Interview: What's close to your heart Robin O'Neill?

We played catch up with Red Bull Illume finalist Robin O'Neill. Based in Whistler, Canada Robin works as a freelance outdoor lifestyle and action sports photographer. We chatted about how the current situation affects her job, what projects are closest to her heart and the unconventional start of her career as a professional photographer.

© Robin O'Neill / Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019: Energy Category

If you take a look at Robin O'Neill's portfolio all you want to do is get outside and hop on your bike, put on your skis or simply go for a long run. Her images don't just capture moments outside, they are truly honoring them! But the Image Quest 2019 Finalist (Category: Energy) not only captures unique outdoor adventures, she's also focusing on the human perspective behind every image. Read our interview to find out more about Robin's projects, her inspiration and her advice!

 

Could you tell us a little bit about your the beginngs of your carreer as an outdoor photographer? How did it all start?

During the summer of my third year at university, I decided to do some international non-profit work to mix things up. I spent my time on a project in South America, documenting the world around me on my dad’s 35mm film camera that I taught myself to use en route. There was no turning back from there - I was hooked on both travel and documentary photography.

How do you choose what projects you like to shoot?

I am drawn to projects that involve self-propelled access by ski, bike, or foot; assignments that involve collaboration with like-minded impassioned people, and that contribute positively to the world. Sometimes I select these projects and sometimes I’m fortunate enough that they select me. I have built a body of work that shows my style and what I am passionate about, which has helped build momentum in attracting projects that I’m passionate about.

Any projects that you would describe as "close to your heart"?

There are the projects that are simply meant to create an advertising campaign, which I do enjoy, but the projects that are closest to my heart involve a philanthropic aspect. These are the ones that develop meaningful connections, cultural exchanges, and a good challenging adventure.

Most recently, I was approached by an Arc’teryx sponsored ultra runner wanting to do a story in Nepal. So I began to dig deeper into how we could plan an adventure that would also make a contribution to the area we would explore. I landed on an NGO called the Mira Rai Initiative. This is a group that sponsors five young Nepalese girls every year to train as trail runners, teach them English, and give them training to become guides. This is something I could get behind and incorporate into our project. Not only do I get to trek and trail run while shooting for a company I love, I could also give a young female guide​ ​the opportunity for leadership ​training​ and exposure.

Why did you choose to submit your image to Red Bull Illume?

To be honest, I had never considered entering an image to the Red Bull Illume contest - an intimidating competition, packed with testosterone, and talent. But luckily and to my surprise I was messaged directly by Red Bull Illume saying that they liked my work, and would I consider entering the competition this year. This invitation stripped away the intimidation of entering, and I submitted to the esteemed event with no thoughts I would ever make it past the first round.

 

Mountainbiking, Trailrunning, Skiing .. you are shooting quite a lot of different sports, what’s the one you enjoy the most?

Oh, that’s a tough question! Probably the most rewarding is ski photography. It’s the most elusive, as so many conditions have to come together to create a great shot. There is no track to follow, so you have to read the terrain for where the athlete is going to go. And there are no do-overs in ski photography, because once there are tracks visible in the shot, it’s done. When you nail it, it’s the best feeling in the world.

Any stand-out memories or moments in your career?

With absolutely no prior experience photographing skiing, I created an award-winning show in Deep Winter, a Whistler ski photography competition against leaders in the ski industry. News travelled fast and the following week, I received a call from Dave Reddick, the photo editor of POWDER magazine, asking if I would be interested in going winter camping with an A-list crew to shoot ski film. Knowing I would be completely out of my league, I agreed (of course), and was catapulted into my first real ski shoot. Before I knew it, not only was I having my first experience in a helicopter, I was roped in with the doors off, legs dangling, and shooting the biggest line of Eric Hjorleifson’s career. No pressure. I remember that moment well!

Do you have any tips for up and coming photographers?

