a printed and framed copy of his winning image from WhiteWall.

Saunders’s winning shot was already the category winner in the Masterpiece by SanDisk Professional category. It shows Jake Talley mid fall while climbing. Saunders explains the story behind the shot: “I've shot many whippers but this time I wanted to try something a little different. A group of us rallied out to my favorite place in the desert to get some climbing in and make some imagery along the way. I asked Jake to really shape his body into more of a powerful movement rather than the classic falling position. With grace and style, Jake pulled this shape out of the air, allowing me to capture an image that is unique compared to most of the literal climbing imagery we see.” 
 
He adds: “His body reminded me of a superhero, which is fitting to me because most of my friends in this action sports world are my heroes. The ticket here was to just push the conceptual idea enough while also grounding the image in reality.”

With the contest officially over, Red Bull Illume now hits the road as a unique global exhibit tour, kicking off with a stop in Aspen Snowmass, CO, USA, until January 2, 2022. 
Stay tuned for the latest updates on the European tour, and to see all the category winner shots, head over here.

Check out the interview below to see Will's reaction and how he created the image!

Energy by Red Bull Photography Winner

Rod Hill (New Zealand) wins the Energy by Red Bull Photography category for his shot of a kayaker.

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© Rod Hill / Red Bull Illume

Rod Hill’s image of kayaker River Mutton bursting through a rapid at Huka Falls, New Zealand, was voted the category winner by the panel of Red Bull Illume judges amid strong competition.

It’s a magical moment for the photographer. “This shot was not supposed to happen,” he says. “River Mutton was supposed to leave for work but decided on one last run. I had already packed my gear away by the time they walked back up from the take-out point. 
Once they decided being late to work was worth it, it was a mad rush back down the river with my camera. I didn't have time to get to my normal spot, so instead I tried this angle. All of a sudden, the light popped like I had never seen before. Straight away I knew this was going to work.”

It is the first time the amateur photographer, a chemistry teacher from Rotorua, has been selected in Red Bull Illume and will be a huge honor. Hill has been passionate about photography for many years on his skiing, surfing and climbing adventures and expeditions. 

The four other finalists in the category are: Stephan Gruber, for his unique angled shot of a skateboarder, Silvano Marino Zeiter for his POV motion blur of a skier, Dan Krauss for his photo of a climber sticking a dyno and Matt Power for his underwater shot of an unknown surfer against a setting sun. 

If you missed this announcement and want to see Rod’s first reaction then you can rewatch it on our Instagram channel.

The overall winner will be announced on Saturday, December 4 during the Red Bull Illume Exhibition in Aspen Snowmass, USA. Stay tuned to our channels for the latest updates.

Innovation by EyeEm Winner

Thomas Monsorno (Italy) wins the Innovation by EyeEm category for his shot of a climber on ice.

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© Thomas Monsorno / Red Bull Illume

Innovation is the category for images that reveal a unique angle, a visual idea, a different format… something never seen before!

The category winner this year certainly lives up to that criteria. It goes to Thomas Monsorno, for his unique aerial shot looking down on athlete Dani Arnold ’climbing’ frozen Lake Baikal. A line of orange rope trailing from Arnold contrasts beautifully with the ice’s vertical cracks to create a beguiling image. 

“In February 2020 we traveled to Siberia with Arnold for a challenging expedition above the deepest lake on earth, Lake Baikal,” recalls Monsorno. “Siberian winters present difficult and fascinating conditions. At this time of year, conditions are extreme, with temperatures as low as -35° Celsius. The first steps on the ice of the lake were impressive – to see clearly through the thick ice of the deepest lake in the world was an extraordinary and absolutely unforgettable experience.”

Monsorno, who is based in South Tyrol, describes his work as a ‘collection of sports, documentary, lifestyle, and travel photography’.

The other finalists in the Innovation by EyeEm category were Alexey Shabanov, for his drone shot of a mountain biker riding sand dunes, Dean Treml for his black and white image of a diver in Baku, Sergey Shakuto for his night-time long exposure of a paramotor and Kevin Molano for a photo of a skateboarder in Colombia reflected in a puddle. 

If you missed this announcement and want to see Thomas’ first reaction then you can rewatch it on our Instagram channel.

The overall winner will be announced on Saturday, December 4 during the Red Bull Illume Exhibition in Aspen Snowmass, USA. Stay tuned to our channels for the latest updates.

