The Athlete's Perspective: Gee Atherton

Athletes and photographers have a very unique relationship. Below, legendary downhill rider Gee Atherton tells us in his own words why good action sport photographers rock – and why keeping it real is what matters most.

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© Sven Martin

"Downhill mountain-biking is quite a tricky sport to showcase to the masses. The nature of the sport means you’re hidden on some steep rugged mountain away from the crowds so you need these guys who are willing to spend so much of their time to capture the shots, but also to take the risks to get into those places." 

"The importance of photography is huge. From quite an early age I realised there was so much more to it than just race results. I learnt quickly that sponsors were as attracted to the cool shots and the creative side, often more than the race results themselves. That really excited me."

"When I started racing it was before social media and all about the magazines. Me and Dan would religiously buy these magazines and trawl through them. You’d see these incredible photos of guys winning World Cups that were taken from incredible angles. Some of the shots would literally send shivers down your spine. Those are the shots that would affect us so much and grow our passion for the sport and make us desperate to get on the racetrack ourselves."

"I’ve been really lucky to work with a lot of amazing photographers, it’s been an honor to work with these guys – an eye opener to see how hard they work. One guy who stands out is Sven Martin. I’ve worked a huge amount with him." 

"For him getting the shot that he wants is top priority. Everything that goes with that is a side-note. From long days stood out in the rain to hours spent waiting at the side of a World Cup track to capture that one shot, or sat outside a dusty turn where he’s getting coated in dirt, to climbing trees, hanging off rocks, roping himself off things, there’s literally no end that he won’t go to in order to get the shot." 

"Something I’ve learnt from photographers is that there’s more to the photo than me liking it! A good photographer can get that appeal to a huge audience. A good photographer can also get that appeal to the athlete. But an excellent photographer can do both."

"I’ve spent hours and days doing set-up shots, looking nice in the air, but I want to see a real shot, something that shows me during a world cup final run, I want to see some passion in there, a facial expression or position on the bike that’s almost a mistake, something raw that gives a glimpse into my world. It’s a difficult shot to get as a photographer can either play safe and get the finish line shot or take the risk to get a mid-race run. But those are the shots the pay off – they give an incredible insight into what racing a mountain bike is all about."

Stay tuned to redbullillume.com in the coming weeks as we introduce a sneak peek of the images submitted to Red Bull Illume 2016 and the incredible athletes who feature in them.



For more regular updates, head to Red Bull Illume on Facebook and Instagram.

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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No color - no problem, monochrome photography

There is a skill to just shooting black and white photography. Far from being restrictive monochrome allows photographers to shoot a completely different perspective to what you would usually expect. Here is a collection of the most striking Red Bull Illume images, all in black and white which display the versatility of monochrome.

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© Jan Kasl / Red Bull Illume

Getting creative with Luis Arriaga

The Red Bull Illume finalist gives us the lowdown on his mind-bending shot.

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© Luis Alejandro Arriaga Osorio / Red Bull Illume

What if your eye sees what the camera can’t? What if you look up into the skies and your imagination sees incredible lines and endless possibilities if only the rules of gravity (and trespassing) could be ignored? That’s where the Creative category comes in. It’s for images that have been digitally enhanced. It’s an open category, so anything goes. If you enter the creative category, you are free to create an image that matches what you want to see. And that is what finalist Luis Arriaga did when he wandered past Mexico City’s iconic Museo Soumaya. He explains more below.

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© Luis Alejandro Arriaga Osorio

Tell us how your winning image came about?
A skater always looks for where they can skate – a flight of stairs or a rail go from being a tool, to a perfect place to challenge yourself. The image was born while I was walking around in Mexico City. The building in the image is a museum but its shape is quite peculiar, which made me imagine what it would be like to experience skating on a structure with those characteristics. All you have to do is turn your head to give it a new dimension. It immediately became a colossal bowl with the architecture in-between. It's the dream of any skater, in my mind I visualized it immediately and decided to turn it into an image.

