Overall winner Ben Thouard and his tips for unique images
What do you need to make it to the top in the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021? What images work best and why is originality so important? We talked to Ben Thouard, overall winner of the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019 and asked him all of these questions and more!
The submission phase for Red Bull Illume 2021 is just around the corner (starting on March 1!) and that's why we decided to talk to the overall winner and category winner of the previous edition. Ben Thouard not only tells us his tips for up and coming photographers but also shares his own plans for the submission phase!
Since your win at Red Bull Illume 2019 a lot has happened. How has the last year been for you?
Yeah, the last year… pretty special, right? I’m lucky enough to be living in Tahiti in front of the ocean and far away from any virus but the last year has not been the best for projects. Unfortunately, this year came right after my win at the Image Quest 2019 so it has been really frustrating, because a lot of projects got cancelled and COVID kind of swallowed it. Fortunately though, I’m able to produce a lot of photos in front of my home, so on a positive note, I’ve been working hard on personal projects and somehow managed to be productive.
Anything exciting planned for this year?
I’m still working on my personal work, which I can hopefully release in a new book soon! Hopefully it’ll happen this year, but we’ll see how it goes, I’m excited to produce photos for it anyway.
You mostly shoot water sports, why do you stick to that sport and how has it all started?
I was raised close to the ocean, what with my dad being a sailor and my brothers surfers. I started surfing at a young age and always loved it, so it was natural to start shooting water sports too. Today I mostly shoot just water; shooting waves and the ocean rather than water sports. My career took a turn a couple of years ago, and even though I still shoot surfing sometimes and love to do so, I mostly focus on my books and exhibitions.
Let’s talk Red Bull Illume 2021, are you planning to submit?
Yes, absolutely! But I’m not sure if I can keep up with the quality of the other submissions. It’s only just over a year ago since the last Image Quest and we have not been able to travel, so I’m not sure if I’ll have enough material, but I will definitely start thinking about it!
What can we expect from you?
Not sure yet, I used to shoot a lot of surfing and then choose my best shot and submit it. I think this time I will especially shoot for Red Bull Illume and pick an idea.
Does your submission have to fulfill any specific criteria?
I used to select my very best work, for the 2013 edition, for example, I submitted 10 images. For the Image Quest 2016 I did a thorough selection process and at the contest itself I saw the most amazing submissions, which was when I realized how hard it must be to be a judge. That’s why I think the only way to make it to the top is to submit an image that is different to what we are used to seeing.
The main criteria that an image has to fulfill is its uniqueness. If it’s just another good shot it has very few chances to make it to the top. There is also no need to submit when the image is not technically perfect because the competition is really tough. Another important point for me personally is how hard it would be to re-make the image. If anybody can go and do the same shot tomorrow, I don’t think it deserves to win, it just has to be unique.
Red Bull Illume is about the moment of action, how do you make sure to capture the moment of action, that’s often very unexpected?
Perseverance is key! I think you need to know what shot you want to capture and remain fully open to what’s happening in each moment. It’s also a question of time, you have to be at the right place at the right time. That being said, it could take months or years to eventually capture something unique, but if you have an idea of what you’re looking for and you put time and energy into it you’ll succeed!
What’s one thing you learned from the contest and the people you met because of it?
It allows you to get feedback on your work and see where you stand amongst the outstanding work of other great photographers. I think it’s a really good exercise because it forces you to create more and it pushes you to the next level and that’s good for your creativity!
Any tips for upcoming photographers who want to take part in Red Bull Illume 2021?
RED BULL ILLUME IMAGE QUEST IS BACK IN ACTION IN 2021
The Red Bull Illume Image Quest returns for the next edition of the best adventure and actions sports images from all around the world.
We’re back and ready for even more action with a new edition of Red Bull Illume Image Quest - the adventure and action sports imagery contest that shines a light on the hard work and creativity of the content creators capturing the passion, lifestyle, and culture within the scene. The contest returns in 2021 for its sixth edition with submissions open from March 01 to July 31, 2021, and is free to enter on redbullillume.com for everyone that has a passion for sharing moments that inspire the world. No matter if taken by a professional or amateur - we want to see all the stunning adventure and action sports images out there.
A new year full of exciting plans for the 2021 edition of Red Bull Illume Image Quest. Make sure to take note of all the important dates and put them in your calendar!
There will once again be 10 categories to enter, which will be announced very soon! There’s a category for everyone and you can submit on redbullillume.com when the submission phase opens. Keep an eye out for the announcement as there are sure to be some new ones that will spark your imagination.
