To plan or be spontaneous?

Two Red Bull Illume winning photographers reveal the very different methods for nailing their shots. One took weeks of planning. The other involved grabbing a shot in an instant.

Red Bull Illume 2021 Spontaneous 1

© Karim Iliya/ Red Bull Illume

Capturing a great moment can take months of planning. Adventure photographers often spend hours waiting patiently for the light to change or the shadow to hit the perfect length. But great moments can also be captured in an instant, by simply being in the right place at the right time, being open to the possibility, and grabbing the shot with whatever camera you have to hand, whether it’s a DSLR or a phone.

That was the experience for Roberto Zampino who had both DSLR and mobile phone while climbing in a spectacular spot in Sicily known as the Grotta del Cavalla – the horse cave. “It’s a spectacular overhanging wall facing the sea,” he recalls. The photographer had just sent a 7c line and was giving his girlfriend a photography masterclass when he noticed the light begin to change.

“I was trying to teach her about composition and lighting. We climbed until the very end of the cave looking out at the sea. A climber started the same route I had just sent. When he was roughly in the middle of the route the light turned perfect. The red rock lit up with the sunset which lasted for three minutes – three minutes of beauty and harmony.”

However, instead of grabbing the DSLR off his girlfriend and risking an argument, he chose to ‘let the situation flow and keep the peace’. Instead he pulled his mobile and shot this photo that became a Mobile category finalist in 2016.

Other shots require next-level planning and complicated logistics – especially if you’re shooting athletes. Karim Iliya is an underwater photographer, drone pilot and filmmaker based in Maui, Hawaii. For this long exposure of kayakers he had to scout the area. “This photo was one of the more logistically challenging photos I have ever taken, trying to combine two forms of time into one image. One week before I took a similar photo of the river alone but wanted to include kayakers to give some perspective,” he says.

“After showing the photograph to kayaker Adrian Mattern, he pointed to an eddy current, the only feasible place where they could maintain their position so that they would show up in a long exposure.  Without any radios or form of communication, I got into position above the valley and waited. They set off from the top of the river and waited upstream until just after sunset, when the light was balanced. In between rain showers I flew the drone out, signaled to them with the drone to go to the eddy. They held their position as long as they could while I took some photos. While flying back the rain returned and darkness covered the valley.”

Spontaneous or planned, what produces the better shot? Join the conversation on Instagram and enter your images via the submit page here.

The one-man army whose playground is the French Alps

French photographer, Tristan Lebeschu, tells us about his favorite adventure sports, finding inspiration in the Alps, and how his love of photography began.

Red Bull Illume Tristan Lebeschu 1

© Tristan Lebeschu

What sparked your passion for photography?
When I did my first winter snowboarding season in 1999 in Tignes, French Alps, I felt the need to keep memories of all the good times with my friends up the hills - so I started with disposable cameras.
Digital photography started growing rapidly and I loved it straight away. The very first digital camera I was using was a Kodak 2MP camera. At the time, I was passionate about panoramas and I was always capturing and stitching together photos.

What impact does living in the French Alps have on your work?
I chose that place for the winter sports and have completely fallen in love with it, all year long. I love to shoot outdoor sports, so I got the perfect playground and backdrops right by my doorstep.

Your work is quite diverse, from real estate to landscape to adventure. Is there something specific you like about photographing adventure sports?
I really don’t like routine, and I love photography as it always provides renewed intellectual challenges - it’s never the same. Especially with outdoor sports, with the variety of sports, the everchanging light and weather conditions you can never shoot the same thing twice.

Which adventure sport is your favorite to shoot and why?
A hard question! I love to shoot all of them, I especially love to shoot activities I’ve never shot before because you’re outside your comfort zone which means your mind is running at 120%. But, if I had to choose only one, it probably would be paragliding / paramotoring or air activities in general because there is so much that hasn’t been done yet, due to complexity of shooting in the air.
The most difficult sport I’ve had to capture is Wingsuit / BASE jumping. Hands down! The action is happening so fast and you can’t repeat it every 5 minutes.

How did you develop your signature style?
I’ve always loved photography with impact, stuff that you stop and look at when you’re scrolling through your social media feed, for instance. So, I’ve always been on the lookout for contrast, color, light, and impactful composition. I also like to use ambient light, flash, or even a mix of both.
My recipe for years has been very simple: Give the best possible justice to the athlete’s performance with the most impactful composition, light and background / backdrop.