How did you do that?
I remembered that some time ago I had photographed Diego skating some quarterpipes and had the perfect image to achieve my idea. After achieving the ideal composition and applying some adjustments to integrate the athlete in the original image, this was the final result.

Was it part of the plan to submit the image into Red Bull Illume from the beginning?
I had planned to submit it to Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 since the idea of the photograph was born. When I started my career as a photographer, Red Bull Illume became one of my biggest inspirations and being part of the 56 finalists is a dream come true.

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© Luis Alejandro Arriaga Osorio

What was the biggest challenge of the shot?
One of the most complicated things was getting the images that would make up the final one and to have the light in the same direction so that the post-production process was as simple as possible, trying to respect the essence of the idea. I was very careful with the shooting angle of the athlete's photograph and when working with natural light the conditions change quite quickly.

How long did it take you to get the final image?
Considering the time it took to do both shots, it was about a week of the whole process.Having a clear idea in my mind and taking care of details such as the direction of the light, as well as the proportions from the shot helped a lot in the post-production process, which took approximately two days, being very careful with every detail.

Would you do anything differently if you were to take the image again?
Not really, the colors of the sky, the athlete's trick, each of the conditions created a synergy that made it a unique image.

Do you have any tips on adventure and action sports photography in general?
It is very important to know the lines of movement of each of the action sports to capture the exact moment of the action. Having a technical knowledge of how light behaves helps to have better control of the situation and to be able to create new atmospheres. Try different angles, perspectives, lose the fear of getting dirty, and lastly, bring enough batteries and memory cards for the session.

Follow Luis on Instagram to see more of his stunning work!

Sub-zero photography

In many parts of the globe the temperatures are dropping and snow is falling, for some that’s a reason to stay inside. Not for these Red Bull Illume photographers who braved the elements and literally scaled mountains to get the perfect shot. We've collected the most impressive winter sports photography from the previous edition for you. Browse through from the comfort (and warmth) of home and get inspired for your next day out!

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© Markus Berger / Red Bull Illume

Let's talk business - Philipp Klein Herrero's tips for making it

His lockdown story of a stop-motion skier went viral during the pandemic and won the Photo Story category in the Image Quest 2021 for its brilliance and originality. Below, the outdoor adventure photographer gives his advice for aspiring photographers.

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Shoot, shoot and shoot
What I’ve learnt is that creativity is a muscle, and you have to train it. Also, to get good at anything, you need to practice a lot – not even the great masters of photography were born knowing how to shoot iconic images. This will also help you to find your own style and know your strengths and weaknesses.

Shoot what you love
From the beginning I focused on creating a portfolio that reflected the stuff I wanted to shoot – remote adventures, action sports and outdoor lifestyle. I wanted potential clients to hire me to further develop in that direction, instead of being hired for more real estate or social events. As you’re starting out, it’s better if clients hire you for what you like, rather than getting work sooner but for gigs that are not pushing you where you want to go.

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© Philipp Klein Herrero

Learn the basics
If you want to convince someone to pay for your work, make sure that you can meet their expectations. We’ve all taken on jobs that were awe-inspiring, scary and out of our comfort zone, but you have to know inside you that you are able to deliver and have a plan of how to achieve it. By the time I knew I wanted to combine my passion for adventures and storytelling, I already had a sound understanding of the basic principles of photography and videography, meaning that when I went out to shoot, I could focus on being creative, not on learning how to use my camera.

Don’t stress about having the latest gear
People will have you believe that you need the latest and greatest camera because of special features, but the truth is that you can get an older generation model second hand and shoot with it until it’s not working anymore. Think of it this way: other photographers created amazing images with that model when it was new and didn’t miss the new features, so you can use it too!

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© Phillip Klein Herrero

Be part of the community of creators and athletes
They might be in a similar phase of their career and will want to collaborate and help out on projects or be a great source of knowledge. Over time, they will help you along the way.

