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Winners of the Red Bull Illume Photo Contest 2016 – The Atlantic

The winners have been announced in the 4th edition of the Red Bull Illume Image Quest photo competition. The contest invited photographers to submit images of the world of action and adventure sports in one of 10 categories, including Energy, Playground, Sequence, and Enhance (where digital manipulation is allowed). This year the competition received more than 34,500 entries by 5,646 photographers from 120 countries. Below are some of the winning images and finalists, accompanied by the stories behind the shots, in the words of the photographers themselves. The winning images are now part of a traveling exhibition for the next two years.
Overall Winner Lorenz Holder captured this image of BMX Pro Rider Senad Grosic on a bridge in Gablenz, Germany. Holder: “Senad and I were on the way to a different location early in the morning when we passed this scenic spot. We saw a sign from the street and I had some pictures in mind that I’d seen from this bridge on the internet. When we got there the sun was just above the trees and it was lighting up the full color-spectrum of the autumn leaves in a very soft way. I’d chosen a very low camera position to get an almost perfect mirrored scene on the water surface. The bridge looked like a perfect circle and the light was still very good. When Senad was on the bridge, it took us two or three tries to get the shot. There was also no more time for another try because the wind came up and the perfect reflection on the water was gone.”
Photographer Alexandre Voyer was a finalist in the “Close Up” category. Voyer: “With my buddy Alex Roubaud, and my girlfriend Marianne Aventurier, we were invited by a great friend and underwater photographer, Fred Buyle, to his little Azores Island. This place, located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is one of the best spots in the world to interact with ocean wildlife. We were off the coast of Faial Island when we met two blue sharks in the open ocean. There we were, alone in the middle of Atlantic Ocean, the water was dark and clear, and there was perhaps 2,000 meters below our fins; it was an incredible moment.”
Federico Modica was a finalist in the Playground category, with this image of Mattia Felicetti on a slackline on an iceberg. Modica: “For every adventure and sport photographer, the dream is to have a unique shot in your portfolio. After many years of climbing, ice climbing, freeriding, and some other home adventures, I decided to organize an expedition to realize the shot I had in my mind for a long time—this picture. I wanted to have a shot of the first slackline ever done on an iceberg. And there we go, me and my friends suddenly organized this expedition. We left Italy to spend 20 days in East Greenland, taking a small boat and looking for icebergs. We finally had the possibility to climb two icebergs and apart from that, to set up and walk the first highline and slackline ever done, on two different icebergs.”
Corey Wilson became a finalist in the Spirit category with this image of the surfer Mick Fanning. Wilson: “This was the final day of the Pipeline Masters on the north shore of Oahu. Mick was in first place in the rankings, wearing the yellow jersey, and was going for the world title. Early that morning Mick got the terrible news that his brother had passed away. This is the last thing I had ever expected because Mick had already had the worst year ever—shark attack, divorce and now this. After a very sad morning on the north shore when he got the news he still wanted to surf the rest of the event and go for the world title. That is what his brother would have wanted. This photo was in his first heat of the morning against Kelly Slater and John John Florence, the two hardest opponents to surf against at Pipeline. Mick ended up winning the heat with this wave. He came out of the barrel and looked in the sky to his brother. When I got out of the water and looked at my images I had tears in my eyes after seeing this photo.”
This New Creativity category finalist, taken by Jaanus Ree, features Erik Orgo in Tallinn, Estonia, reflected in the eyes of his cat. Ree: “After seeing a portrait in a bookstore where I was able to see the photographer’s silhouette against the reflection of an eye, I got the idea to make something similar. I played around with the idea and thought about making a silhouette shot through an elephant’s eye but the local zoo did not approve it! So the next best thing was my cat. We used a six-by-nine-meter white sheet meant for shooting cars as a softbox. In front of that Erik Orgo and Kristo Õismets started to perform. We made several good shots, even a few in black and white, but color worked out the best.”
This New Creativity category finalist, taken by Lorenz Holder, features Cedric Romanens on a lake in Laax, Switzerland. Holder: “I always wanted to shoot an action-sports picture with a drone, so I looked for a very unique location. I found a swimming platform in a Swiss alpine lake that was crystal clear, where you could see all the rocks and the formations through the water. I drove from Munich to Laax and met up with the skateboarder Cedric Romanens and explained him what I had in mind. He was pretty surprised when I told him where the shooting location would be. For this shot, timing was everything because the whole shot is created by Cedric’s shadow and that had to be in the right spot and the right angle to be symmetric – not too long or too short. Luckily there was a kiosk where you could rent small boats to cruise the lake, so it was easy to get Cedric to the platform. It was not too easy to get the right timing, because the drone camera had a little delay and skateboarding is a very fast sport to shoot. Also the battery life of the drone limits the amount of tries. But after a couple of minutes I pretty much knew when I had to trigger the camera to get the right moment. Luckily Cedric is an awesome skateboarder so he made it a bit easier for me to get the shot. I like the feeling that you don’t really understand the picture when you see it the first time, but once you’ve understood what’s going on – the picture works the way I was hoping.”
