My first cliff diving shoot

Ben Dean at the World Cliff Diving series in La Rochelle

To get gigs as a professional photographer takes years of experience. But how do you get that experience in the first place to learn your craft and shoot like a pro?

Aspiring photographer Ben Dean got the opportunity to fly to the beautiful medieval town of La Rochelle in south-west France to cover the second round of the World Cliff Diving Series through Red Bull Reporter. We caught up with him to find out what he learned.

Ben spotted the request for an event photographer on April 30th at Red Bull Reporter, who regularly give young photographers, writers, filmmakers and presenters in the UK the chance to cover the best sports and cultural events. By May 15th, Ben was in France on his own special assignment.

“My brief was basically to get 30 decent shots of the venue and location and to get a few snaps of the athletes during the competition, mainly focusing on the UK’s Gary Hunt. I was also asked to get behind-the-scenes shots, to give people a taste of what goes on behind the barriers.”

Cliff diving is regarded as one of the purest extreme sports around, being both beautifully simple and extremely dangerous to execute. Divers must be extremely fit, have the reflexes of a gymnast and possess the mental strength to cope with the pressure of competition as well as the risk of injury if they get their timing wrong.

For a photographer then, cliff diving has everything – spectacular dives, great locations, tough competition, drama and some real personalities. When you add in a 27 metre tower and 50,000 spectators at the event in La Rochelle, a photographer has all the ingredients they need for a great shoot.

The biggest challenge for the twenty year old from Devon however was that he had no experience of shooting the sport.

“I’ve been to quite a few events in the past like London Freeze, Red Bull Empire of Dirt, MX des Nations, but never as part of the media as an official photographer. Cliff diving was completely new to me.”

“When I saw the first diver jump off the 27m high tower I was completely shocked! I’ve seen a lot of extreme sports live but this really took my breath away. I had to remember to take photos as I was so transfixed by how crazy it was!”

With no prior experience of shooting the sport, Ben also had to learn fast on the day about how to adjust his lens and adapt to the light conditions to capture the action. Divers spend three seconds in the air and hit the water at 85km/h.

Although it takes years for a photographer to build up their equipment to pro standard, Ben was fortunate to have some good gear for his first big photography assignment.

“I used a Canon 50D with battery grip and a Canon 480 flash. Lens-wise I took my Canon 70- 200mm f4 L series lens for the action shots, a Canon 50mm f1.8 for portraits and a Sigma 15- 35m f2.6 for the background and general shots.”

“My main enemy on the day, apart from not having a tripod that worked, was the weather. One minute it was beautifully sunny, the other dark and cloudy so it was pretty hard to keep adjusting settings to make sure the shots came out alright.”

Ben also had to quickly initiate himself with the competition’s new format. As only the top six athletes after the first two heats made the final, divers couldn’t save their best jumps until last, meaning that Ben had to stay focused during the whole event.

What other challenges did he face on the day?

“The media centre, where I was based, was on the opposite side of the harbor to the divers – so I found myself constantly running around from one side to the other to get photos. On the plus side I did manage to talk my way to some good vantage points during the event, which photographers have to do. I had to get someone to hang on to the back of my jeans while I took a shot over the edge of the tower from about 90 feet up [27 metres], which was scary!”

As well as having to deal with the impact of several huge dives, the biggest in the World Cliff Diving series, the athletes also had to cope with cold water conditions at 14°C. Divers were even struggling to walk afterwards. This gave Ben the opportunity to capture some interesting shots of the athletes as they went through a rollercoaster of emotions during the event.

Was he trying to get any particular type of shot on the day?

“I have a strange love for sequence shots. I feel they show exactly what’s happening in one photo without having to explain anything to the viewer.

“My favorite photo was the one of Orlando Duque just before he hit the water, he must have been less than 30cm off the surface. It was a pure stroke of luck as well. I only found out I’d shot it when I got home and started looking through my photos! It’s a shame the picture wasn’t totally sharp though.”

What did he learn from watching the professional photographers at the event?

“I picked up a lot of things on the day. The main thing is that if you’re shooting the same location for years, it’s your job as a photographer to be able to spot something new and exciting that will set you apart from the rest of the field.”

Even better for Ben was that Gary Hunt won the event, giving him the perfect pictures to send back to Red Bull Reporter in London. The British athlete scored perfect tens on his last dive and received an overall score of 390 points, thereby maintaining his lead in the Cliff Diving World Series leader board in front of Russia’s Artem Silchenko and Colombia’s Orlando Duque.

Considering it was his first cliff diving shoot, would he do anything different if given the chance again?

“I’m lucky enough to work for an underwater camera specialist and I would be able to get hold of some pretty cool kit. If I ever get another opportunity to go to a cliff diving event I’d love to take some photos from the water so I could get a half and half shot of a diver entering the water - that would look awesome!”

Ben admits he has a lot to learn before he can mix it with the pros but he was happy to get some experience under his belt thanks to Red Bull Reporter. If he ever needs inspiration of course, Ben can always check out the online Red Bull Illume gallery in the future to see some of the world’s best cliff diving photography.

Check out the video and picture gallery to see Ben's assignment at the Red Bull World Cliff Diving event in La Rochelle. If you are based in the UK and want the opportunity to photograph for Red Bull Reporter, register at www.redbullreporter.com.

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!

Red Bull Illume 2021 WhiteWall Gallery credits

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.