From Snow to Sea: Catching up with Vernon Deck

Vernon Deck is the definition of a season-chaser. As much at home in the snow as he is on the open seas, he spends the summer months sailing around the world, while fulfilling his "regular" job as a photographer in the winter. We caught up with him to talk about what's been going on lately.

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© Vernon Deck / Red Bull Illume

First off, it’s been a while since we last spoke. How have you been?

Life is good, 2017 has been another interesting year. The European winter was the worst that I've ever seen, almost no snow and much too warm but I still managed to shoot some great moments and keep my clients happy. Then in May I flew back to Australia to continue my mission to sail around the world in my 37ft sailboat “Lets Live”.

There's a popular saying “you cant change the weather”, well this is proving to be wrong. We have managed to change the weather and its having a pretty massive impact. I see it on both sides of the world, in the mountains and in the ocean.

I try to keep my footprint light and hope that my images will inspire at least a few people to go out and see our beautiful planet and think about their own impact on the world.

Right now I'm recovering from surgery. Last week I was on a photoshoot at Kitzsteinhorn in Austria and ended up breaking my collarbone badly. Back in Zurich they screwed me back together and I'll be fine in a few weeks.

How has Red Bull Illume influenced your career or life as a photographer?

Getting the invite to Chicago as a Red Bull Illume finalist was huge! Just being surrounded by all that talent, I mean the 55 best action sport photographers in the world, that's something! That alone gave me a confidence boost. Generally we fly under the radar, we go from shoot to shoot, images get used widely and the public see a great image but have no idea of who made it.

Red Bull Illume celebrates the photographers. I saw some very inspirational work in Chicago and had the opportunity to speak with some of the photographers and gain an insight into their work ethic and motivations. Obviously it doesn't hurt to be able to tell clients about this success.

What’s it like shooting for a brand with a special mission in mind versus what you would normally shoot? How different is the approach?

I am fortunate enough to have worked closely with Volcom for over a decade now. They give me a very loose brief and leave me pretty much total freedom creatively. This is amazing and I cant thank them enough for trusting me. It also means that I have to continually come up with ideas which in turn keeps everything fresh. I just trust my instincts on this.

I have other clients though that provide pretty exact storyboards for each shoot. They still want my input and personal style but need for example a very specific shot of a girl hiking through the snow at a 40 degree angle to me while looking past my left shoulder in order to portray the jacket well. Working to strict guidelines is very easy in a way as you can tick off images as you get them and be very efficient with your time.

How does your daily life influence your photography? We know you spend summers sailing around the world, so how does this impact your work?

Photography is my passion and I do it all the time, wether I'm getting paid or not. I shoot more photos in summer and dont sell any of them. For me life is all about balance. If I chase every job, compete for every contract and really make “success” my goal then I think I would very soon not enjoy photography anymore.

I feel if I can combine photography with my other passions then I will never tire of it. Sailing during summer, getting away from all the social media and hi-speed lifestyles really calms me down and at the same time regenerates within me the passion and energy needed to stay at the top of my game in winter. I find myself sailing along, its 35 degrees in the tropics and I'm thinking about this icefall drop I want to shoot next winter. Its a perfect balance for me.

What would you say is the coolest project you’ve worked on this year? Either personal or professional?

In early September I flew to southern Australia to join a large crew of Volcom riders at a ski resort called Falls Creek. A lot of prep work was done in advance and when we arrived there was a very cool feature waiting for us. I cant say too much more as Volcom will be rolling out the images internationally in an upcoming campaign. We were a crew of 16 and it was a pretty epic week! Such a mix of individuals, so talented, not just snowboarding, they were also making art, playing all sort of instruments and singing. We just had a blast! On top of all the fun though we created some amazing content that people the whole world over will see in the coming months. These are the jobs that I live and breath for!

What’s your current go-to setup for photography?

I have been using Canon products since 1997. Currently I use a 5D lll with prime and zoom lenses from 15mm through to 400mm. I have a bunch of Elinchrom flash gear that I haven't used in about 4 years.

Canon and Nikon, the two major brands for the last 20 years have in my opinion been left in the dust though. I feel like for 80% of my work now I could literally have a couple of Go-Pros, a DJI Mavic and my new iPhone and that would be fine.

This of course also has to do with the fact that a good proportion of my work these days is really for online use only. The actual quality of the image is slowly taking a backseat to the ability to shoot anytime, anywhere and at the drop of a hat. I don't think the big prime lenses will go away but I just might be carrying them a bit less which my knees will appreciate.

What’s one piece of gear you won’t leave your house without?

These days its my iPhone! I did a trip to Brazil last year and took all my normal 30kgs of equipment. Right before I left I brought an iPhone 7+, it has 2 camera/lenses, shoots 10 frames per second, films 4k and super slomo. During the whole trip I hardly used my Canon gear. Obviously in some situations, bad/low light for example the iPhone cant compare to the Canon but in other situations the iphone was way better.

In Rio, where crime is very high, I felt much safer shooting with a iPhone rather than a huge Canon with that white lens that everyone know costs many thousands of dollars.

GoPro and DJI both make it possible to shoot RAW/DNG format now and I'm sure the next iPhone will have that capability too.

Any tips for aspiring photographers?

If you're read this far you will realize that the entry into this profession is much easier than back when I started. A reasonable setup will cost you about the same as 1 decent Canon prime lens. So the best tip I can give is to go and use that cheap amazing equipment as much as you can. When everyone has access then it comes down to how you use it. Most people are not prepared to lie in the mud or climb a tree to get a different angle. Be that person! Get dirty, the gear is all waterproof now anyway.

And last but not least, will we see you at the next Red Bull Illume?

I really hope so! One of the things I noticed in Chicago was that many photographers there had shot their images specifically for the Illume competition. It's such a huge event that it makes sense to devote part of your year to coming up with a concept and spending time and money to create those images.

This is a strategy that I choose not to take. Its like anything, when everyone starts doing it the results will all start to look the same. In Chicago there were quite a few images that were totally amazing but in reality completely posed. The photographers would find amazing locations and then figure out what element of sport they could add to change it from a great landscape image into an image that would qualify it as Action Sport.

I'll keep shooting real action and submit my best images and hope that Red Bull appreciates that. It would really be an honor for me to be chosen as a finalist in the next edition of the Red Bull Illume!

To see more of Vernon's work, check out his website, follow him on Instagram and watch him travel around the world on his YouTube channel!

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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What does it take to unveil the world's greatest adventure and action sports images?

We’ve created a video so you can check out the behind-the-scenes of our most unique Winners’ Unveiling Week ever.

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Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 resulted in unforgettable moments and even more incredible imagery than we could’ve expected. We wanted to honour these photographers in a way that not only got their work seen by our Red Bull Illume community, but also the world! This is why, for the sixth edition of this contest, we hosted a five-day Win-ners’ Unveiling Week in which we announced two category winners every day from November 29 to December 4, 2021, which built up to the overall winner an-nouncement in Aspen Snowmass, CO, USA.

How did we do it? Well, we made a video to show you, but we can say it took a lot of epic teamwork and ensuring we were equipped with the best tech. It was also an awesome opportunity for our partners, like Lenovo, to jump on board and show the world how powerful their products really are. Check out our behind-the-scenes video now!

 

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.