Photographer Dean Treml was a finalist in the Spirit category for this image of Nicholi Rogatkin crashing. Treml: “In this image Nicholi Rogatkin of the USA crashes during the qualification day of the 10th edition of the Red Bull Rampage freeride mountain-bike event in Virgin, Utah on October 15th 2015. I had scrambled to the top of the course and was able to shoot wide-angle images as the riders dropped in and then kept track of them, to a certain extent, with a telephoto as they barreled down the course. During Nicholi’s run his front wheel washed out and the end result sent him over the cliff for a 15 meter fall. I was fortunate enough that I was watching it happen with a 600mm at my disposal—but not as fortunate as Nicholi. He walked off the crash and, showing incredible resilience, got back on his bike and went on to hit the huge canyon gap and complete his run.”
Close Up category finalist from Stuart Gibson, taken of Beau Pilgrim in Fiji. Gibson: “For this shot I wanted to shoot as close as possible to the surfer but directly underneath with a 16mm fisheye lens. To get this angle on reef breaks, you have to totally breathe out—if you have air in your lungs you just rise back up and the wave or surfer hits you. Then you have to dive to the bottom and lie on the reef for 10 or 15 seconds. You have to kick down really early so you don’t mess up the surface of the water and ruin your silky smooth glassy conditions on top. There isn’t much room for error out at Wilkes Passage. It’s really shallow and the wave breaks in different spots every set, so you don’t really know if you’re in the right place or you’re about to get a serious back scratch, Fiji style! Everything lined up perfectly for this shot and Beau screamed straight over me. When a surfer passes directly over you they are moving so much faster then usual, you just see them coming in the corner of your eye then do your best to compose the image and hold on tight.”
A category finalist in Energy, this image by Thinh Little Shao Souvannarath was taken of Navid and Lil Amok in Dusseldorf. Souvannarath: “In February 2016 in Düsseldorf, after a B-boy contest I went for a tour of the city with Lil Amok and Navid from Flying Steps. It was a very cold winter night and I really didn’t expect them to be down for creating something, but in my mind I wanted to make a connection between these two dancers. The goal was to make something strong with dynamic shapes showing how technical they could be. They are used to this kind of construction but as a creative person I didn’t want to reproduce something that they already did so we went through all the possibilities and poses they already knew and from that I made some changes. I wanted to align the strong lines of the hands, body and legs.”
This image from Victor Sukhorukov was a finalist in the Masterpiece category. Sukhorukov: “One frozen foggy morning we decided to shoot BASE jumpers parachuting from the 40-meter-high lighthouse that sits in the waterways of the Gulf of Finland. It was an unusual frost and the Gulf of Finland was covered in ice earlier than usual. A magical fog was all around us but it was so thick that we were afraid we would not find the lighthouse. However, soon the lighthouse tower appeared on the horizon. Four BASE jumpers climbed onto an open platform outside the lantern room. I took only a quadrocopter drone from my equipment. We synchronized with the BASE jumpers by phone. I looked up from the ground to see the drone indicate an error with the compass. Not paying attention to it, I decided to lift it up anyhow. The battery then reached optimal temperature and it started jolting because the engine was frozen! Then the BASE jumpers started to parachute from the top of the lighthouse and I began to shoot in burst mode. Only one photo from the huge number of images was in high quality. It shows Semen Lazarev making his jump.”
Photographer Micky Wiswedel won the Wings category with this image of climber Jamie Smith in Cape Town, South Africa. Wiswedel: “My buddy Jimbo had been opening new hard routes in the area and we wanted to try and capture some of the climbs. With climbing photography it’s not often you can just walk somewhere to get a good angle; most good shots require some form of rigging. The angle of this image happened by chance. We were setting up for another shot but when I looked back I knew we had to change plans and grab the shot with the sea and horizon in the background, framed by this huge rock roof. The route is one of the hardest on Table Mountain. The last ‘crux’ section is near the top—you have a few pieces of protection below but there’s a final jump, or ‘dyno,’ for the last hold. The image captures what happens if you don’t manage to stick that hold! There was always a chance that Jimbo would fall, so I was ready for it. For the couple of seconds leading up to the big move I was holding my breath and ready to fire. I could definitely feel the adrenaline pumping! It’s a pretty big and impressive fall, but luckily far from the ground—that doesn’t make it any less terrifying.”