Always be shooting; it’s a muscle that you have to keep strengthening. Try to stay away from comparing your work to others. It’s inevitable, but always gets in the way of your creativity. Lastly, learn about business. It’s a lot of hard work to ensure making a living as a photographer, and business is something that I have to embrace. It’s all worth it though.

 

How do you cope with the current COVID-19 crisis? What’s your experience as a professional photographer?

What a weird time! All of the shoots that I had lined up previously were cancelled, of course, so I’ve been forced to think about how to deal with the loss of income while keeping my creativity and presence alive.
My first thought was ‘what I could do to show my support?’ That is when I began taking photos of the “unsung heroes” -- front-line workers who were still on the job while our province was in a state of emergency. These are the people who never receive, nor ask for any recognition, but are the ones who really keep our day-to-day lives moving forward. This included bus drivers, grocers, waste removal workers, and janitors, to name a few. Although this personal project was meant only to find a way of showing thanks and keeping creativity flowing during a time of upheaval, it led to a collaboration with a brand that I work with and a paycheck!
I also have dug deep into my non-urgent folder, and have spent more time connecting personally with work colleagues. This way when restrictions and budgets open up again, I’ll be ready.

What’s next for you?

COVID has certainly made ‘what’s next’ a little unpredictable. I do have some specific places in the world and people in mind that I’d like to document in the year ahead, but those ideas will have to stay secret for now until they are nailed down. I will definitely continue to create projects and partner up with brands to put together winter and summer adventures that inspire and motivate people to get outdoors, push their
limits, and live their lives to the fullest. I also really hope to continue working with NGOs to document and bring more support to world health issues and humanitarian efforts.

Where can we find more of your work?

If you want to see what I’ve been working on, my project from Nepal just got released by Arc’teryx and can be found here. Also, POWDER recently profiled my ski work.

My profile is continuously being updated on Instagram. For a wider body of work, please check out my website.

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Red Bull Illume proudly announces partnership with Lenovo™

Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 teams up with global computing leader Lenovo to bring you the
 Best of Instagram by Lenovo category.

© Dasha Nosova / Red Bull Illume

© Dasha Nosova / Red Bull Illume

A new edition of Red Bull Illume Image Quest means another round of the world’s greatest adventure and action sports imagery. It is also the perfect opportunity for new partnerships, like the latest one with global computing leader Lenovo. The company is an industry leader in innovative and smarter computing technology that enables a more inclusive and inspired world, so it’s fitting that they are presenting this year’s Best of Instagram category; the only one that opens up the competition to everyone through public voting.

The Best of Instagram by Lenovo category is expected to receive thousands upon thousands of entries from all around the world. Entrants can submit their content using their public Instagram profile and tagging @redbullillume and #rbi21submission. Creators will be able to enter still or moving images up to 60 seconds, which will be judged separately. The submissions will be judged every month, first by an internal Red Bull Illume jury who will select the top 5 still and 5 moving images. These will be put to a community vote on redbullillume.com resulting in 1 monthly winner for still and 1 for moving image. The monthly winners will automatically become official Red Bull Illume Finalists. In total there will be 5 still and 5 moving image finalists and out of these, the public will choose their favorites, who will be crowned as Best of Instagram by Lenovo Category Winners.

Lenovo’s shared dedication to transformative experiences and pushing boundaries with state-of-the-art technology is what makes them the ideal partner for Red Bull Illume. This kind of meaningful innovation is what allows creators to develop and enhance their concepts, evolving with new ideas that inspire, influence, and simply put, leave us speechless.

Lenovo is proud to support the sixth edition of Red Bull Illume Image Quest that brings together photographers and content creators whose bold work continually inspires us,” said Matt Bereda, Vice President of Global Consumer Marketing, PCs and Smart Devices, Lenovo. “We see many of our consumer PC, smart home, and tablet customers are passionate hobbyists. They enjoy photography and digital storytelling, and not all of them are paid professionals—they just love capturing and enhancing imagery to share with others and hang on their walls. If this new normal has taught us anything about our world and ourselves, it’s that we’re resilient, our technology is adaptable, and that making meaningful connections with others through shared creative pursuits are the bright spots in life that really matter.”