Be yourself
Like all relationships in life, if you’re not yourself, it doesn’t work out in the long run. Be sincere, honest, and always try to go above and beyond expectations. That also means sometimes saying “No” or recommending someone else if the expectations are beyond your current ability.

Be part of the adventure
Being part of the adventure means being able to feel what is happening and transmit it in a more real and intimate way. It also changes the results because I’m restricted by the amount of gear I can take with me.  At first, I used to be scared bringing only one or two lenses as I feared missing out, but what I’ve found over time is that it actually makes me more creative, having to find the shot working around the restrictions.

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© Philipp Klein Herrero

Write it down
I normally have a notebook with me (or the notes app on my phone) and write down new ideas and concepts that inspire me.

Don’t be scared of using your camera
It’s a tool. I know camera gear is expensive, but it’s designed to withstand harsher environments than we are, and if you keep it buried in the backpack, you might miss that once in a lifetime shot.

Seek inspiration from the best
Study their work and think about how you could recreate those images (or give them a personal twist). I thought I knew photography but I saw that I got a much deeper understanding when I asked myself how the photos of my inspirations were taken. I keep learning every day!

Don’t focus too much on Instagram trends
They might help you grow an audience and provide inspiration, but it won’t define your own style and creativity. Ideally, you will push your own work and it will find its audience over time.

To see more of Philipp's work check out his website and Instagram! He also made a behind-the-scenes video of his winning Red Bull Illume video which you can watch here.

Mountain Bike Photography with Moritz Ablinger

We head into the woods with the Emerging by Black Diamond category semi-finalist Moritz Ablinger to see how he shoots pro riders.

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© Moritz Ablinger

Flat light is usually the photographer’s worst enemy and photographers spend hours looking at weather forecasts to find those moments when the light is at its best to bring color and contrast to a shot. But when you’re shooting mountain bikers in a forest, the opposite is true. 

“For shooting in the woods it’s usually better when it’s cloudy,” says Moritz Ablinger, whose aerial shot of freeskier Tao Kreibich was one of the top 256 images of the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021. For that reason, he cancelled the shoot on a day when nine hours of sunshine was forecast, instead, opting for a day when it would be overcast. The reason? Flat light ensures your athlete is evenly lit, making sure they stand out more, without the need for artificial filler lighting. To compensate for the low light, he explains that he uses a wide 2.8 aperture lens to get the sharpness.

This is one of the advice Moritz gives as he takes us behind the scenes on a mountain bike shoot with pro athletes Vali Höll and Peter Kaiser in two locations in the Austrian mountains – Nature Trail Rossbrand and Bikepark Schladming.

“One of the reasons I enjoy shooting with Peter so much is he’s a videographer and photographer himself so he knows what it’s about,” adds Moritz.

As an athlete and Downhill World Champion, Vali also appreciates good photography. “It’s super important because it captures the most amazing moments of my career,” she says. “I’ve known Moritz for quite a few years – he saw me growing up, which is cool.”

Together the athletes and photographer were able to work on the images they had in mind, then analyze the results using the Lenovo Yoga 9i Gen 7 (14”) flagship convertible laptop. Thanks to its up to 4K OLED touchscreen display, colors come out more vivid and the blacks are more inky for a life-like resemblance.

“I’m super happy with the pictures,” adds Moritz. “Those guys really know what they’re doing when it comes to big jumps and it was so much fun just watching them.”

Because of its curved comfort design the Lenovo Yoga 9i Gen 7 is easier to carry and use for longer periods. Its 360-degree multi-mode hinge also makes it super versatile for people who are on the road, whether tapping away on their lap or using it like a tablet.

For great deals on the Lenovo Yoga 9i Gen 7 laptop, head over here.

If you haven’t seen Moritz’s Red Bull Illume shot and the story behind it, check it out here and get more inspiration for your photography.

The perfect moon shot

The action sports photographer Yhabril spent seven years chasing the moon to get his winning shot. He explains why teamwork was key.

