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?

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© 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?

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© 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!

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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.

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© 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!

Get some Masterpiece by SanDisk Professional inspiration

Wondering which category to enter?

Red Bull Illume 2021 Gallery Masterpiece 1

© Ydwer van der Heide / 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 Masterpiece gallery to get into the category’s vibe, then head over to the submit page and start uploading.

Get creative with Skylum & Luminar AI

Meet the photo-editing tool that lets you get creative with your images.

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© Markus Berger / Red Bull Illume

Some images require no editing and are best left alone – and they’re a rarity. Then there are other images that cry out for you to let rip with the creativity. Red Bull Illume has categories for both kinds of images but it’s Creative by Skylum that is tailor made for images that require digital enhancement during the editing process. It allows photographers and image creators free rein to be as creative as they like and recognizes that the talent and skill that go into post-production are as important as the skill in taking the image in the first place.

With Skylum and LuminarAI, the Creative category has the perfect partner. Luminar’s revolutionary tools and AI technologies give superpowers for creative photo editing, letting photographers transform their images into incredible works of art, with simplicity and ease.  

LuminarAI gives you smart tools to fix any issue during post-processing. It operates on artificial intelligence, automating even the most complicated tasks like sky replacement and figure shaping. The final result? The exact image you envisioned, even if the weather or light didn’t cooperate when you captured the shot. Adding clouds to the sky? One click. Perfectly balancing contrast and lighting and revealing details? All done with one smart slider.

No tutorials are needed — just go to their website, get LuminarAI at $20 off using the code REDBULL, and have an edited image in the next five minutes. Give it a try with your images, then don’t forget to enter them into the Creative by Skylum category before July 31. It’s an open category, so anything goes!

We pulled together some of the most inspiring shots from previous editions of Red Bull Illume to get you into the category’s vibe, then head over to the submit page and start uploading.

Act like a pro, says Will Gadd

Adventure legend Will Gadd has come on board as a judge for the Image Quest 2021. The Red Bull and Black Diamond athlete explains why pros get the results first before getting experimental, why posing is bad and why if you want to work with athletes, you should never, ever behave like a dick.

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© Christian Pondella / Red Bull Illume

How important has the photography been in your career?

My sports are not spectator friendly, so I count on photographers to bring my world to the public. Without photography my world is invisible, and I can’t have the career I’ve had. It’s that simple: I don’t have a job without both the pro photographers I work with.

What does it take to be an adventure photographer?

My expeditions are normally cold, remote, and dangerous. There are sleeping bags, cameras and fingers that freeze solid, and there’s always the chance of the mountain doing something we don’t expect. So to even go on these trips you have to be a little bit special, and then to capture any images takes extraordinary hard work. But to produce images that grab the world’s attention with their raw visual power takes an incredible set of both survival and art skills that’s very rare. My favorite story is of Christian Pondella making sandwiches every morning on an expedition in -30º temps. That’s how he could help us move forward, and while the images he shot were incredible it’s his constant work ethic that I respect the most. Talent is nothing without working to move the team forward.

“Pros get results first, then take chances to get the mind-blowing shot second"

Is the athlete-photographer relationship important? Do you work together on the creative vision?

Yes and yes! Often, I have to trust what the photographer is seeing in his head, even if I can’t see it. Some of the most amazing images I’ve worked on came about even though I honestly thought the idea was stupid. But I don’t say that, I get out and do my job as an athlete, and over the years I’ve learned to really trust the photographers I work with regularly. And the opposite applies – I often have ideas about what will work well with the light or the feature, and the photographer sometimes doesn’t see it until we’re in it. But the best is when we work together, talk about what needs to happen, and then make some world-class images together. That’s as satisfying to me as doing the climb or flight sometimes.

What makes a great adventure photo?
This is a question with as many answers as shutter clicks on a pro’s camera! In a word, I love images that amaze me, rock me back on my heels and make me forget about anything else for that moment After that immediate emotion I look deeper for a few things: Unique so it grabs my eye, layers to discover, solid craft and composition, integrity, and then sometimes 200 other qualities after those first few that contradict them.

In more detail: It’s a unique view. A totally different moment, perspective, composition, something that grabs my eye from a distance and says, ‘Hey, this is different!’ Maybe it’s the composition, and I ask, ‘How did they get into that position or find that light?’ Or, more simply, ‘WTF!’ The second is that the photo holds my attention in a process of discovery. Maybe a shot with some wild sports action, but also a facial expression that says more about the situation than just the wave or rock or sky alone.