So many epic reasons to enter
The international judging panel will select the finalists, category winners and overall winner. Not only will you receive amazing photographic prizes, but also take home the grand title of being an official Red Bull Illume Winner and be showcased during the Winner Award Ceremony. On top of that, your work will be admired by people all over the world, earning you the kind of exposure that can shift your photography to the next gear.
The winners will be awarded with trophies and amazing photographic prizes.
Outdoor exhibition at the Winner Award Ceremony 2019 at LUMEN, Kronplatz, Italy
It’s time to get your entries ready because now is your chance to take your place as one of the world’s best adventure and action sports content creator! Also follow Red Bull Illume on social media to stay updated.
Gallery: RED GUY PROJECT
This week’s gallery is all about one color; RED!
It’s the color of extremes, of passion and adventure and these stunning images are a true testament to that! The red colored garments of the athletes make the action in each image stand out even more. Check out the gallery, and who knows, maybe you even get some inspiration for the new year!
Photographer: Jeremy Bernard Red Bull Illume 2016 Category: New Creativity Athlete: Nicolas Vuignier Location: Zinal, Switzerland
Latest exhibition tour stop at Generator Miami
Get some impressions of the world’s greatest adventure and action sports imagery exhibition, that made its way to Generator hotel in Miami, USA with a one-of-a-kind setup in December 2020.
Latest stop of our Exhibit Tour at Generator, a trail-blazing hospitality brand. They have partnered up to bring the Red Bull Illume Exhibit Tour to sunny Miami, USA, from December 2 to 15, 2020. The Top 60 finalists from Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019, selected by a panel of 50 esteemed judges from a selection of 59,511 submissions. All the imagery is illuminated on massive 2 meter wide lightboxes, giving the exhibition a special feeling; enhanced further by the totally unique setup throughout the spectacular Generator Miami.
The next stops will be:
ZIMBAPARK, Bürs (AT) Januar 13 - Februar 09, 2021
IPERCITY, Padua (IT) March 01 - March 13, 2021
It doesn’t matter if you're an aspiring photographer, a lover of nature, or just a shopaholic open to inspiration, these images will take your breath away.
You ever had that odd little feeling that you are not in the right place for what you have planned to do? Like, when you brought your BMX but nobody mentioned you're heading to the mountains.
In the following 11 images it looks like the athletes faced exactly that (or was it planned?), but the photographers still nailed the shot! Great imagery taken in insane places that will leave you wondering.
2-time Red Bull Illume overall winner Lorenz Holder and COOPH partner up for a one of a kind collaboration
Our partner COOPH was started to recognize and support people who love photography and their latest collaboration is a true testament to that. Together with Lorenz Holder, one of the top action sports photographers out there and multiple Red Bull Illume winner, COOPH designed a limited-edition cap, made to help Art Meets Education, a photography and art program striving for a better world.
Art Meets Education is an awesome organization that gives children from financially disadvantaged families in the Philippines a chance to pay for school with their own photography. They provide the kids with the gear, the lessons, and the mentorship they need; thereafter, the kids actually get to exhibit their extraordinary photographs and sell the works of art to help fund their education.
"It is very important to do something good with this collaboration and the best way to do that is to support Art Meets Education."
It’s a cause that is special because the children open the doors to a new life themselves. This gives the children a sense of self-confidence and pride in what they achieve, both in and out of school.
“Over 260 million children worldwide do not have access to education. Together we will make it possible for children to visit school for 12 years. How? Using photography.” – Art Meets Education
COOPH decided to team up with Lorenz Holder, to create the limited edition COOPH x Lorenz Holder Cap for this cause. Each hat sold will give a child 4 months of school because every cent will go towards Art Meets Education. There are only 140 of these caps available which will be sold online at the COOPH Store for €39. The cap is perfect for everybody, or as a gift for your loved ones, and is an even greater gift for the future photographers in the Philippines.
“I’m really happy how everything tuned out at the end. The cap has now the perfect fit and it just looks the way I always wanted. On the other hand, it is very important to do something good with this collaboration and the best way to do that is to support Art Meets Education. I really hope we can provide the children with many more months of school.” – Lorenz Holder
To purchase a COOPH x Lorenz Holder Cap and support Art Meets Education, visit: store.cooph.com.
