Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019 Winners

At the beginning of this month, 260 semi-finalists were selected out of nearly 60,000 entries for Red Bull Illume’s photography and videography contest. The 5 finalists for each category attended the Winner Award Ceremony hosted at the LUMEN – Museum of Mountain Photography on November 20th. The Overall Winner, 11 Category Winners, and Top 60 finalist images were revealed at the ceremony hosted by Italian sports journalist Zoran Filicic.

Ben Thouard was this year’s Overall Winner.

This year’s Overall Winner is Ben Thouard for his underwater image of surfer Ace Buchan riding a massive wave in Teahupo’o, Tahiti. Here is Thouard’s story behind his winning image: ‘I‘ve dedicated the last few years to shooting underwater, looking for new angles and a new way to shoot surfing and waves. Shooting surfing from underwater is a whole new world and I love it! Tahiti has some of the clearest water in the world so it was easy for me to take advantage of it and explore it as much as I could. This photo was shot during a freesurf session right before the WCT event in Teahupo‘o. This is Ace Buchan kicking out from the barrel through the wave, a technique to escape a close-out wave.’

He continues, ‘luckily I was right below, breathless with my [underwater housing] waiting for this moment and I was able to capture the whole sequence of it; this frame from the beginning of the sequence is the most powerful one because of the water around his face and body.’ Thouard was a Red Bull Illume semi-finalist in 2013 and a finalist in 2016 before becoming the Overall Winner this year.

60 finalist images were on display outside the LUMEN.

Once all the winners and finalists were announced, attendees were able to view the 60 finalist photos illuminated with 2mx2m lightboxes outside the LUMEN. The winners for each category are:

Overall Winner 2019: Ben Thouard, French Polynesia

Category Winners 2019

Best of Instagram by SanDisk: Baptiste Fauchille, France
Creative by Skylum: Denis Klero, Russia
Emerging by Red Bull Photography: JB Liautard, France
Energy: Ben Thouard, French Polynesia
Innovation by Sony: Laurence Crossman-Emms, United Kingdom
Lifestyle: Alexander Wick, Germany
Masterpiece by EyeEm: Lorenz Holder, Germany
Moving Image: Rupert Walker, Canada
Playground: Lorenz Holder, Germany
RAW: Noah Wetzel, USA
Wings: Philip Platzer, Austria
Best Mountain Sports Image by Salewa: Kamil Sustiak, Australia
SanDisk Extreme Award: Philip Platzer, Austria

For those interested, a Limited Edition Red Bull Illume Photobook featuring 260 semi-finalist action and adventure sports images submitted to the competition is now available to order. 4,000 copies were made, each individually numbered and stamped, and they come with a SanDisk Ultra SD Memory Card containing the Moving Image Category videos plus the full Luminar 4: Creative Photo Editor suite from Skylum.

Energy & Overall Winner: Ben Thouard, France

About this photo: As the quotes in the introduction to this series illustrate, Thouard was in the right place at the right time, underwater, when he captured athlete Ace Buchan kicking out from the barrel through the wave in Teahupo’o, Tahiti.

Category Winner, Best of Instagram by SanDisk: Baptiste Fauchille, France

About this photo: This is a shot from a buddies trip with a business goal showing biker Alex Bibollet’s shadow in the bowl of Fillinges, France. In Fauchille’s words, ‘We were a team of riders, photographers, and videographers, leaving for the very first trip of the new BMX clothing brand linked to the BMX: ‘Unicorn, we are legends’. We travelled for 5 days in the middle of summer, through different spots in different cities; it was a buddies trip with a business goal.

This photo was taken at the bowl of Fillinges. I remember the heat was insane like it rarely had been in the Alps. When I arrived on the spot the first thought I had in mind was to make a top- shot video with the drone: a fixed plan with a rider who makes his line with the intention of creating a loop. Then I realized that the bowl was really clean: no tags, no dust. I was able to have the rider and his shadow to come out well. I asked Alex Bibollet — one of the riders — to do what he did best, and I immortalized this moment!’