Has Red Bull Illume had an impact on your career?
For sure, I love the extra motivation to shoot more personal projects, and I love meeting other photographers and talking with them about our craft and our common issues / ideas.

Did you submit a picture to the Image Quest 2021?
Of course, just like every edition since I first entered 3 editions ago.

You mentioned you were on a photoshoot in Iceland, can you tell us more about it?
Well, yes and no. We often shoot for commercial projects like this one that won’t be released for several months or a year. However, I can tell you about Iceland and how much I love that place. It was my second time there and I fell in love with this incredibly beautiful place all over again. It has one of the most stunning and varied landscapes on the planet with outstanding and welcoming people that keep it clean and protected. I’m a huge fan of New Zealand, I’ve been there 10 times in my life. For me, Iceland is like the New Zealand of the Northern Hemisphere, or the closest thing I’ve found to it!

Are there any other countries you would like to travel to for photography?
Of course, so many of them, even though local travel is what I’ve got my eyes on at the moment. I think I’m going to explore Europe and the Alps more.

Do you have any tips for aspiring/fellow photographers?
Be passionate and ready to work very hard. Talent is not enough, you are going to need to be a skilled one-man army; marketing yourself, negotiating, doing your accounting, and always improving your skills in areas where you not necessarily at the most ease. But if you’re motivated enough, no mountain is too big for you to climb and it’ll be a beautiful journey to embark on.


You can find more of Tristan's work on his website and on Instagram @tristanshu.

The perfect office is the ocean

Russell Ord, "Energy" category finalist of 2016, talks about the moment his perception of photography shifted, as well as his connection to the ocean.

Red Bull Illume Russell Ord 1

© Russell Ord / Red Bull Illume

What made you fall in love with surf photography?
I injured my knee surfing (1999), and instead of just sitting in the lounge, I picked up a camera and started taking photos of my mates surfing. My passion for taking photos grew from there. The learning curve was steep at the start, being self-taught and using film, but I gradually progressed the camera skills. I was also lucky enough to have 20 years of ocean experience to call upon, which is the most complex skill to learn regarding surf photography. 

What’s your favorite thing about photographing surfers and the sea?
I love the ocean's connection with people from all walks of life; it's a real sense of community and coming from a surfing background and working in that type of environment feels surreal. The most complex decisions I have made have been effortless when surrounded by saltwater; it's the perfect office.

What are some challenges you face when photographing surfers?
The ocean itself is the biggest challenge when it comes to taking photos from within the water. The ocean forces me to question my fears and limitations; is it too big for my skill level, am I mentally/physically prepared, what are the risks? All the work/experience required to take these types of images happen many years prior.

Can you share a memory about your career that really stands out for you?
The way I look at my photography completely changed ten years ago, all from an accident. Taking my eyes off the sea resulted in a broken leg in two places, a dislocated knee and a seven-hour drive back to my local hospital. 

While waiting for the surgeon I picked up a leading photography magazine, "Top ten wildlife images of the year". Each photographer was interviewed on the backstory behind their images and how they went about capturing their award-winning photos. 

The number one image, according to the judges, was a photo of a Bengal Tiger dispersing water as it majestically left the pond. The photographer had captured it with a slow shutter, creating a perfect ring of water around the tiger while keeping the big cat in focus. Like many of the other photos, it was breathtaking.

Interested in finding out more, I began to read the backstory of the image and instantly felt disappointed, and somewhat offended, for every other photographer in that competition. How do you award first place to a wildlife photo that was captured in a zoo? 

That article changed the way I look at and contemplate my photography – in reality, 99% of my work is purely just moments in time. Right place at the right time, so to speak, they lacked a story behind the image, no other adversity or skills beyond the camera and pressing the trigger. 

What’s your goal as a surf photographer?
I want to experience all the elements of the ocean and start to push my boundaries. "How did you do that" and "what position are you in to take the image" are essential questions and factors far more critical than the image itself.

What impact did Red Bull Illume have on your career?
Red Bull Illume is pure inspiration for me. I look at the images and imagine the photographer's journey to capture each image; the more adversity I imagine, the greater the image becomes in my mind. 

