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Slideshow: The adventurous winners of the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 competition

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The adventurous winners of the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 competition

Red Bull’s Illume Image Quest competition is now in its fifteenth year. This year, 53 photo editors served as the judging panel for the latest edition of this annual photography and videography contest focused on sports and action categories. Collectively, they selected the 56 finalists and 11 winners from a pool of 41,446 entries. Winners received over €200,000 worth of prizes.

Images by all category winners and finalists can be viewed on the competition’s website. You can also order a hard copy coffee table book featuring the top 256 images from Red Bull Illume 2021.

Masterpiece by SanDisk Professional: ‘Dirtbag Superhero’ by Will Saunders

Camera: Canon 5D Mark IV Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8 L II USM ISO: 160 F-Stop: 5.6 Shutter Speed: 2000

Personal Quote: “Chase after those conceptual thoughts because that is where unexpected moments come to life.”

Biography: I grew up in a small town of 2,000 people where half the crowd were hippies and the other half were cowboys in the heart of Oregon. We all got along and I kinda rode the line down the middle. I always hung out with both sides, constantly in awe of my friends and what they do in their daily lives. It wasn’t until I was 19, when a professor convinced me to pick up a camera for the first time. I fell completely in love with the art of making an image, I was truly obsessed. Making images of my friends who were badass kayakers, bikers and climbers. Working closely with mentors and constantly learning, I started to build my own style and understanding of the industry.

Today I live in Utah still chasing this obsession of making images that impress my mind. I’m lucky to be surrounded by an incredible team and a talented group of good humans that push me every day.

The Shot: Whenever I go out to make some images, I do my best to come back with something that I haven’t done before. I’ve shot whippers many a time, but this time I wanted to try something a little different. A group of us rallied out to my favorite place in the desert to get some climbing in and make some imagery along the way. I asked Jake to really shape his body into more of a powerful movement rather than the classic falling position.

With grace and style, Jake pulled this shape out of the air, allowing me to capture an image that is unique compared to most of the literal climbing imagery we see. His body reminded me of a superhero, which is fitting to me because most of my friends in this action sports world are my heroes. The ticket here was to just push the conceptual idea enough while also grounding the image in reality.

Playground by WhiteWall Winner: ‘Wake the Glacier’ by Markus Berger

Camera: Nikon D850 Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8 ISO: 160 F-Stop: 16 Shutter Speed: 1/250

Biography: I am a commercial sports photographer based in Austria. My goal is to be creative and capture the essence of an athlete, sport, movement or moment. I strive to put my heart and soul into projects and love the teamwork aspect of a shoot. My background is professional sports and over fifteen years working in the commercial sports industry. Understanding the athletes’ perspectives and at the same time the sports marketing side enables me to connect both worlds.

The goal is to achieve credibility and impact at the same time. In a world that’s flooded with imagery, it is more important than ever to be personally connected to projects and inject that extra personal touch to make stories interesting and believable. Unique ideas and creative approaches growing from personal beliefs lead to a credible outcome that is loved in return. After years of working with sports brands, agencies and top athletes around the globe, I learned not to take anything for granted. In a fast-paced world where humanity and kindness often get way too short, I want to focus on projects connected to people and their stories.

The Shot: Title: Wake the Glacier A crazy location in Hintertux, deep in the mountain and below the surface. The ‘nature ice palace’ is a fairy tale world inside a glacier and also contains an underground lake with -0.8°C water. Red Bull set up a crazy crew to realize the first ever wake action in such an environment. During a two-day production we managed to get a cool action shot of Dominik Hernler, who completed this challenging task like a champ.

With a 6.5mm wetsuit, he didn’t hesitate and was able to ride and turn in this very narrow location and under very difficult (AKA freezing) circumstances. In terms of photography, this was an extreme challenge as well, as we were facing extreme cold and moist and also very cold water. After more than three hours in the water I didn’t feel anything below my waist and one of my cameras failed as well. When Dominik finally arrived and pulled the action it was also a matter of luck if I got the camera to trigger at the right moment. Such a relief to see the image pop up on my screen and get the shot. Right after this shot the camera shut down and didn’t work for three days until it dried up completely.

Innovation by EyeEm Winner: ‘Untitled’ by Thomas Monsorno

Camera: DJI Mavic 2 Pro Lens: Hasselblad ISO: 100 F-Stop: 5.0 Shutter Speed: 1/500

Personal Quote: “Just be yourself, be honest and kind, people will appreciate it. For me, this is much more important than professional development or being the best.”