Finalist in the Mobile category. Photographer Reuben Krabbe: “The main advantage of cell phone photography is grabbing an image on the fly. While skiing and shooting at Kicking Horse mountain in Golden, British Columbia, I noticed the spindrift curling off the boots of the hikers ahead of me. Rather than stop to grab a shot with a real camera—and lose a couple places in the lineup—I pulled out a phone and captured the image randomly from ankle height, almost mid-step.”
Finalist, Playground category. Photographer Ken Etzel: “The Taipan Wall of Grampians National Park in Australia is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s a massive wave of overhanging sandstone with bullet-hard rock and nails-hard rock climbing. The routes are often long (50 meters or longer) and the protection is often sparse. The climbers ‘down under’ definitely pride themselves in their bold style of climbing. We had been shooting at the wall on and off for a week or two. Other than the brilliant orange and black streaks on the wall, I felt like I hadn’t fully captured what it’s like to climb on this otherworldly formation. Wiz Fineron had recently climbed Groove Train (5.14b/33 pitches) and was looking to take another lap on one of the finest routes in the world. I jugged up my fixed line and had someone pull the other end way out from the base so I could capture the immenseness of the wall and the position Wiz would be in while climbing. On the lower half of the route, he flipped around and was facing out to catch a rest. I grabbed the frame and knew I had captured something unique in the world of rock climbing.”
Winner, Lifestyle category. Photographer Jody MacDonald: “When I was young I used to look through National Geographic magazines and dream of adventures like this: train-hopping through the Sahara on one of the world’s longest trains. I had dreamt of the oceans of sand, the loud noises of the train, the cold, the wind, the scorching sun, the unknown smells and sounds of the desert, and the discomfort that goes with it. So when I was asked to dream up and photograph a trip in harsh conditions, a 700-kilometer journey through the Sahara desert in Mauritania came to mind. After weeks of planning, our journey began in the capital of Nouakchott. From there my brother and I moved north through the interior to board the Mauritania Railway. Our risky rail journey started from the iron-mining center of Zouérat in the Sahara, and snaked through the barren desert toward the port of Nouadhibou on the Atlantic. We wanted to get to the coast to try to find some unexplored surf breaks and capture the spirit of adventure and exploration through this incredible landscape. Having only a few minutes to hop on the train in the middle of the night, we spent 15 long hours slithering through the desert on the three-kilometer train that transports approximately 84 tons of iron ore across a country crippled by terrorism, slavery, and poverty.”
Category finalist, Sequence. Photographer Scott Serfas: “In the remote forests of British Columbia lies Retallack Lodge, a cat-skiing operation in the winter and a mountain-bike haven in the summer. I was there to shoot during the making of Brandon Semenuk’s ‘Rad Company’ movie with himself, Yannick Granieri and Thomas Genon. On the last day of shooting I was able to convince the riders to hit this one particular jump so I could work a few angles instead of concentrating on a full line of five or six jumps. It had rained a few days prior to the shoot so some of the mud hadn’t dried up yet. I found a clear puddle that I could use to incorporate the reflection of the riders. I set my camera to 1000/sec at f5.0 and ISO 2500 then rested the bottom of it right on top of the water as I lay in the mud. Both Yannick and Brandon hit the jump several times while Thomas just rolled up the take off, shaking his head and looking worried. I knew he was planning something special, so I just had to be patient and wait for it. When Thomas decided to go for it he didn’t give us any warning, but from his body language I could tell he was committed to the jump. I shot a sequence and everyone cheered as he rode away. I packed up and that was the end of the shoot.”
Finalist, Enhance category. Photographer Klaus Thymann: “These images were shot on location, underwater in a cenote, or sinkhole. This was inside El Pit, part of Sistema Dos Ojos, a structure of underwater caves in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. The model is Guillaume Nery, a champion freediver. He would dive to 30 meters deep whilst I was 50 meters inside the cave with my camera. We did a lot of research ahead of the shoot and customized gear to get the flash equipment to work there. It looks like sunlight, but the sun very rarely hits the water. It is nearly always completely dark. The shoot itself was completed over four days and a total of 24 dives were made. It is a composite image but it is all real, there are no additional or fake components.”
Winner, Mobile category. Photographer Vegard Aasen: “This winter some friends and I went to Hakuba in Japan to ski some deep powder and big mountains. The day this shot was taken was a really windy one but the snow was still really good, so we went out into the backcountry. One of my friends brought his DSLR camera, so I decided to not bring my camera because I wanted to ski instead of taking photos. We hiked for a while, and discovered a group hiking across the ridge above us. The wind and the clouds looked amazing, so my friend took out his camera and started shooting. I hated myself for not bringing my camera. Luckily I had my mobile phone in my pocket. I could not see anything on the screen, but obviously managed to aim pretty well. A week later, I scrolled through my phone, while waiting for sushi at a restaurant. I had completely forgotten about the shot, so I was pretty stoked when I found it.”