Over and above the grand title of being an official Red Bull Illume winner, they are also awarded with prize packages that include trophies and the latest Lenovo products to power even more creative self-expression. Their work will be included in the official Red Bull Illume photobook, be showcased during the Winner Award Ceremony planned for November 2021 and will gain worldwide exposure.

Another edition of Red Bull Illume is here and full of exciting new developments, so be sure to keep a look out for important dates and news on redbullillume.com and start shooting because submissions are open from March 01 to July 31, 2021.

 

Get inventive for the Innovation by EyeEm category!

The next category to be announced calls for your most out-the-box imagery with EyeEm’s Innovation, open for submissions from March 01 to July 31, 2021.

© Daniel Bernstål / Red Bull Illume

© Daniel Bernstål / Red Bull Illume

Red Bull Illume is all about celebrating those who aren’t afraid to think a little differently and boldly step away from the norm to find new ways of portray adventure and action sports. We’re proud to say that the Innovation category is back and is brought to you by EyeEm. It’s only fitting the platform that’s home to the most powerful creative imagery in the world empowers photographers with this one-of-a-kind Red Bull Illume category. EyeEm is a global marketplace for premium stock photography and professional photo & video productions. Their worldwide creative community allows any company to book high-quality photo and video productions anywhere in the world.

Innovation by EyeEm is specifically for images that reveal a totally new angle, a visual idea, a different format, or unconventional ways of using lighting, lenses, and, well, that’s really up to you! Show us a new perspective of adventure and actions sports imagery that reflects the spirit of innovation.

If you want to win this category you need to rethink how you shoot. We’re looking for techniques and visual ideas we’ve never seen before. This is innovation at its finest! The judges will select the images that are not only stunning, but approach adventure and action sports imagery in a new way.

So, start brainstorming and start shooting because submissions open from March 01 to July 31, 2021. Stay tuned to redbullillume.com and our social media channels for all the latest updates and category reveals.

The category for RAW images and pure perspectives is back in 2021!

The RAW category returns to showcase adventure and action sports straight out of the camera, calling for imagery that is not enhanced in any way for submission from March 01 to July 31, 2021.

© Noah Wetzel / Red Bull Illume

© Noah Wetzel / Red Bull Illume

Introduced in 2019, the RAW category is all about taking it back to the fundamentals of photography, where planning the composition, lighting, and exposure are the basis of a good image. The greatest challenge with this category is ensuring that all of this has to be perfect before the shot. It’s for the purists at heart, for those who love the process.

RAW is for shots that are straight out of your camera, showing the real and original image. Everything is done in front of the lens, not on the screen. It is for imagery that doesn’t rely on editing or enhancements, it’s for the uncropped, untouched, and unchanged shots.

The images that are pure and untouched are the most difficult to achieve and therefore are the most rewarding. Perhaps you’re already a master of the unedited, or you’re ready to try a more difficult style with your adventure and action sports photography; the RAW category is the one for you.

Is this the category calling out to you? Remember to start shooting because submissions open soon, from March 01 to July 31, 2021. And even if this isn’t the one you’re feeling, stay tuned to redbullillume.com and follow us on social media because there are 10 categories in total for you to choose from, with more being announced soon!

Playground is for the environments inspiring every move

The category dedicated to the places you capture the action returns for Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021. Submit your awe-inspiring imagery from March 01 to July 31, 2021.

© Chris Tedesco / Red Bull Illume

© Chris Tedesco / Red Bull Illume

Where do you go when you’re looking for an unforgettable experience? The Playground category is back for another edition of crazy landscapes, grungy back alleys, and secret spots; because the biggest part of any adventure is where all the action takes place.

