Dive in! Underwater Photography with Kohei Ueno

Red Bull Illume 2019 finalist Kohei Ueno doesn't like shooting underwater - he lives for it! His black and white image of freedivers at the Freediving Championships in Indonesia is astonishing and daunting at the same time. We wanted to know what it's like to shoot 100m beneath the surface with no air, no light but a lot of water.

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Why have you chosen to submit your image to the Image Quest 2019?

I was so impressed and inspired by the submissions of the Red Bull Image Quest competitions in the past that I knew I wanted to be a part of it someday. This is by far the greatest adventure sports photography competition in the world, where photographers capture the spirit of adventure and exploration, where minds and bodies are pushed to the very edge of human limits. To me the sport of freediving fits right into this world, not only as a sport but also as a lifestyle, so I am extremely glad to be selected amongst the very best and represented in this category [Lifestyle].

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with Red Bull Illume 2019?

The Red Bull Illume 2019 Winner Award Ceremony on top of the Kronplatz Mountain at 7000ft was out of this world, capturing the essence of Red Bull's spirit in style. It was one of the most spectacular photography competition that I've ever been a part of with so many amazing talents and like-minded individuals from across the globe, who all shared the same love and passion for photography and creating stunning images of their sports.

 

"I experienced a very powerful moment, something so good that I had never felt before."

 

Your image made it to the final stage, congrats! How did the shot came about?

This shot is an image of a freediver coming up from a competition dive at the AAS Freediving Depth Championships. A rather intense moment where the athlete is awakened from the dark, quiet, lonely depth of space, to the bright, loud, and hectic environment of the surface above. To me, what makes this image even more special is that I've watched this athlete grow over the years, overcoming her own fears one step at a time, from when she could barely dive to a few meters down, to now where she's diving to depth of over 50 meters on one breath of air.

What’s the story behind your love for free diving?

My relationship with the ocean started at 13 years old when I got my first open water scuba certificate, but it was not until the age of 30 when I discovered freediving that transformed the way I saw the ocean. I realised that there was a lot more to freediving than just holding your breath, or the thrill of adrenaline, or to show off or anything like that. When I completed my 16m depth requirement during my first freedive course, I experienced a very powerful moment, something so good that I had never felt before. I was immediately hooked to this new sensation, and I knew right away that this is a sport that I would continue for the rest of my life.

What came first for you: free diving or photography?

I picked up my first 'non-point and shoot' camera when I quit my job at Google to travel the world, self learning on the go with just a basic understanding of aperture, shutter speed and iso. A year later after returning home, I won a grand prize at a major photography competition, and that was when photography became a little more than just a hobby. That same year, I discovered freediving and fell in love with it straight away. Naturally, I took the camera underwater and that's how it all began. So in a way photography came first, but freediving is what got me interested in underwater photography, and I am happy to have found a way to combine the two together.

What fascinates you about underwater photography?

What I find fascinating about shooting underwater on a breath hold is that it has the ability to reset my mind to really focus on the present, washing away everything and anything that goes on above the surface. Everything works differently underwater than it does on land, both physically for our bodies and technically inside the camera, and I find it very interesting to balance these two together. We know so little about the ocean, like we know so little about freediving, and while we can spend all day studying about it from the surface, admiring the weird creatures and science within it, it's quite hard to grasp the true wonders of it all until you dive down and experience it yourself. I hope my images will inspire more people to take that plunge to look closer into our oceans and into ourselves.

 

"... all while holding your breath and worrying about your own safety as you go deeper and deeper."

 

One of the biggest challenges when shooting underwater?

When you’re dealing with shooting freedivers who are diving at speeds of one metre a second, things can get really complicated. Not only do you have to adapt to the loss of light at different depths, but also the change in pressure while diving head down with a camera in your hand. Trying to keep steady while fighting against things like current, waves, thermocline and varying visibility, all while holding your breath and worrying about your own safety as you go deeper and deeper. All of this happens at the same time, and that is the most difficult thing about freedive photography.

What do you always have with you equipment-wise?

You absolutely need a good set of underwater housing, and a good pair of fins! To me Nauticam housing is the ultimate when it comes to housing my Sony gears and Molchanovs short fins does wonders for freedive photogaphers like myself. As I shoot mostly wide, my choice of lens is usually the 16-35mm fisheye and a decently sized dome port for above under shots. Also, as I'm near the ocean a lot, one thing I find essential is having a good backup solution. Personally I use a QNAP NAS to backup my files over the network and this really helps with my workflow and a peace of mind knowing that my data is safe even when I'm overseas. I also like to bring a solar panel charger to take advantage of the sun whenever possible as well as Litra lights for occasional night shoots.

Where can we find more of your work?

You can find my work at www.koheiueno.com and Instagram @kuenok. I am also working on some collaborations with art galleries in Singapore and Australia, once I have more details, the information can be found on my website.

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.

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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.