Winner, Enhance category. Photographer:Dean Treml: “Jonathan Paredes of Mexico dives from the 28-meter platform on the roof of the Copenhagen Opera House during the first practice session of the second stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Copenhagen, Denmark on June 20th 2013. I remember while I was originally scoping out the location for this event thinking how surreal images could look without the diving platform jutting out, and just the small form of the diver, and the huge cantilevered roof dominating the frame, and even discussed it at the time with my wife (the photographer Romina Amato) who was also there. As I am editorially focused the integrity of the image is paramount so the platform stayed, but while reading the categories of Red Bull Illume this image jumped into my mind and I figured a quick ‘fix’ to one of my shots couldn’t hurt, so this version of the image really came about thanks to the ‘Enhance’ category.”
Photographer Gaps Sabuero became a finalist in the Masterpiece category with this image taken off Siargao Island. Sabuero: “A good-size swell was bound to hit Siargao Island. It was offseason. There hadn’t been decent surf for a while so everyone had expectations. It was my second month on the island and my first good swell. I had some experience of shooting small surf but knew I was going to get worked by what was coming. Hammered by set waves, I got washed back a few meters. Manuel Melindo was paddling back to the line-up after taking one of the waves that got me. I swam back out with him and this smaller wave came. When we went under I pointed my GoPro at him, swam back to position and forgot about the shot. I knew I had some good barrel shots but I was surprised to see this amazing one while sorting on the computer.”
Winner, Spirit category. Photographer Dean Treml: “In this image, Josh Neilson of New Zealand is supported by fellow paddlers (L-R) Barnaby Prees, Sam Sutton, Tim Pickering, Ben Brown, Jamie Sutton, and Jared Seiler as he waits for a helicopter evacuation after a bad landing off Matze’s Drop in Storulfossen, Norway on July 7th 2014. It left him with a broken L1 vertebrae. I traveled to kayaking mecca Norway for a few days to shoot and hang with my Kiwi mate Ben Brown, one of the world’s most prodigious adventure kayakers. As fate would have it he dislocated his shoulder the day I arrived, but luckily he was traveling with some brilliant paddlers so I still had subjects to shoot. On the last day we found ourselves at this spectacular waterfall, where five others made the run, then Josh went off. After a good entry the nose of his kayak was thrust up and he flat landed at the bottom, the impact breaking his back. His colleagues were immediately on hand to assist and stabilize Josh, and Ben, who had previously suffered a similar injury, was able to reassure Josh while a helicopter was summoned. Josh was flown to Lillehammer hospital and then on to Elverum for successful surgery. With determined rehabilitation in New Zealand, Neilson was back in a kayak one year later and subsequently traveled back to Norway to paddle their rivers again.”
Finalist, Wings category. Photographer Vernon Deck: “I spent eight days in the Engadin Valley in the Swiss Alps with two different crews. One crew was after night time powder shots and the other just wanted to go riding and maybe shoot something. This shot was obviously with the second crew! Iker Fenandez and Michi Albin last shot together over 10 years ago, so it was really nice to shoot with them in Michi’s back yard. The snow was pretty windblown up high so we started looking around for pockets of soft snow on the back of a ridge. We found a couple of good spots, but I talked the boys into building this one as the background was just so amazing. I really wanted to shoot backlit so the snow trail would light up. They both jumped three times until Michi’s binding broke on a hard landing. Iker has such a lazy style and you can see he’s just enjoying himself up there. This is a very classic snowboarding image, the trick is timeless, the style gold, and the landscape beautiful!”
Finalist, Lifestyle category. Photographer Michel Chernitzky: “I took this picture in 2015 at the Venice Skate Park in Venice, CA. It’s been one of those places I keep going back to because of the people, talent and light you can find every day. One of the things I love about sports is the camaraderie that’s forged by sharing a common interest; it goes beyond all of our differences, pointing to what bonds us together as people. In this photograph you can see Jake Familton, an extraordinary four-year-old, attentively watching fellow skateboarders as he stands next to an adult skater. At first, I thought the man was his dad or a family friend. However, Jake’s mother said the gentleman beside him was neither, he was just a fellow skateboarder. She went on to explain how the skateboarding community had been very kind and inclusive with her son. It was uplifting to hear this. There was, for me, something beautiful and profound about this simple story of human connection.”
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