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© Yhabril / Red Bull Illume

What was the inspiration behind your winning image?
My own dreams were my inspiration for this shoot, I’ve been dreaming of moon shots and epic action sports shots since I started in photography and those dreams have been getting bigger and bigger, resulting in this image.

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© Yhabril

How did the idea come to life?
I guess it’s all about the natural evolution of my photography and the constant need of improving and getting to the next level. It’s also about the concept of the brotherhood between skiers and snowboarders, we always shred together and we never understood that rivalry that some people have, we are all into this because we love the sports, the mountains, the snow, and this lifestyle, and I wanted to create an image that represented this brotherhood. Two weeks before, I got together with the boys and we talked about the shot we wanted and how we could achieve it, drawing some sketches that resulted in the final shot.
Also, since I first heard of Red Bull Illume I set it as a goal and personal challenge in my photography and if you really want to have your work recognized in this awesome contest you need to explore and innovate as much as you can, that also helped me to come up with the idea for the photo.

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© Yhabril

How important was the relationship with the athlete?
I’d say it is essential but not only for this image, but for my whole portfolio. It’s mandatory to have an intense rapport with the athlete, when that feeling exists, difficult things seem to be easier, you feel safer, we both have confidence in each other. The relationship with the athlete has a tremendous effect. But also their attitude, for me to go on a shooting with someone, there are some things I need beyond friendship and that person’s quality as an athlete, such as patience and passion.

Good athletes are good photographers, even without realizing it, we often study the locations together and we dream together about the perfect conditions. That is when I realize that they also have a photographic eye, they help a lot in terms of framing, composition, interpretation of light.

Great photos are rarely a coincidence, they are the result of teamwork and I have the privilege that my friends are very good at the sports we practice and they are always willing to get the shot.

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© Yhabril

Did the shooting process go smoothly? Were there any difficulties?
Getting to take this type of photo demands a lot of previous experience. I put a huge amount of hours into it, I’d say that this is the most difficult shot I’ve ever planned. It’s also a challenge to get both the riders and the moon decently in focus. I wanted to have them creating that precise composition inside the moon and calculating that took a lot of time. There´s nothing random in this shot.
We worked for a week preparing the terrain, we had to carry a lot of photographic gear and the specific mountain gear we needed to work on the features and to be safe up there.

Once we got to the place we had to build two kickers and two starters since the location was a high mountain ridge with limited room to get the speed we needed, and this is maybe the hardest part of the planning, if you fail in the exact location of the kickers you miss the shot. Once you have the scenery ready you just have to wait for the moment and pray for a bluebird sky that day, along with being confident in the riders to synchronize the jump and the handplant. That’s the real challenge.

On the day, we went for an epic sunset session, testing the kickers and training for the moon shot. When the moon was rising I went to my place 300m away, communicating via walkie talkies. Once in position I had trouble finding the exact point where I was supposed to be and I became very nervous, I wandered around for 10 minutes with the snow almost around my waist and thinking that we would miss the photo but at last I found the place I was looking for.

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© Yhabril

How did you find the location for this image?
The shot was taken on our home mountain, the Malacara Peak in the Spanish Pyrenees next to Villanúa, the village where I live. I know this terrain very well, I’ve always seen the moon rising behind that mountain. This shot is the result of chasing the moon for seven years. I first planned a Moon Shot in 2015 and after that I’ve been working to keep on improving and innovating and always trying to include action sports in the final image.

Check out the behind-the-scenes video from Yhabril below!

Red Bull Illume Category Winner heads to India

The main prize for the category, Energy by Red Bull Photography, was a dream shoot. Rod Hill made the most of his victory with a trip to India.

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© Rod Hill

The Energy category came with the prize of a trip sponsored by Red Bull Photography, and was won by the New Zealand photographer Rod Hill for his shot of a whitewater kayaker. In October he got the chance to claim the main prize – an all-expensed trip to northeast India to shoot the Megha Kayak Festival, a four-day international event on the Umtrew river.