Is there something photography related you’d like to try for the first time? 
I have been injured for close to 18 months now, but before that, I was training and focusing on a couple of surf spots around the world that I wanted to shoot up close and personal with different angles, which has now been put on hold. Those types of images require peak performance, and I am far from that. I will have a good look within throughout the rest of the year, set goals, and come back better than ever when the time is right.

Is there a location you would like to visit for a shooting one day?
I would love to hang out in Ireland for an extended period of time. The country looks impressive and knowing quite a few Irish people; it would be a great time.

Do you have any tips for aspiring/fellow photographers?
I love this quote: Life is about the journey, not the destination.
Be patient, learn your craft and don't get caught up in the perception of the photography world; it's not all bells and whistles, it can be a challenging journey but certainly, one worth travelling.


You can find more of Russell’s work on his website and on Instagram @russellordphoto.

EyeEm Awards Winner becomes Red Bull Illume Finalist

The next official Red Bull Illume finalist is revealed as the winners of EyeEm Awards 2021 are announced!

EyeEm Masterpiece

© Song Gang / EyeEm

EyeEm is the global marketplace for premium stock photography and the creators of the EyeEm Awards, a photography contest intended to recognize and honor those who push creative visual boundaries. The winners of this years' contest were recently announced at the Berlin Photoweek on August 29, which also means that we can share one more official Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 finalist!

The contest is comprised of six categories, one of which is ‘Great Outdoors by Red Bull Illume’, which celebrates the unique beauty found in adventures- a philosophy we connect with on many levels. It made sense for us to partner up with EyeEm and give photographers even more opportunity to be honored, which is why this year, the best adventure and action sports image of this category automatically became a Red Bull Illume finalist.

A huge congratulations to Song Gang, winner of the Great Outdoors by Red Bull Illume category, for their mesmerizing image of the gigantic manta ray and diver dancing the ocean. Song Gang said he was surprised and thrilled about winning and describes how lucky he was to capture this magical moment; particularly because when you’re underwater, it’s difficult to talk to the free diver and you can’t really communicate with fish either.

 “We came across the ocean to see the giant oceanic manta rays, the largest type of ray in the world. They can grow up to 7 meters, with a weight of about 3000 kg. However, they are always graceful, like an elegant dancer in the water. Sometimes they liked to dance with each other, and sometimes came to the divers to play with the bubbles. This time, the giant swam to free diver, Aolin, dancing with him and I captured this magical moment.” – Song Gang
 
A host of great prizes awaits Song Gang, as well as all the global exposure and prestige earned by being part of the Red Bull Illume Exhibition Tour and Limited Edition Photobook. All of this, on top being an EyeEm Awards winner too.

We are super excited to share our next official finalist of Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 and would also like to say well done to all the winners of the EyeEm Awards for their absolutely jaw-dropping photography. Discover the world of EyeEm and check out Song Gang’s Red Bull Illume finalist photo here. Remember to stay up to date with all the latest news about Red Bull Illume on our website and our social channels!

The camera is a golden ticket

2016 category finalist Corey Rich talks extreme conditions, being an adventurer at heart and challenging yourself.

Red Bull Illume Corey Rich 1

© Corey Rich

How did you get into photography? 
One of my teachers on campus invited me to go rock climbing for the first time and I was hooked. I loved everything about it. The sport, the art, the culture of climbing. And I quickly realized I needed to bring the camera along to document my weekend adventures so that when I got back to the playground my stories were more believable. And that was when I was 13 years old, and I am now 45 and those are still my two passions. It’s being outside, adventuring and photography, telling stories, actually, visual stories.

What motivates you to keep creating? 
You know, I think what motivates me to keep creating is I have this wanderlust for life and experience. The camera is that golden ticket, it is the excuse to have adventures and to open doors and see parts of life that otherwise I don’t think I would get exposed to. 

Do you have any tips? 
It’s not about what other people are doing, it’s not about what won the contest last year, it’s “put forward the images that you’re most proud of”. And they will speak for themselves. 
 
What equipment do you trust in when shooting? 
 I’m just always looking for reliable equipment. The best photographs of my career are fleeting moments. They only happen once. And if the equipment fails in that moment, be it the memory in your camera, be it the camera lens, the aperture shutter, the battery – that moment never happened. 