Biography: I am an outdoor photographer based in South Tyrol, the place where I grew up. Nature was close to us and I spent a lot of time outdoors when I was younger. My enthusiasm for photography kept growing during the years. On top of this, appreciation for nature was instilled in me from the beginning, as well as my love for sports. Together, this shaped me as a photographer over the past years. From the very beginning I tried to involve different athletes into my photo projects and depict them in a natural habitat. My work is a collection of sports, documentary, lifestyle, and travel photography.

The combination of travel and photography has brought me amazing experiences and values that are part of me now. My personal development has been closely related to my photographic development in recent years. Through photography, many interesting people, new friends and wonderful places could be discovered. All of this has brought me a lot personally, because all of these new experiences, people, and places are a source of inspiration and enrichment. My experience tells me that you should always keep moving and stay curious, be present with your heart and soul and not try to force anything. With enough patience, dedication and openness, everyone will make their way.

The Shot: In February 2020 we traveled to Siberia with Mammut Pro Team athlete Dani Arnold for a challenging expedition above the deepest lake on earth, Lake Baikal. Siberian winters present difficult and fascinating conditions. The successful expedition involved moving from the lake’s expanse of ice, to the vertical ice wall, and opening ten new climbing routes. We found favorable conditions, challenging Dani in his favorite ice climbing area. At this time of year, conditions are extreme, with temperatures as low as -35° Celsius; for this reason, virtually no athlete has attempted ice climbing above the deepest lake in the world.

The challenge proved tough from the beginning; cold temperatures, poorly documented climbing areas, and an unknown language made the search for climbing areas very demanding, requiring a lot of energy from our team, mentally and physically. Since we could only move around the frozen lake on a hovercraft, just the search for the perfect shot proved to be a unique adventure, with technical breakdowns at nightfall, exhaustion of fuel and heating. The first steps on the ice of the lake were impressive – to see clearly through the thick ice of the deepest lake in the world was an extraordinary and absolutely unforgettable experience.

Energy by Red Bull Photography Winner: ‘Huka Falls’ by Rod Hill

Camera: Canon 5D IV Lens: Canon 100-400mm USM II ISO: 100 F-Stop: 4.5 Shutter Speed: 1/2000

Personal Quote: “Every day is a good day.”

Biography: I am a former mountain bike racer turned secondary school Chemistry teacher from Rotorua, New Zealand. Photography has always been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I started out with film and then progressed to slides. I still use my film cameras from time to time. My mother always had a camera and shot loads of photos over the years. Photography was how we documented adventures with my brother and friends from cross-country skiing in the Arctic, to climbing mountains in France and Nepal, to surfing trips around New Zealand.

Outdoors and adventure travel have always been my main passions but with the global pandemic, traveling became very difficult and then impossible. I decided to try my hand at whitewater kayaking photography because of the close proximity of the popular Kaituna river. I have been hooked on river photography ever since. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Shot: This shot was not supposed to happen. River Mutton was supposed to leave for work but decided on one last run. I had already packed my gear away by the time they walked back up from the take-out point. Once they decided being late to work was worth it, it was a mad rush back down the river with my camera. It’s never a good idea to turn down a potentially fantastic photo opportunity. I didn’t have time to get to my normal spot, so instead I tried this angle. All of a sudden, the light popped like I had never seen before. Straight away I knew this was going to work.

Lifestyle by COOPH Winner: ‘SURFMASK’ by Carolin Unrath

Camera: Leica Q2 Lens: 28mm f/1.7 ISO: 800 F-Stop: 2.2 Shutter Speed: 1/30

Personal Quote: “The artist’s world is limitless. I love to fill up and create a room of energy, emotions, moments, and discovery, leave enough space for someone else to get there, show people around and let them dive deeper into different worlds they’ve never been to before.”

Biography: I was born in the southern part of Germany in 1996 in Heidenheim. In 2015 I moved to Munich and became a freelance photographer, before graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Arts and Multimedia at LMU Munich in 2018. In 2021, I was one of the top ten travel and documentary photographers shortlisted by Production Paradise, and one of my documentary projects became part of the ‘West.Eyes.Effect.’ exhibition at the Leica gallery in Moscow.

