The art of MTB with JB Liautard

Red Bull Illume 2019 category winner JB Liautard shared his latest photo project with us. He told us what's behind the project and where he found inspiration for it.

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© Jb Liautard

We talked to Jb Liautard about his project with his mate and Red Bull athlete Thomas Genon. Jb is a 25-year-old professional photographer based out of Lyon, France. He’s fond of all things outdoors, but his real passion lies with mountain biking which he started doing at 14, since then he has been infatuated by the sport. He started shooting once he turned 18 and bought his first DSLR. His pictures really show the relation between humans and their environment.



Why did you choose to become an action sports photographer? What made you specialize in mountain biking?

I didn’t really choose this path, it happened quite naturally as my two biggest passions are photography and action sports. Being a mountain bike rider myself definitely oriented my specialization in bike photography. I believe that sharing the passion and knowing all the codes of the sport are essential when it comes to taking pictures in this field.

What came first for you – mountain biking or photography?

Mountain biking came first when I was around 14 years old, and I really got into photography a few years later when I turned 18 and bought my first DSLR.

Who are your biggest influences in adventure and action sports photography?

It’s hard to give just a few names here but I don’t necessarily get inspired by action sports photographers only. I really enjoy looking at landscape and portrait photography too. Here are a few photographers whose work I have always appreciated: Joey Lawrence, Reuben Wu, Fred Mortagne, Ben Thouard, Toby Cowley, Sterling Lorence, Lorenz Holder…


What is the name of this project you have been working on?

The name of this project is: The Art of Mtb. It has been produced by the brand “Shimano”. We wanted to show what’s happening behind the scenes of some artistic photos we had in mind, both with the photography and the riding.

Which picture is your favorite from this project? Did it turn out exactly as planned? 

My favorite picture from this project is the water droplet picture. It did turn out as we planned, we took some time to find the clothes matching the best with the bike and I’m glad Thomas’ bike had those bright colors, which makes the whole subject more visible.

How long did it take you to get the shot? What was the biggest challenge when capturing it?

I think it took us about an hour and a half, from the moment we arrived on the parking lot until the final attempt. Actually, we did this image in the middle of the photo session, but I wanted to keep doing a few more tries just in case we could get another framing. I tried some shots closer to the water droplets, and some a bit further. In the end, this photo was showing the action the best and the subject was not too big or too small.



How did you come up with the ideas for this project?

I spend days looking for inspiration so it’s kind of a long and sometimes unconscious process. Every time I come up with an idea, I write it down somewhere. So, for this project, I just picked a few ideas I had and tried to make them work with Thomas. Some of them didn’t work and we didn’t show them in the video but failing is part of the process. For the droplet picture, I tried this idea a few months earlier with another rider but it didn’t get quite close to this result, so I did a lot of improvements and it worked on the first try with Thomas.

Do you have these ideas ready before the shoot or is it something you come up with spontaneously?

I kind of answered this question in my previous answer I guess, but sometimes inspiration also comes from what I’m seeing on the location and from some discussions with the riders. But I would say all the photos I did in this project were staged, so it was a bit different from an adventure trip where you discover the landscape and the possibilities every day.

How did you meet the athlete?

I met Thomas a while ago now, he’s the first professional athlete I shot with back in 2014 while I was on an assignment for a French web magazine. We had a common group of friends so we were seeing each other quite often but we never really planned a shooting together until this project last year.

How did you discover the location?

The location is mainly Thomas’ backyard, so it wasn’t too hard to find! I came to his place a few weeks before the shoot to scout the area, that’s when I first discovered the possibilities we had. The only thing we added was a new jump, built for the picture with the dusty background.


Where is your favorite location to shoot mountain bike photos?

Shooting mountain bike photos is tricky because most of the time you can’t just add an action to a landscape or architecture shot. You have to create or find a jump, or a trail, where the action can be as important and beautiful as the surroundings. That’s why shooting in Utah’s desert-like landscapes or in Canada’s rain forest is probably my favorite. Real trails and a lot of building possibilities in the middle of an amazing landscape.

Do you plan on submitting for the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021? If so, do you have any tips for fellow content creators?

Yes I do, I’m not sure which shots I’m going to submit yet and I’ll probably wait until the last month to upload my images. I would suggest other photographers give it a try and to fill all 10 spots of the categories. Also, no matter how great an image is, if it’s in the wrong category, it has way less chance to get selected, so be sure to choose the categories wisely.

Where can we find more of your work?
You can find more of my work on my website or on Instagram @jbliautard.


Thanks for your submissions!

Submissions have now closed. We’d like to thank everyone who has uploaded and shared their images with us – let the judging phase now begin.

Red Bull Illume 2021 Thank You

© Nathan Starzynski / Red Bull Illume

To all content creators who submitted to this year’s Red Bull Illume Image Quest we would like to say thank you and good luck! 