Red Bull Illume semi-finalist Grant Gunderson is one of the world's best-known action photographers and has been shooting outdoor adventures for over 20 years now. His number one sport is skiing and so he follows the snow around the world, from his hometown Bellingham in Washington all the way to Japan, there's almost no ski resort he hasn't photographed in.
Grant shares some of his most epic images he took over the years and talks us through the story behind each shot.
How do you prepare for a shoot in the snow and how long does it take you to get ready for it?
After shooting skiing full time for the last 20 years, I have developed a pretty efficient and organized system, where everything has its place. So, from the time I wake up till the time I’m out the door heading to the mountain is only 30 minutes, for international trips I can be fully packed in under an hour, which is important when I spend most of the winter chasing snow.
What does a typical winter season look like for you? Do you have a set schedule?
While the challenges of COVID will make this winter a bit more interesting than usual, my plan is to do the same that I always have, and that’s to remain flexible to follow the conditions. Just like when one place doesn’t have snow, and another does. COVID will probably also dictate a bit of where we go and when we go. Luckily, most of my clients work with me on a seasonal basis so I have the flexibility to take advantage of the conditions instead of having to be at a certain spot on fixed dates.
What are your plans this winter then?
Luckily it is forecasted to be a relatively strong LaNiña this winter, which tends to favor my home resort of Mt. Baker, WA (my first year here was a strong LaNiña and we sent the world record for snowfall that season). So, my plan is to mostly stick around here and then, when conditions are right, head out and shoot at a variety of other ski areas in the US. So, mostly focusing on the US this season, but if the boarders open, I will be ready to take advantage of that and fingers crossed get to Japan, Canada and Europe, but I’m not counting on those trips happening like I have done in previous years.
What’s one winter shooting that stuck in your head for whatever reason?
My first season at Mt. Baker was the 1998-99 season. We got so much snow, due to exhaustion from skiing every day we got to the point where we said, if it doesn’t snow a foot overnight we are not skiing tomorrow, then it would snow a foot the next day and we would go skiing. Then we said we wouldn’t ski unless it snowed 2 feet overnight, and it did, finally we said if it didn’t snow a full meter overnight we wouldn’t go skiing the next day, and then it did. The only two times I saw the sun that season was in late April.
Any essentials you always have with you on a shoot?
Avalanche equipment and good radios are always at the top of the list. These days you will also find a thermos of warm tea, glove liners and hand warmers in the camera bag. The most important thing though, is good company. I always tell the athletes if we are not laughing and having a good time then we are doing it wrong.
How do you manage your gear when you're on a shoot?
When most people lift my camera bag, they tend to think it's pretty heavy, but I have become accustomed to it over the years. I like to carry enough equipment, so I am always prepared to get any shot as the mountain environment is always changing, you never know exactly what you are going to be working with. If we know we are working in certain situations, for example Heliskiing in Alaska, then I tend to bring some additional bigger glass as well as a harness and a setup for shooting doors off of the helicopter.
How do you capture every moment of action and don't miss anything?
When I was younger, I tended to gravitate towards and focus just on the big action moments. However, over the years I’ve gained enough experience that I can now predict when those cool in-between moments are about to happen so I am ready for them. Especially those ones that happen candidly after the athletes think the camera is back in the bag.
What do you have to consider when skiing and shooting in the backcountry?
The most important thing when working in the backcountry is safety. It’s good to stack the odds in your favor and regularly practice your avalanche and rescue skills, hopping that you will never need to use them, but when you need them you are ready. But it’s even more important to make sure that everyone in the crew knows that it is 100% okay to walk away from a terrain feature and that there is never any pressure to push it beyond what they are comfortable with. There is never any reason to push it with avalanche conditions. The mountains will always be there and if you try to force it when it’s not the right time you will eventually end up paying the price for it.
Is skiing your favorite sport to shoot?
Definitely! Skiing has been my passion ever since I could remember. I do love shooting biking as well, but I limit that a bit after shooting skiing full time all winter, I try to keep summer on my bike mostly for my own personal escape.
How did your relationship with photography begin?
I’ve never had any formal training in photography (I was sent to college and graduated with an engineering degree that I have never used). I started out in high school just taking photos of my friends skiing and it just snowballed from there. Luckily most of my friends were quite good skiers so by the time I started college I was already having some success with clients and magazines buying my images, which afforded me the opportunity to go to more exciting locations and slowly build up my arsenal of photographic equipment.
How do you make your images unique?
I am always asking myself, how do I shoot this in a new and different way? Whether it’s trying a new angle or combining photographic techniques in different ways, I’m always trying to experiment with something new to keep it fresh.