I started as a musician, taking pictures on international concert tours, and used photography as a medium of art to make my memories tangible. This passion continued to consolidate through my fine arts and multimedia studies in Munich, and so my photography journey started. My work has been seen in various global campaigns for clients like BMW, Merrell, and Leica.

The Shot: The shot ‘Surfmask’ is part of a series I’ve created with Peter Scherb in Munich in May 2020. I’ve always loved seeing Munich’s Eisbach river wave surfers all over the city. That’s why we joined Andi on one of his first sessions when the river wave reopened after lockdown in 2020. The shot shows him on his way to the Eisbach.

Emerging by Black Diamond Winner: ‘Queen of Heartbreaks’ by Victoria Kohner-Flanagan

Camera: Sony α6400 Lens: SIGMA 16mm f/1.4 DC DN ISO: 400 F-Stop: 4.5 Shutter Speed: 1/400

Biography: I am a traveling rock climber and photographer from Hood River, Oregon. I find joy capturing people in moments of vulnerability on and off the wall. My work strives to capture the meaningful connections forged between the people and landscapes I encounter, while living on the road full-time.

The Shot: My friends and I spent the winter of 2021 living communally in an assortment of vans and cars amidst the Buttermilk’s monstrous granite boulders in Bishop, California. Our days looked like this: wake up, drink coffee, go climb. With our bouldering season coming to a close, as the snow melted and thoughts of long Yosemite climbs loomed, Jack grew eager to test his fitness on ‘Queen of Heartbreaks’ in Pine Creek Canyon. Before tying into the sharp end Jack was clearly nervous.

From the ground, the route’s 39 meters were daunting and blank. The holds remained obscured to me even as I ascended the fixed line to find the best position to shoot from. The sky darkened and the winds picked up as Jack stepped onto the climb for his onsight attempt. Questing up the blank face, Jack found a cheeky no hands rest. Doubt cleared from his face as I snapped the shot. Even as it started raining upwards, Jack cruised to the chains.

RAW by Leica Winner: ‘Untitled’ by Bruno Long

Camera: Nikon D850 Lens: 16-35mm f/4 ISO: 400 F-Stop: 4 Shutter Speed: 1/2000

Personal Quote: “Finding truly organic images in a world of well thought out ideas is a rarity, especially in the world of action sports.”

Biography: I’m a freelance adventure photographer who specializes in trying to capture the essence of the adventures by immersing myself into the action whenever possible. This means long days walking in the skin track with accomplished backcountry athletes, chasing some of the best mountain bikers in the world up AND down the trails, or going on long distance trail runs with camera gear in tow. Capturing real moments is my ethos and I spend a fair amount of my time exploring the far reaches of the world or my backyard to find them.

The Shot: Playing with dust and light has always been one of my favorite ways to shoot mountain biking. It’s such a random process, with the dust and light different in every situation. This particular section of trail was super steep and local rider, Dylan Siggers, was in his element. This was his second or third time through this section and by this try, I had figured out exactly where he would be in the frame and captured the moment as he emerged from the dust perfectly.

Best of Instagram by Lenovo – Photo Winner: ‘Untitled’ by Yhabril

Camera: Nikon D750 Lens: Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary ISO: 1250 F-Stop: 6.3 Shutter Speed: 1/640

Biography: I’m a passionate action sports photographer, particularly where the mountains are the playground, and skiing, snowboarding, biking, trail running are the sports. I’m based in the Pyrenees in Spain, and I’ve been shooting for the last ten years. I don’t consider myself a professional photographer, since I don’t make a living out of this, but I work for a few brands in the outdoor industry. Even though I have won a lot of national and international awards in the past years, my goal in photography is to be recognized in the Red Bull Illume Image Quest.

The Shot: We worked hard for a week, just planning and preparing the terrain for this shot. What’s particularly difficult to achieve in a shot like this one is to place the two kickers in the right place a couple of days before. Even more tough is that it needs to be taken at 3,000m high with the heavy gear you need to take 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. Then, when the moon was rising I went to my place 300m away, communicating via walkie-talkies. What’s really amazing is that we took the shot on the second try – the photo is the result of great teamwork.

Creative by Skylum Winner: ‘The Spiral’ by Jan Kasl

Photographer: Jan Kasl
Athlete: Fanda Šesták
Location: Prague, Czech Republic

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