With travel restrictions, it’s been a lot more difficult for photographers to get THE shot. So, it’s been really great to receive so many submissions this year. We’ve only had a sneak peek at the images so far but what we can say is that the astounding level of creativity is mind-blowing and we are really stoked to see all of your work.  

What happens now? Well, we move to the judging phase. To learn more about that, watch this video as Red Bull Illume’s founder Ulrich Grill explains how the judging works. 

It’s like this. A judging panel of five go through thousands of entries and selects the top 25 images per category. These become the ‘semi-finalists’ and we will reach out to those successful photographers and content creators in the coming weeks. An international judging panel of around 50 photo editors and experts then choose the Finalists, Category Winners and the Overall Winner in three voting rounds.  

Stay tuned on all our channels for updates during the judging process. 

You also have a chance to be a judge, because from August 6 to 10, the July selection for Best of Instagram by Lenovo will be online for the monthly community vote. These finalists will be revealed mid-August and then all of the monthly finalists for this category will be put together for another round of community voting from August 25 to 29. This year, you get to decide who will be crowned as the winners of this category! 

Ultimately, all 2021 winners will be revealed at the end of the year. It’s going to be a blast and we can’t wait to see, who will carry home the trophies. 

Thank you once again for submitting. We hope it’s given you some inspiration to get out there again and shoot breathtaking adventure and action sports images.  

Get some RAW by Leica inspiration

Wondering which category to enter?

Red Bull Illume 2021 Gallery Raw 1

© Ben Thouard / Red Bull Illume

We pulled together some of the most inspiring shots from previous editions of Red Bull Illume to give you a better idea of where your winning shot should go. Scroll through the RAW by Leica gallery to get into the category’s vibe, then head over to the submit page and start uploading.

Leica offers several prizes for the overall as well as the category winners, including an SL2 camera with three premium lenses or the Q2 camera.

When you have to descend a mine shaft to get the shot

We talk to Red Bull Illume photographer Christian Pondella about shooting extreme athletes, and why less is more when it comes to equipment, and why lens caps should be left at home.

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© Christian Pondella

How did you get into photography?

I have been a professional photographer for over 25 years now. I got hooked on photography in my freshman year in college and fell in love with the process of developing and printing my black and white film. This went alongside with my passion for the mountains, skiing, climbing, mountain biking and naturally these passions merged together.

What motivates you to keep creating?

My number one motivation to keep creating is getting outdoors into the mountains and firsthand experiencing the beauty of Mother Nature. Then of course combining some type of sport or activity in this beautiful environment.

Are you planning to submit to the Image Quest 2021?

Of course! I am always hoping to get an image displayed in one of those magical cubes!

Could you tell us why other photographers should enter Red Bull Illume? Was entering a good move for you?

It’s an amazing opportunity for any adventure photographer with the chance that your image might make it to the final round. It’s the ultimate showcase to have your image displayed and exhibited around the world.

How did you decide on what image(s) to submit in the end?

As far as images to submit I try to find one that are unique and hopefully have some ethereal mood to them. For me, this is generally something where the forces of nature and human activity merge together.

Any tips for aspiring photographers who also want to submit this year?

Red Bull Illume has so many amazing images submitted, I think your best odds is to have something pretty unique.

What equipment do you trust in when shooting?

Honestly, the top camera manufactures all make amazing equipment, but the one constant that I always use are SanDisk memory cards and an F-Stop pack.

What features are particularly important for your equipment?

I try to keep things simple, less is more especially when it comes to adventure sports. Lens hoods and lens caps usually stay in my closet and I try to stay away from miscellaneous gadgets. When it comes to camera equipment for me it is important to buy the flagship cameras and lenses as they have the best weather sealing which is important for the environments I shoot in.

What are some stand out memories or moments from your career?

Certainly, some of the most unique images I have captured have been with Will Gadd particularly where we have descended into glaciers, moulins, and mine shafts to capture ice climbing. Also, some of my ski mountaineering adventures with Chris Davenport are particularly memorable.

How would you describe your style of photography?

I think I have a hard time describing my style of photography as I feel it changes and evolves. But I guess I have a certain style as I often have people tell me when they see a picture they know I took it before they see the photo credit. I guess the one constant is a small person in a unique environment which gives the viewer something to contemplate when looking at an image.

What makes your images unique?

I think a big part of it is the unique environments I have been fortunate to photograph. Not many people have descended two hundred feet into a glacier to capture photos so these types of images will resonate with people.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

I find a lot of inspiration by following my peers on Instagram, but the biggest inspiration for me is Mother Nature and the spectacular beauty the outdoors has to offer.

Check out more of Christian's work on his website and Instagram @christianpondella.


Get some Innovation by EyeEm inspiration

Wondering which category to enter?