What advice would you give to someone who's just starting with outdoor photography?
Stay true to yourself and work on developing your own vision for what you want to capture. From day one I have always told myself that as long as I create images that inspire people to want to go and spend times in the mountains, I will be successful. 20 years later that’s still true and is still my guidance, so don’t overthink it.
Where can we find more of your work?
On my Instagram and on my website. You can also find my images in most ski and outdoor publications globally.
Almost a visual Q&A: Geoff Coombs
The underwater images of Red Bull Illume 2019 finalist Geoff Coombs give you goosebumps and not just because they are shot in freezing cold Canadian lakes. But because his work perfectly captures that eerie and mysterious underwater-feeling. Being an experienced freediver himself, Geoff knows best what to consider when shooting in (and under) water.
In this Viusal Q&A Geoff shares a few of his incredible images (including personal favorites) and the story behind each one. He also talks us through his most challenging shot so far!
What's your style of photography and how did it develop?
My style is constantly evolving and I would describe it with words like surreal, dark, and imaginative. My photos from five years ago look vastly different than they do now as my skills have improved and my style has changed. Over time I naturally gravitated to creating photos that evoke emotion, surreality, and mystery – photos that have a “wow”-factor and make people take a second look.
Why are you passionate about photography?
I love photography because of the challenges and creative expression it brings. Creating images that stand out from the crowd is hard but rewarding. The constant desire to improve and perfect my craft is something that keeps me moving forward. That desire for perfection, while unattainable, motivates me to think of new ways of capturing the world. Creating images to not just satisfy me, but also to help brands communicate their product and mission in a surreal and inspiring way is a unique approach that I strive to take on every production.
What inspires you?
I love seeing other photographers’ work and creativity. Seeing what they create inspires me to constantly improve my own work and never settle. Discovering new locations or seeing how light can make a familiar place look new is also inspiring.
What captures your attention immediately?
Seeing something new for the first time - whether it's through another photographer's work or when I'm out in the field and come across something special and unique.
What's your motivation to dive in freezing cold water and how did your relationship with the sport begin?
I live central to the majority of the Great Lakes and smaller lakes in the Muskoka region of Ontario. I have always loved the underwater world. As a kid at my family cottage I would copy the big wave surfers of Hawaii by rock running on the bottom of the lake (holding a rock underwater and running along the bottom on one breath). I would swim and wakeboard as much as I could, so I was always comfortable around the water.
I dreamt of diving in the Caribbean often when I grew up, and when I was 22, I finally did. After that trip to the Bahamas I was obsessed with learning how to freedive. Little did I know, some of the most beautiful freshwater diving in the world was only a few hours away from my hometown. When I started freediving in Georgian Bay and Lake Huron, I knew the potential of winter images could be one of a kind. I knew it could provide the potential for my own unique voice in a world full of repetitive content. So, my best friend Andrew and I gave it a try and the images that we created were game changing in my career.
After five years of ice diving, I am still motivated by the physical challenge, the raw beauty, and the simple tones that lie beneath the frozen surface. The ice is always changing, and every dive is different, which adds to the allure. I am always wondering what we might see under there, and how I can create even more impactful images.
What are the biggest challenges when shooting underwater? Any tips?
One of the biggest challenges of shooting underwater is finding the right angles to shoot from. When you're on land you are essentially working in two planes of motion. When you're underwater the game changes and you're free to move in all sorts of ways. I photograph everything underwater on one breath while freediving as well, which is another challenge. Maneuvering the camera while holding your breath and swimming under a frozen surface requires a lot of practice, mental calm and physical skill.
As for tips - it's important to be comfortable underwater without a camera before you try to go underwater with one. Once you're comfortable and confident, bring the camera under and try to find new angles and experiment with different focal lengths. On land the best times to shoot are obviously when the sun is lower in the sky. But underwater, it's generally the opposite as the higher the sun is the more it will penetrate the water and create more light to work with.
Where's your favorite location to shoot?
My favorite location is Tobermory in Georgian Bay and Lake Huron, which is where I shoot most of my underwater images. The water is clear, blue, and cold. Exploring the vast amount of wrecks and frozen icebergs in winter is an adventure. A very close tie would be Exuma, Bahamas. The water is the same clarity and almost the same colour as the lake, but it also offers abundant sea life, warmth and unique beauty.
What's the most rewarding image you took and why?