Playground is for imagery that showcases the landscapes, locations, platforms in which athletes play. It’s specifically for the epic imagery that showcases the setting which influences the athletes’ every move.

“In my photos I aim to share the beauty and vastness of nature. I seek a lot of inspiration from the landscape and terrain I am in and am always searching for ways and compositions to combine the human element.” – Guy Fattal, Semi-finalist 2019

The world is full of stunning scenery and every edition this category illuminates a whole range of never-seen-before imagery. This can be anything from an unbelievable place hidden between the hills to just finding a new way to look at the same place you visit every day. Playground category is about the athlete and their environment.

“I love to capture an athlete's interaction with the landscape.  These incredible landscapes are what drew me to photography as a medium, and continue to inspire me for new adventures.” – Steve Shannon, Semi-finalist 2019

Share your perspective and show us where you play. The very essence of adventure and action sports creation is looking for new places to perform, capture, and explore. We want to see your spectacular imagery, so make sure you enter as submissions for Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 are open from March 01 to July 31, 2021.

 Playground is only one of the 10 categories and definitely not the last to be revealed before submissions open. So, keep your eyes open for all of the updates and announcements on redbullillume.com and on our social channels.

The pinnacle of expression returns in the Masterpiece by SanDisk category

Masterpiece by SanDisk is back for Red Bull Illume Image Quest, inviting content creators to submit their unique styles from March 01 to July 31, 2021.

© Nils Ohlendorf / Red Bull Illume

© Nils Ohlendorf / Red Bull Illume

One of the most amazing things about Red Bull Illume Image Quest is that it allows people to truly express their ideas, giving creators the opportunity to share their works of art with a global audience. Creating imagery using outstanding artistry and skill is what the Masterpiece by SanDisk category is all about. It is truly the height of self-expression.

Joining as a partner for yet another edition is the digital storage specialist, SanDisk. A name recognized by content creators everywhere for setting the gold standard, both on the set and out on the field. Their products help make creating possible, which is why we’re excited to have them on board for another edition.

The Masterpiece by SanDisk category is for imagery that illuminates your artistic skill, your personal best, your unique style. We are looking for your best shot. The category blurs the line between fine art and photography. It calls for an image that represents the creativity of adventure and action sports. This isn’t just about the trick, but rather how the moment is transformed into a work of art.

Multi-time winner, Lorenz Holder, has become king of the Masterpiece category, winning in both 2016 and 2019. He’s perfected the skill of making images that stand out and gives us a little piece of advice on what to enter for the category:

“The Red Bull Illume Image Quest is undoubtedly the biggest action sports photography competition in the world. As an action sports photographer it’s such a good opportunity to see where I stand and what kind of images really catch people… For me, the Masterpiece category is a bit like the holy grail within Red Bull Illume. The images need to have a certain ‘WOW-factor’ and just blow you away when you see them. Anything goes there, but it just has to be stunning.” - Lorenz Holder

Show the world your unique skill by entering the Masterpiece by SanDisk category. Submissions open from March 01 to July 31, 2021, so don’t wait! Keep an eye out because the next category will be announced in a couple of days on redbullillume.com.

The Emerging category is ready for the next generation

Solely reserved for rising talent, the Emerging category is once again open for submissions from March 01 to July 31, 2021.

© Mathis Dumas / Red Bull Illume

© Mathis Dumas / Red Bull Illume

Three categories have already been announced, bringing us to the fourth one for the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 edition. This one is reserved for the youngsters, for the newbies, for the fresh talent, basically for anyone 25 years or younger. This is the Emerging category and it's back for its second edition!

The Emerging category is about finding new angles from those with a fresh approach to adventure and action sports imagery. It is for the up-and-coming rising talents, giving you the opportunity to get a foot up and compete at the same level as the pros. Anyone from the age of 25 and under can enter, so go on, show us your greatest capture!