Red Bull Illume 2021 Gallery Innovation 1

© Vegard Breie / Red Bull Illume

We pulled together some of the most inspiring shots from previous editions of Red Bull Illume to give you a better idea of where your winning shot should go. Scroll through the Innovation by EyeEm gallery to get into the category’s vibe, then head over to the submit page and start uploading!

What are judges looking for?

Red Bull Illume's founder Ulrich Grill and judges explain what makes a great shot and how the judging process works.

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Are there certain characteristics that define a winning shot? In this video Red Bull Illume's founder Ulrich Grill talks about some of the defining qualities that make an Overall Winner. 

He discusses why technical brilliance isn't enough and how composition, creativitiy and artistic flair all help to make an amazing shot. 

“If we look at some of the winning images of the past editions, one thing connects them all and that’s true excellence,” he says, as he flicks through previous winning shots on Lenovo's Yoga 9i 2-in-1 laptop.

Grill explains how the judging process works, how thousands of images are whittled down to 276 semi-finalist images and how a strong judging panel of 50 international and renowned photo editors and photo experts then choose the finalists, category winners and the overall winner. 

The video also contains some top tips from some of this year’s judges, including Laura Stanley, Pexels editor, Ray Bisschop, publisher of Surfing Life and Theo Acworth, an editor at Method Mag. 

Adds Grill: “Red Bull Illume is all about the unsung heroes of adventure and action sports, the photographers behind the lens. It’s about you.”

Get some Playground inspiration

Wondering which category to enter?

Red Bull Illume 2021 Gallery Playground 1

© Rein Rijke / Red Bull Illume

We pulled together some of the most inspiring shots from previous editions of Red Bull Illume to give you a better idea of where your winning shot should go. Scroll through the Playground gallery to get into the category’s vibe, then head over to the submit page and start uploading.

Get some Lifestyle by COOPH inspiration

Wondering which category to enter?

Red Bull Illume 2021 Gallery Lifestyle 1

© Corey Rich / Red Bull Illume

We pulled together some of the most inspiring shots from previous editions of Red Bull Illume to give you a better idea of where your winning shot should go. Scroll through the Lifestyle by COOPH gallery to get into the category’s vibe, then head over to the submit page and start uploading.

Improve your chances with the Photo Story category

Explore the category where you can submit multiple images!

Red Bull Illume 2021 Photo Story Thumnbnail

Entering images into one of the new categories like Photo Story is a good way to boost your odds as it is not as well known as other categories. It takes a bit of effort but the good part is that you don’t necessarily need to go out and shoot something fresh. You can use multiple images that you didn´t previously use to tell the full story behind the action. With only a few days to go, this could be an option worth looking at. To get you inspired, watch the video below, then check your own files and see if you’ve got a story worth sharing.

Who's got the best Mountain Photo

There is an additional prize this year for the Best Mountain Photo.

Red Bull Illume 2021 Gallery Black Diamond 1

© Alexander Wick / Red Bull Illume

Here are some great shots from the Red Bull Illume archives to get you inspired for the Best Mountain Photo. Black Diamond is going to select the winner, and the prize is a generous product deal worth up to $5,000. Shots can belong to any category – it’s just a bonus prize for the best mountain image. So while there’s still time, head to the hills and nail that shot. 

10 days to go!

Only 10 days left to enter the world’s greatest adventure and action sports imagery contest – and achieve your break-out moment.

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© Simone di Mondino / Red Bull Illume

When it comes to planning and executing the perfect Red Bull Illume-winning shot, there are still quite a few things you can do in ten days; you can go on a roadtrip; head backcountry with some athlete friends or organize a last-minute shoot on your doorstep.

You could also create a reportage collection of images for the newest Red Bull Illume category – Photo Story. As one of the lesser known of Red Bull Illume’s ten categories, any entries stand a higher chance of going through to the next round.

Struggling for reasons on why you should submit? We say two words – prestige and prizes. Get an image selected into Red Bull Illume and you’ll receive lots of kudos. It’s a badge of honor that marks you out as a photographer that can open doors for your photography career.

Prizes include computers and tablets from Lenovo, workflow bundles from SanDisk Professional, a Leica SL2 for the winner and a paid photoshoot with Black Diamond for the winner of the Emerging category.  

Says Ulrich Grill, founder of Red Bull Illume: “Red Bull Illume is really the most prestigious photo contest in adventure and action sports and has been the spark that ignited many photographers’ careers. It’s also totally unbiased. If you have one great shot you could win. What unites previous winners Fred Mortagne, Chris Burkard, Lorenz Holder and Ben Thouard is photographic excellence. We look forward to seeing your images in the contest. Just think, this year it could be you!”

For your chance to enter and win great prizes and the prestige of being a Red Bull Illume winner, get shooting and submit your work here – there’s still time, but only just!