That is a tough one, but I think one of the most rewarding images I took was this image of my friend Andrew as it allowed me to make it to the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019. The conditions were also beautiful this day - the water was incredibly clear, and the sun was setting over the thin ice which made the purple hues come to life. Combining the low light, the shipwreck, the ice, and a freediver into the frame made it a compelling and interesting shot that I'll always remember.
And what was the most challenging one?
The most challenging image I have ever shot would have to be this one. It is a shot of my two friends holding hands floating in the ice hole and looking down. While the image shows a surreal world and beautiful textures, it doesn't show the raging snowstorm that was taking place above the surface. The wind chill and whiteout conditions were making it very difficult to stay warm, and water would quickly freeze over our masks in between dives. But despite the discomfort it was worth it. It's one of those situations where you look back on and have fond memories of, but in the moment it is a tough grind and you just want to get warm.
Favorite image you took this year?
This image would have to be my favourite from the year because of the simplicity, color, and what it means to me. This image was shot in April during lockdown, and it summed up what I was feeling, and I'm sure what most were feeling at that moment. When I view this image themes and words come to mind like isolation, uncertainty, and hope for the future. It also gives feelings of wonder and mystery, which tie in to the reason why I started underwater photography.
Different colors, different positions or a whole different source. Not a new topic but one where ideas and visualizations are endless - lighting! In the following gallery we picked some remarkable images that will definitely inspire your lighting game.
I know a spot: Martin Golob
Red Bull Illume 2019 finalist Martin Golob usually captures athletes in pure moments of action. He's an experienced pro when it comes to urban sports photography and parkour is his strong point. With this in mind, we asked him what locations he's looking for, what expectations they need to fullfill and how the sport helps him to add a fresh perspective to a well-known spot.
I don't know if I have a style yet, I'm still a young photographer who tries to find himself and I prefer to let people describe me however they want. But I do my best to highlight the earth, the kindness of human beings and the simple nature of these objects.
What makes a "perfect" image to you?
When the image turns out exactly like I imagined it beforehand. For me that's when the subject and nature become one.
The location of the image you submitted to Red Bull Illume is pretty cool. How did you find it?
Ironically, it was not very difficult at all. Germain, the athlete in the image, lives near the spot, so we already knew the location, how to enter it, and the fact that at a certain time the sun will cast a shadow on the wall! But it was really cool to shoot and somebody even stopped to watch us and we had to explain the whole parkour thing.
Where's your favorite spot to take images?
For now, it's in the city. I don't have a particular favorite spot because parkour can bring you to a lot of different places. There's always a location you move in, no matter where you are. But locations with different heights are great because then you can shoot new and interesting perspectives.
How do you find new, undiscovered and stunning locations?
I often work in collaboration with the athlete. Since I do parkour myself, I know where to move, climb and jump. But the physical and mental aspects are not the same for everybody. When I see a spot, I ask the athlete first to see if he feels comfortable performing at the location. I don't plan any action before, I prefer to improvise and decide in the moment. It's always better when you start shooting without any expectations.
What exactly are you looking for when you search new places and locations?
I always lift my head up and look for heights in which the athlete can move smoothly. And it's always better when the location provides unique light conditions.
How do you present well-known places in a new and interesting way?
Parkour makes you able to move everywhere and it makes you see places in a different way. So, in a well-known place you can always add something fresh with these kind of movements.
If a place is very crowded, e.g. with tourists, how do you keep the people out of your image?
By changing the perspective and playing with heights. If there are loads of people I'd have to adapt to the situation myself. But I'm quite good at that since you always have to do that in parkour anyways. If I have to climb up somewhere to get a new angle and people out of my vision I will definitely do it!
How far would you go to get the perfect shot in the perfect location?
I'm not sure if I can say that, but I won't wait for permission if I want to go to a specific place, haha. Sometimes you can't wait on people to do what you want so you have to take matters into your own hands. If you take care of the places you go to and don't leave any waste behind, people will know that you are not here for any trouble.
Do you have some tips on how to find new spots and locations?
The best tip that I can share is to let things happen and to open your eyes - sometimes awesome locations are right next to you. But you won't see them if you don't look around. Of course it always depends on the image you want to take, but in my case, I just walk around the city and try to be hyperaware of everything. And don't forget, anything is possible as long as you haven't tried it!
Where can we find more of your work?
Just follow me on Instagram. I just moved to Paris, France, and can't wait to shoot at new locations. More photos of urban sports and parkour are coming soon!