Rod said it was an incredible experience and opportunity – made possible by Red Bull Illume. “India is a one-stop shop for light, colour, sound, festivals, food and total chaos,” he said. “It’s definitely a bucket list country for anyone with a camera. It's not a relaxing holiday though – it's a total body experience!” But he added it was real fun. “You've got 100 kayakers there – it was some really picturesque stuff.”

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© Rod Hill

Amazingly, Rod is not a professional photographer but a chemistry teacher in Rotorua, New Zealand. But he has had a passion for photography for many years, in particular, whitewater kayaking photography.

Rod didn’t just win the sponsored trip. He also took home a Leica Q2 camera which he absolutely loves, a Yoga 9i PC from Lenovo, a Workflow Bundle from SanDisk Professional, and his winning shot printed and framed by WhiteWall and outdoor gear from Black Diamond.

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© Rod Hill

But the best part was the trip to India. As well as the festival, he also spent a week travelling around Kolkata, visiting a mangrove forest which he says was amazing. “I've been photographing for a really long time. I like to get that one shot that explains everything,” he told his local paper, the New Zealand Herald. “It's like hunting and trying to chase to get that one photo where everything lines up.” Check out the images Rod’s captured in India below!

If you haven’t seen Rod’s Red Bull Illume winning shot and the story behind it, check it out here!

Psyched for climbing photography

Art needs space to be appreciated fully, says Emerging by Black Diamond category winner Victoria Kohner-Flanagan. And that’s what Red Bull Illume does. 

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© Victoria Kohner-Flanagan

Where are you now and what are you up to?
I’m currently in Lander, Wyoming, USA, soaking up the fall colors of the Aspens and enjoying some fun limestone sport climbing. I’ll be here for a little bit longer before heading back to Oregon to spend the rest of the fall at Smith Rock.

What have you been doing since winning last December?
This past year has been filled with loads of traveling, climbing, and my best attempt to capture it all. I’ve been fortunate to be able to continue my tour around the western United States, climbing in some rad spots with some lovely folks. Living on the road makes life simple for me, I get to hone in on creating images I’m proud of and climb as much as possible.

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© Victoria Kohner-Flanagan

Has your life or work changed since?
Well, I don’t think I’ll stop living in a van for a while, though maybe I’ll upgrade to one I can stand up in eventually! On a more serious note, winning has definitely opened up some doors. In such a competitive industry with so many talented photographers, the exposure from being a part of Red Bull Illume has been really impactful.

How was it to see your shot illuminated at the exhibition in Aspen?
It was surreal to see one of my images displayed at an exhibition. My family always prioritized visiting art museums when I was little, and I think it was always impressed upon me that art deserves to be viewed in a way that forces you to slow down and really look. Even the simple act of walking a few steps between images gives each the space it deserves to be appreciated more fully.

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© Natalie Starr / Red Bull Content Pool

What did you make of the other images?
This year’s contest has so many incredible images, it’s inspiring to see the level that so many photographers are operating at. The standard is so high, which makes me so stoked to get out and shoot more.

Any shots in particular that stood out for you?
I really loved Carolin Unrath’s photo of the surfer catching the train. The concept is clever and I really enjoy the composition.

Did you deliberately shoot a climber whose hair color perfectly matched the rock?
A lot of photographers are smart enough to think of details like that, I’m just lucky.

Is it important to capture a real moment?
I think it’s situational, a lot of incredible climbing photos take a vision from the photographer and willingness from the climbers to capture. Light that makes a great photograph isn’t usually the conditions that makes for great climbing, and it’s not often that the photographer just happens to be in the most epic position to get the perfect photo. But the images where I’m lucky, where I happen to be in the right place at the right time, are the images that I generally love the most. When a genuine moment aligns with the opportunity for an epic photo, that is what I am always seeking.