Show the world your creativity and it could change the way you create. All Red Bull Illume Finalists will have their work on display around the globe, and along with great prizes, you get to become part of Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021. Submissions are open from March 01 to July 31, 2021.

Start shooting now and don’t forget to check out the other categories we’re announcing over the next few days. Make a big red circle to start submitting from March 01 to July 2021, and stay tuned to redbullillume.com and our social media channels for all the latest news and announcements!

 

Don't hold back! Anything is possible with the Creative category

The next category to return for Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 is Creative, the only one where anything goes. Submit from March 01 to July 31, 2021, to show us your best imagery.

© Denis Klero / Red Bull Illume

© Denis Klero / Red Bull Illume

The only category with no limits is back and ready for even more mind-blowing creativity, are you? The Creative category makes a comeback for the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021, giving creators the opportunity to push the boundaries with beautiful edits.

This is for images that have been enhanced, either digitally or in the darkroom, through alterations made during the production or editing process. The category is open and that means anything goes, Creative celebrates the most inventive, extraordinary, and surreal image edits in adventure and action sports imagery in the world.

Previous creations have included photo manipulation, illustration, and even merging various images together. Check out some of the work from previous editions for more inspiration, like this one from semi-finalist, David Jaramillo Ramírez, who said: “Mixing both the photo and the illustration, we were able to give life to the concept and transmit aesthetic with strength, all coexisting in one shot.”

Have you got ideas waiting to come to life? Make sure you start shooting because submissions open from March 01 to July 31, 2021. There are more categories to be announced soon, so stay tuned for all the latest news and announcements.

Get ready for the next category - Energy by Red Bull Photography

The second category reappearing for the world’s best adventure and action sports imagery contest in 2021 is Energy by Red Bull Photography. The second of ten categories to be announced before submissions open on March 01 till July 31, 2021.

© Ben Thouard / Red Bull Illume

© Ben Thouard / Red Bull Illume

It’s official, the second category returning for another edition of Red Bull Illume Image Quest is the Energy by Red Bull Photography category. This category is for imagery that demonstrates the real power behind every action; the energy, speed, and strength required for the athlete to perform. It’s about showing us the driving force of the athlete and their environment. These are images that you can feel. The category is sponsored by Red Bull Photography, who stand for authentic imagery that captures the lifestyle, culture, and landscapes the athletes put all their energy into.

 

When you capture the real energy of a moment, whether it’s the second before the move or the ecstatic jump for joy, it evokes something in the viewer. The Category Winner from 2019, Ben Thouard took a photo that was so powerful it also claimed the title of Overall Winner. He also submitted another, very strong image that captures the spirit of this category perfectly. Explaining how, "The leash being under tension, the position of the surfer, the explosion of the wave behind, this is something I’ve been looking for a long time while shooting underwater these last years and I’m happy to have captured it for the Energy Category!"

 

“I love to challenge or shoot images no one would even think about. The feeling, when all my energy and power focuses to ONE shot and connecting with the athlete is just beyond words.” - Satoshi Saijo, Semi-Finalist 2019

 

There are now 2 categories to get your creativity going: Lifestyle by COOPH and Energy by Red Bull Photography. The next category is going to be announced soon, on February 09, 2021, so make sure you remember to check it out! Submissions for the contest are free and open from March 01 to July 31, 2021.

First category has been announced - Lifestyle by COOPH

Red Bull Illume returns in 2021 for another round of the world’s best adventure and action sports imagery. Submissions to the contest open on March 01, until July 31, 2021, which makes it the perfect time to announce the very first category.

 

© Alexander Wick / Red Bull Illume

© Alexander Wick / Red Bull Illume

Returning for another edition is a category close to everyone’s heart – The Lifestyle Category. It’s for images that visually capture the creativity of the lifestyle, music, and culture that surrounds the adventure and action sports; or represents the moments before, between, and after the action. The imagery in this category shows the real reason people push themselves beyond the goal of landing the trick or sending the unthinkable, it’s about the passion of the people doing it.