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© Christian Pondella

“If you’re a pain in the ass to be around then you’ll go nowhere.”


If a photographer has used their deep understanding of light and action to make something amazing then I respect that craft and vision a lot. I also respect the amateur who is in a once-in-a-lifetime position and points his phone and nails the image of a lifetime simply because they are there—being in the right place counts for a lot, sometimes more than craft.

Are there particular sports that you like to see?

Whether it’s paragliding or paddling or climbing or biking, [I like] shots that I want to be in; where I can say, ‘Damn, I wish I were there!’ Even if I lack the skills to be there, good shots make me want to be there. That’s why so many BASE images resonate – almost no one looking at them will ever BASE, but they are so out there that it twists our minds and amazes us that a human can do something so wild!

How important is it that an image is legit from an athlete’s perspective?

The image has to ring true to me as an athlete, an athlete with good form, doing something logical for where she or he is. The most perfectly envisioned, composed and timed image of a surfer on dead water is still dead. A climber looking like he or she is bored stupid says a photographer is driving the shoot past where it should have ended.
A perfectly placed paddle into the sun but held in a way no athlete ever would tells me the shot lacks credibility. As athletes we pose, that’s our job, but the pose better be real to our friends and colleagues. Legitimacy is very important. The public may not pick up on the subtleties of what’s going on as an athlete, but over time those athletes who are legit in their sports and their images earn respect from their peers, industry and public. That matters more than people might think.


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© Klaus Fengler / Red Bull Illume

“Every successful photographer is always a businessperson.”


Any tips for aspiring adventure and action sports photographers?#

Don’t be a dick. You can be the most talented person in the world, but if you’re a PITA (pain in the ass) to be around then you’ll go nowhere. Once you’re a mega famous director then you can be a dick maybe, but not today.

Any other advice?

Get ahead of the day’s curve. Think where things are going and why, and be there before it happens. Friends and I joke about photographers we work with who are either ahead of the curve or behind. The really good ones are one step ahead of us all day. The BTC photographers rarely get invited back.

Shoot. Get out and shoot until the craft is second nature. I can tell within a few seconds on a shoot where someone is in their image career by how fast they think and execute, their packing system, their vision. That just takes repetition and critique from both your own eye and hopefully some mentors or at least friends who will be honest. Then try to sell your work, or at least place it. Images without homes are nice, but you’re going to run out of space on your own walls pretty quick. Every successful person learns how to make a living off their work or they don’t become successful. The business of sports photography takes as much creativity, vision, and desire as shooting, so act like a pro and try to sell or place your work. Hustle for the shot, hustle for the sale, hustle for the job, and always work harder than anyone else on the scene. Every successful photographer is always a businessperson.


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© Christian Pondella

“Shoot. Get out and shoot until the craft is second nature.”


Keep going, give us more advice!

Failure is over-rated. Try different things, be inventive, take risks, yes, but get the job done first so you know you’ve got decent results. Don’t get all tricky without having a result on the card. Pros get results first, then take chances to get the mind-blowing shot second. I’ve been on some shoots where I get the selects and think, ‘OK, neat idea with the funky repurposed 1950s Hasselblad lens, but for fuck’s sake where are the super clean action images for the people who paid for all of us to be there?’ Lastly, keep trying. Nobody is all that special, but the people who keep trying make it happen, and that is special.

What kind of images are you looking for?

Yours. It’s an honor to look at other people’s work, and while I can’t promise I’ll see it the same way you do, I know you sent your best stuff in, and I respect the hell out of that.

Black Diamond is a partner of Red Bull Illume, awarding more than $10,000 worth of prizes to the winners.

Create an awesome last-minute shoot

You don’t need months of planning, a massive budget nor international flights to pull off a cool shoot. All that’s required is a bit of imagination.

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OK, so your dream shoot wingsuit flying over the Galapagos islands didn’t come off, nor the surf trip to Hawaii, nor that brilliant night-time slacklining idea you had in mind in Tokyo. But that’s no excuse for not executing a brilliant creative shoot on your doorstep.

In this video, we show that a cool location, a great athlete and some unique light is all you need to create a potentially winning shot for Red Bull Illume and some great gear from Lenovo. As always planning and preparation is key. If you have an idea, map it out at home or your office, spend some time thinking about what equipment you need. Share your vision with your athlete – they will either think it’s a crazy idea but trust you or have some creative inputs themselves. Then it’s a case of …, well – watch this short video to find out.  

Once you’ve created a great shot simply submit it to Red Bull Illume here. We can’t wait to see your entry. Good luck!