Category Winner, Creative by Skylum: Denis Klero, Russia

About this photo: In Klero’s own words,’last year‘s trend reports have shown that as soon as the first snow starts falling the social media community bursts in excitement and instantly shares videos and photos showing the first flakes of the year. I didn‘t want to miss out on the trend and started working on a concept to show the change of seasons. To attract the attention of the social media world it had to be something that would make one stop and stare. Consequently, I developed an idea of a series of three main pictures with some supporting detail shots, which had to be visually strong and inherent to the world of Red Bull. This picture with Pavel (Alekhin, the athlete in this photo) is one of those.’

Category winner, Emerging by Red Bull Photography: Jean-Baptiste Liautard, France

About this photo: ‘Two things that I love when it comes to photography are silhouettes and reflections and I wanted to use both in a single frame for a long time. After a lot of drawings, I knew what I wanted but it took me six months to get the perfect conditions and final ideas.
Jeremy‘s trail is a piece of art and this jump is definitely a highlight. I knew I wanted to shoot it from the side and get that reflection but it was really dry at this time of the year and of course there was no water around,’ says Liautard.

‘When I saw a wheelbarrow hanging around by the jumps, I had the idea to fill it up with water to create a mirror. We didn‘t have any water hose that day, so I had to do round trips with water cans to a little ditch by the road. After spending a lot of time adjusting the wheelbarrow and cleaning the water in the afternoon, my mirror was finally ready for the evening shoot.’

We were lucky enough to have a few friends helping us with the fire that night and adjusting the smoke just as we needed. The hardest job was Jeremy‘s as he had to ride the trail almost blind. Riding bikes at night is so scary and I can‘t thank the athletes enough when they are in these kinds of conditions. After a few attempts, we got this one, just as I imagined it at the very beginning, and it was a great feeling to finally see the image I had in my head for months, displayed on the back of my camera.

Category Winner, Innovation by Sony: Laurence Crossman-Emms, United Kingdom

About this photo: In Laurence’s own words, ‘Blaenau Ffestiniog was once described as the wettest place in Wales, this is no lie. Even when the sun shines, the puddles are plentiful. I’ve always been attracted to their animations when struck by a bicycle at full steep. The tyres of Katy Winton making the perfect parting of this muddy sea. The combination of dynamic action and the silk-like curtains made me try each time more determined. There are always challenges when shooting bikes and water close up … don’t get run over and don’t get wet.

This concept had always been in the back of my mind but finding the perfect location and it aligning with both the weather and sufficient puddle depth was tough. This breathless day at Antur Stiniog with Katy proved ideal. You can never guess how water reacts when you hit it with force, sometimes the results exceed your expectations … this was one of those times.’

Category Winner, Lifestyle: Alexander Wick, Germany

About this photo: In Wick’s words, ‘Together with my boys Phil and Chris I went on a US West-Coast climbing trip. Obviously Yosemite is a must and so we tested our very humble European crack climbing skills right away on El Capitan‘s Salathé Wall. A climb I‘ve been dreaming of for quite a while.

The first Ascent of this line was a master piece way ahead of its time. Climber and photographer Tom Frost was part of the three man team back then. His photography of the same climb is just breathtaking. The picture of Royal Robbins napping on a rock atop El Cap Spire with loads of exposure is one of my favorites, so of course I planned on getting a tribute shot to the old masters once we reached the spot. As we got stuck behind another climbing party just up on El Cap spire I used the moment, aided my way up the next pitch and took the shot as the boys and our new friend Luke actually took a nap.

No old hemp ropes and linen haul bags like in 1961 but modern nylon and Dyneema this time. No uncharted terrain but a well known and established route. Having a rest amidst a sea of granite: probably almost as amazing as back in the days.’

Category Winner, Masterpiece by EyeEm: Lorenz Holder, Germany

About this photo: ‘The first time I saw this location was when I was watching Game of Thrones and I was blown away by the pure magic this road generated in me. First, I thought that it‘s of course a CGI composition, but after a little research I found out that this place is actually real and located in Northern Ireland. A year later I was actually standing there with Senad Grosic and trying to get a bunny-hop-tailwhip on camera.