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© Victoria Kohner-Flanagan

What makes a great climbing photo?
I tend to look for a photo that captures interesting movement, the expression of the climber, and an angle that represents the line of the climb itself. Climbing photography is interesting because of all the moving parts: the climber, the landscape, and the climb. The best climbing images in my opinion find a way to showcase those elements.

Which photographers or images inspire you?
Tara Kerzhner’s images of Smith Rock continually inspire me. The way she sees and captures light is something I aspire to.

How has the athlete Jack responded to winning?
Jack gives me a lot of sh*t for the exposure he has gotten, but I think he secretly likes it. What he might not absolutely love is the nickname “BD Jack” that our friends have fondly bestowed on him since the photo was posted on Black Diamond’s Instagram [offical partner of the Emerging category, Ed.]. After the post went viral he got a lot of attention.

Where do you want to go with your photography?
My current goal with photography is to create images that get people really psyched for rock climbing, and hopefully that will eventually lead to opportunities to work with athletes that are on the cutting edge of the sport. I think the eventual goal is to lean into editorial photography in the realm of adventure sports and the outdoor industry. But mainly I just want to continue to seek opportunities to learn and push myself to grow as a photographer. 

Climbing Photography Tips with Will Saunders

How do you take great climbing shots? We invited Red Bull Illume Overall Winner Will Saunders to show us how he does it.

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© Will Saunders

Climbing photography is a specialist art. Of all the genres of action sports photography there is something especially challenging about it. For one thing photographers can’t move around and change positions like they can with both feet on solid ground. Getting into position means being able to haul themselves up a rope.  And then there’s the small matter of vertigo. Clearly, this is a genre for those with a good head for heights – and personal safety.

Since he won Red Bull Illume with his spectacular climbing shot, we thought it would be fun to invite US-based Will Saunders over to the Austrian mountains to show us how he works. We also invited the Austrian freeskier and climber Nadine Wallner to be his model.

As he explains in the video, Will says a great climbing shot begins behind a screen.  “I did a lot of research, seeing where the sun is going to be,” he says. “Another thing that’s super important is working with the athlete, making sure they’re comfortable and they’re climbing something within their grade. Nadine has climbed this before a bunch of times so it was the perfect opportunity for me to go up and find the best angle and have her work it a few times.”

Going up involved ascending a fixed rope set up by another climber. But once in position – Will was able to work his magic in the evening light. Because you can’t move around, he says it’s a good idea to focus on nailing one climbing shot, then think about the portraits and lifestyle shots when you’re back on the ground.

After putting the camera down, it was time to pick up the laptop and download the shots. For this, Will used Lenovo’s Yoga 9i Gen 7 (14”) flagship convertible laptop. Thanks to its up to 4K OLED touchscreen display, colors come out more vivid and the blacks also come out more inky for a life-like resemblance which is so important for photographers.

Conveniently for the kinds of places Will works, its curved comfort design makes it easier to carry and use for longer periods. Its 360-degree multi-mode hinge also makes the Yoga 9i Gen 7 super versatile for people who are on the road, whether tapping away on their lap or using it like a tablet.

For great deals on the Lenovo Yoga 9i Gen 7 laptop, head over here

If you haven’t seen Will’s Red Bull Illume winning shot and the story behind it, check it out here and get more inspiration for your climbing photography. We look forward to seeing the results.

 

The art of climbing photography

These are some of the best climbing images submitted to Red Bull Illume 2021

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© Victoria Kohner-Flanagan / Red Bull Illume

There is something special about climbing photography. It shows us perspectives and vantage points that few, if any of us, are brave enough to reach. It calls on us to admire not only the climber and the physical strength and poise required to move in this vertical terrain – but the photographer too. Not only have they shared the suffering to get into position, they’ve also held their nerve to frame, compose and get the shot – often with few options to move around, or change a battery. That takes something. To celebrate this unique art form, we went through submissions to bring you the best climbing photography from Red Bull Illume 2021. Sit back and enjoy.