Best Mountain Photo by Black Diamond

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The U.S. photographer Colin Wiseman has won the award for Best Mountain Photo by Black Diamond, for his shot of Eric Jackson snowboarding in Alaska. Best Mountain Photo is awarded by Black Diamond and it was announced by Will Gadd during the Instagram Live on December 2, you can rewatch it here.

Wiseman’s winning image captures Jackson riding a wild line in Valdez, Alaska. He picks up the story of how he got the shot: “A heavy crew including riders Austen Sweetin, Robin Van Gyn, Jamie Anderson and Eric Jackson arrived in Valdez, in early April of 2021 with high hopes. But just before we got there, a windstorm hammered the Chugach Mountains, making it difficult to find good snow in steeper terrain. With the help of guides Justin Befu and Travis Elquist, we were able to tap into a couple protected zones on our first fly day, including this late afternoon spot.”

Wiseman, an outdoor photographer based in Bellingham, Washington State, wins a sizeable product haul from Black Diamond worth $5,000. He says, "Winning Best Mountain Photo by Black Diamond is such a surprise. I’m excited, humbled, and thrilled. Thank you. Red Bull Illume is the pinnacle of actionsports photography and it’s such an honor to win this prize. A bit of a dream come true, honestly. A huge thank you to E-Jack and the whole crew up in Alaska who made this moment happen. It’s always a group effort in our line of work."

Creative by Skylum Winner

Jan Kasl (Czech Republic) wins the Creative by Skylum category for his surreal shot of a skater inside a spiral.

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© Jan Kasl / Red Bull Illume

Kasl explains how he created the shot: “The idea snuck into my mind as a side effect from a campaign I produced based on an optical illusion called ‘forced perspective’. It sounds like a pretty sophisticated technique, but it’s basically exactly what thousands of tourists do when holding the leaning Tower of Pisa, hoping to get a unique photo of their holiday in Italy. 

“It’s very similar for most adventure and action sports photographers,” he adds. “It doesn’t really matter if we’re on vacation, on a shoot, or just going on a random walk through the city – our imagination recreates interesting pieces of architecture into an action sports playground. With a tool like forced perspective, I felt like I could push it a little further, bending reality and bringing the athlete into an absolutely surreal environment.”

The other category finalists were Luis Alejandro Arriaga Osorio, for his photo of a skateboarder superimposed above a building in Mexico City, Marc Daviet for his nighttime image of a frozen bivouac, Nejc Ferjan for his black and white drone shot of a kayaker and Chris Garrison for an image featuring BMX rider Broc Raiford inside a hexagonal garage. 

If you missed this announcement and want to see Jan’s first reaction then you can rewatch it on our Instagram channel.

The overall winner will be announced on Saturday, December 4 during the Red Bull Illume Exhibition in Aspen Snowmass, USA. Stay tuned to our channels for the latest updates.

Emerging by Black Diamond Winner

Victoria Kohner-Flanagan (USA) wins the Emerging by Black Diamond category for her strong shot of a resting climber.

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© Victoria Kohner-Flanagan / Red Bull Illume

Emerging by Black Diamond is the category for up and coming photographers under the age of 25. This year saw an incredible number of inspiring images submitted. But only one photographer can take the category winner crown – and that is Victoria Kohner-Flanagan.

She stunned the jury with her image of climber Jack Nugent stretching out his arms behind his back on a virtually featureless wall of blank rock. 

She explains how she got the shot: “My friends and I spent the winter of 2021 living communally in an assortment of vans and cars amidst the Buttermilk’s monstrous granite boulders in Bishop, California. Our days looked like this: wake up, drink coffee, go climb. Jack grew eager to test his fitness on ‘Queen of Heartbreaks’ in Pine Creek Canyon. Before tying into the sharp end he was clearly nervous. 

“From the ground, the route’s 39 meters were daunting and blank. The holds remained obscured to me even as I ascended the fixed line to find the best position to shoot from. Questing up the blank face, Jack found a cheeky no hands rest. Doubt cleared from his face as I snapped the shot.”

The three other finalists were Caleb Ely for his shot of a mountain biker in a misty forest, Monica Dinh for her image of a surfer shooting into the air and Cody Hammer for his shot of a winter surfer inside a barrel.

If you missed this announcement and want to see Victoria’s first reaction then you can rewatch it on our Instagram channel.

The overall winner will be announced on Saturday, December 4 during the Red Bull Illume Exhibition in Aspen Snowmass, USA. Stay tuned to our channels for the latest updates.