It was early in the morning with the first sun rays hitting the road and we managed to get a pretty cool shot, but somehow I knew that there was pure potential in the spot. So, we decided to stay a couple days longer and waited for some kind of rain, fog or other particles in the air, so I could use one flash from behind and create a white background to make Senad stand out a bit more and get the focus a bit more on the action. The rain came on our last day and I still remember the goose-bumps I had when I saw the image appearing on the screen of the camera. That‘s when I felt the same magical feeling I got when I watched Game of Thrones for the first time.’

Category Winner, Moving Image: Rupert Walker, Canada

About this photo: This is a still from Walker’s award-winning video. Here’s his explanation for getting all the key shots: ‘It was particularly challenging because it required extreme precision from the FPV drone pilot, Jonny Durst, and during this shoot, we experienced very heavy rains, which caused the track to be nearly unrideable. From the moisture, the track was riding much slower than anticipated and caused the athletes to struggle at performing their best. The dig crew was all hands-on deck with tiger torches and shovels to dry up any wet spots and dig out any soft spots. With hard work from all, a solid shot plan, and great coordination between the drone pilot and the athletes, the shot was accomplished.’

Category Winner, Playground: Lorenz Holder, Germany

About this photo: Lorenz Holder’s reputation as a stellar location scout continues (he was a winner in this year’s Masterpiece by EyeEm category). Holder talks about his latest find: ‘The Ouse Valley Viaduct is pretty cool old railway bridge in the South of England. When you approach it from the side, you can‘t really see the secret this bridge has to offer, but once you get underneath of one of the arches you can‘t believe your eyes. You are caught in a place that could easily be in the movie Inception. The arches create a very surreal visual effect – when you are taking a picture, you don‘t understand if you are looking down into something or at least you get very confused about what you‘re actually seeing. I was blown away by this fact, but also blown away that this looked like a pretty good spot for skateboarding.

When I showed Vladic an image of the viaduct, he was on fire to try it out. To be honest it was super hard to ride and Vladic‘s quote that got stuck in my mind was: “This is so hard, when my brain is going down in the transition, my body is already going up again – this will be difficult to get something done here.“ A couple of hours later, when his brain and body came together, he landed this kickflip while the sun was just at the perfect angle as well.’

Category Winner, RAW: Noah Wetzel, USA

About this photo: ‘After weeks of preparation and creative conception, I loaded my Subaru and headed North to Wyoming for the Total Solar Eclipse in August of 2017. Arriving a couple days before the eclipse, I linked up with athletes Chris Brule, Evan Grott, and Blake Sommer. The imagery goal was to capture the Eclipse and showcase mountain biking utilizing an in-camera double exposure – a very complex process.

The morning of, we loaded our packs well before sunrise with light stands, powerful flashes, extra camera gear, and two magnum bottles of champagne to celebrate. After capturing the first image successfully during two minutes of totality, all we had to do was endure the midday sun, waiting for twilight and the attempt at the second frame.

Unfortunately, I was unaware I had damaged the hot shoe connection on my camera four weeks prior while shooting fly fishing, preventing me from triggering my flashes.
Our only option required athlete Chris Brule to hit the feature in near darkness at 9pm, allowing me to set the camera to a 2.5 second exposure, manually firing the flashes and freezing Chris mid-air. Nearly escaping complete failure, we hiked out in darkness while sipping on champagne, truly in awe of the total solar eclipse and thankful we were able to capture something special.’

Category Winner, Wings: Philip Platzer, Austria

About this photo: Here is how Platzer captured athlete Marco Fürst flying hot air balloon swing in Austria: ‘Together with the Red Bull Skydive Team, I did this crazy Project called Megaswing back in 2016. After my assignment I already knew this had to be a tricky one: Two hot air balloons, one with a long rope attached and the other one to jump out with the swing, and of course the skydiver with his parachute.

After the first couple of jumps I realized that I wouldn’t get the perfect shot by simply shooting from the inside of the basket they where jumping out of. Lucky me, I had my monopod in the car as well as a pair of radio-triggers. My solution to get the right angle was to hold the camera, that I had attached to my monopod, as deep under the basket and just hope to get the perfect framing.

Another thing, I asked the athlete Marco Fürst to turn a little bit towards my direction to avoid getting an ass-shot and to get this playful mood in the image. In the end it was the very last try which gave us the moneyshot.’

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