The secret to capturing a winning entry for this category? Take your camera out before the action starts and carry on shooting even when you think it’s over. Capture every memory, from the laughter to the tears. Let us into your world.

The Lifestyle Category is brought to you by COOPH, the photography apparel and community-focused magazine that recognizes and supports people who are passionate about photography. It is the very first brand to design photography gear and apparel that is not only super functional, but also stylish. Their constant support of people behind the lens is what makes them the perfect sponsor for Red Bull Illume Image Quest, providing creators with the gear they need to capture every moment before, during, and after the action.

The Lifestyle Category is just the first of many aimed to spark ideas for your work. The next category will be announced on Saturday, February 06, 2021. The submissions phase opens soon, so make sure you mark March 01 to July 31, 2021, in your calendars and start shooting now!

Semi-finalist Nic Alegre and his one true passion

Nic Alegre is one of the industry's best-known winter sports photographers and his images are published in major ski magazines. He's usually travelling around the globe trying to capture the rawness of winter sports in a beautiful and unique way but he found time to talk to us!

© Nic Alegre

We talked to Nic about his work, his plans to submit to the Image Quest 2021 and the stand-out moments in his career! Check out the full interview and an exclusive selection of some of his most stunning images!

 

First of all, thanks for taking the time to talk to us! Could you give a little overview of your life as a professional photographer? How did it all start?

Always! I have a ton of appreciation for what Red Bull does for the industry and the way the company supports athletes and artists around the globe.
I suppose my path truly began when I started watching films from Standard Films, TGR (Teton Gravity Research) and Mack Dawg in my teens. My affinity for snow sports was already there – I grew up surfing on the end of Long Island, but there was something about snowboarding and skiing that got its hooks in me. Those films impacted me greatly and launched the connection I have to the winter sports world. When I took an action photography workshop in Whistler in 2010 put on by Blake Jorgenson, I decided that this was it and I was going to commit 100%.

 

How would you describe your style of photography?

Drama, contrast and a priority put on style. I appreciate athletes who have that thing which you cannot describe, an it-factor that makes them unique. I search for that in my lifestyle, portrait, and scenic shooting as well.

You’re well known for your ski photography. Is it your favorite sport to shoot?

I love to shoot both skiing and snowboarding. It’s more about who I’m shooting with that matters the most. Having a relationship with your athletes and crew is one of the most important ingredients that go into creating a shot that has impact.

What’s the most important thing to remember when shooting winter sports?

There are a few things that I consider to be the most important things to remember. The top three on my list are probably: Constantly moving to find different angles, trusting your instinct, and communicating with your crew.

 

Any tips on shooting the unexpected?

Knowing your camera, understanding setting specific exposure and depth, and then having the ability to change it in a split second is very important when shooting dynamic environments.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

The energy within the crew does the most to inspire me. I am at my best when I am perceiving everything and when the energy is high and there is a lot happening. I feel like everything about my senses is heightened and my ability to recognize moments as they are about to happen improves.

What are some stand-out memories or moments in your career?

That’s a tough question! I have so many amazing memories and moments that stand out that it really is hard to pinpoint one or two. My first POWDER cover, plus how TGR organized a surprise at the headquarters and filmed it is something I will never forget.
Winning Photo of the Year in 2018 at the Pow Awards and landing the final POWDER cover are high on the list too. TGR premieres are always a big highlight and all TGR trips are stand-out moments for me because of the experiences we share together. Getting the nod from Todd Jones to shoot with him in Alaska is a big deal to me and a sign of respect that I appreciate greatly. Biggest negative? Getting banned from Canada for overstaying my six month visa.

 

 

Do you plan to submit to Red Bull Illume 2021?

Absolutely!

Where can we find more of your work?

On my website, the pages of POWDER Magazine, on Instagram @nicalegre and @tetongravity!