 

“When my heart beats at 160 and sweat is dripping in my eyes, it’s when I enter that creative flow state.”

 

What features are particularly important for your equipment?
 I’m looking for durability. I’m looking for something that’s going to last longer than I do. I’m weak compared to the equipment that I use. I usually buckle because it’s too cold or too windy or I’m too tired before the equipment. I always tell the story of going to the arctic to do a shoot.  We did a ski expedition. We skied in to a deep, deep remote portion of the arctic circle in Alaska and I kept on wanting the batteries to die because it was so miserable working there at -20º to -30º. But the batteries never failed, it was me.  And so that’s the equipment that pushes me to the limit, that allows me to push harder than I’ve ever pushed to make pictures that surprise people. 

What do you always have with you, equipment wise?
My philosophy is to just keep it simple. Less is more. The less you’re doing baggage handling the more you’re focused on actually being creative and that’s where I want my energy to go. 
 
What are some stand out memories or moments of your career?
The highlight is the people that I’ve met and who have become some of my best friends. I talked about the golden ticket, the camera has allowed me to meet some incredible people, elite performers, both in sport and science and music. I’ve learned a lot from those people and I’m a better person because of the folks that I have spent time with during my career. 

How would you describe your style of photography? What makes your images unique?
I consider myself an adventure journalist. I have deep roots in the adventure world and I have also deep roots in the journalism world. And my favorite form of is documenting adventures where I’m truly as much as possible a fly on the wall and along for the adventure. I tend to do very little photoshop work on my pictures. Some of that stems from having grown up shooting slide-film and I still kind of stay true to those ethics as much as I possibly can when not doing an advertising job. 
 
 Where do you find inspiration for your work?
 I think I’m inspired most by being outside. I find when my heart beats at 160 and sweat is dripping in my eyes, it’s when I enter that creative flow state and that’s when I’m more inspired to make pictures and push myself harder.

Stories Behind the Images by Corey Rich, a book filled with 56 chapters of the best moments of his career, is available on Amazon. 
You can find more of his work on coreyrich.com and on Instagram: @coreyrichproductions

 

The tech that gets content from the clouds to ground

Capturing the action of Red Bull X-Alps is just the start, but how did they get the content from the top of a mountain to the editing suite so fast?

Red Bull Illume RBX SanDisk Professional 1

© zooom / Lukas Pilz

The Red Bull X-Alps is the toughest multi-day adventure race in the world, earning its title from the harsh conditions expert athletes face while hiking and paragliding their way across the Alps. In the 2021 edition, every athlete was equipped with a GoPro and given a SanDisk Extreme SD card to capture the day’s action. Of course, Red Bull Illume knows the advantage of using such high powered technology to capture adventure and action sport, but how did they get the content from the athletes’ locations down to the editing suite?

Well, good old human power. It’s been a while since messengers transported news on foot, but when the message is flying towards a remote location about 2000 m high, it’s the most reliable. A team of runners had the responsibility of getting the SD cards from an athlete to the video teams so that content could be created in time to make the Daily Report. You see, as the athletes came in to land, one of the event’s five runners would swap out the SD Extreme 64GB card with a clean one. They would take the full ones and drive directly to the Race Headquarters or sometimes, quite literally, run down the mountain to meet up with the editors.

“It was a good system,” explained the race’s media director. “The race relies upon a steady flow of SD cards – clean ones going to the athletes and recorded ones going to our production partner. That takes some organization and logistics, to do it every day for 12 days during a race which, by the end, is strung out over 500 km of the Alps! But we were fortunate to have SanDisk as our race partner. They proved super durable for the extreme conditions that athletes encountered, like being shockproof, waterproof and temperature proof. With a write speed of 90MB/s they allowed athletes to shoot 4K while flying.”

It was a race that put humans and technology through the ultimate test, with some of the most amazing footage ever captured, which you can check out on the Red Bull X-Alps YouTube Channel.

To discover how to take your next shoot further, check out the brand new storage solutions from the SanDisk Professional range, just one of the amazing prizes this year’s Red Bull Illume finalists will win.

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.

Red Bull Illume 2021 Christian Pondella 1

© 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.

RBIL21 Lenovo judging thumbnail

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.”