Red Bull Illume is the world’s premier action and adventure sports photography competition.
The overall winner, top 10 category winners and top 50 finalists were unveiled at a ceremony in Hong Kong.
The contest invited photographers to submit images of the world of action and adventure sports in one of 10 categories, including Energy, Illumination, Sequence, and Experimental (where digital manipulation is allowed). This year the competition received more than 28,000 entries by 6,417 photographers from 124 countries. Below are some of the winning images, accompanied by the stories behind the shots, in the words of the photographers themselves.
1 Stuart Gibson’s photo of Sean Woolnough on a wave in Namotu Island, Fiji, was a finalist in the Spirit category. “Sean Woolnough and I were in Fiji for big swell and the wind went dead, so while we still had amazing conditions, we jumped in a Fijian long boat. This is more of a tow wave, as you can see — paddling this wave doesn’t end well. The island jetski was out of action so we thought we’d give it a go. I dropped Sean at the top of the reef, and the ocean went flat, like someone had turned off the tap. It takes a big set to light this slab up, and as Sean sat patiently I saw a big lump coming. I started yelling, but he had no reference as to where he was on the reef so he waited and paddled for this first wave of the set. He just missed it, and when I looked back, this deep blue lump just started draining out, almost sucking him under the wave. He took one big duckdive and got under the breaking lip. On a normal wave this is fine but this thing didn’t have a back — the reef drops to 200m out the back of this place so when it breaks it really folds. The wave had just too much power and sucked him back over the falls, it’s pretty much a surfer’s worst nightmare position, so many people claim this is photoshopped, but it certainly is not!”
2 This image by Lorenz Holder is the Overall Winner of the 2013 contest. “I found this unique spot (in Raisting, Germany) in the summer and I really wanted to shoot a snowboard picture there. I told Xaver Hoffmann about the spot and he was also fascinated. My idea to shoot in heavy snowfall wasn’t going to be easy, as it only snowed once in this spot last season. So there was pretty much just a one-time chance to get this shot. I used two big Elinchrom strobes in the background to light up the snowflakes and create a ‘white wall’ where I could capture Xaver’s silhouette as he jumped. To get some light onto the dish, I chose a 4-second exposure time to get some light from the moon. Overall, I’m pretty happy that we made it there that day!”
3 Finalist Dimitrios Kontizas: “I never thought that at some point in my life, I would stand right at the edge of a 200-meter cliff, taking pictures of ‘crazy’ people jumping off it. But there I was in Zakynthos Island, Greece, where the 2011 ‘ProBase Shipwreck Boogie’ was taking place. Thirty BASE jumpers from all around the world had been invited to participate in this competition. This particular picture was taken right after the competition had ended, leaving all the BASE jumpers free of stress and letting them have 100% fun jumps. I had the focus point on one of the jumpers because they are the main subject in the frame. The Greek sun did what it does best, providing perfect lighting conditions for a result, I think, that is worth viewing.”
4 Finalist Sterling Lorence: “Matt Hunter has a reputation in freeride mountain biking for finding and building very progressive lines. Matt built this air for the filming of his segment in the film, ‘Follow Me’. It is a 45-foot air to wall ride move that he hadn’t done much practice on. I framed up this shot from this perspective to be able to express the entire story of his line and the size of the gap he had to make. I originally thought I would shoot it as a sequence so that the viewer would be able to understand the extreme journey more. With my motor drive running, Matt nailed his line and I watched him hit the wall and carve out the finish. I was completely floored and in awe by the explosion of dust he had created. As I sat back and reviewed my images, I saw this one frame and I realized that I no longer needed the full sequence. The entire story, speed, impact and energy of this huge air was captured in this single frame. That is why I love photography, telling so much of a story in a single image.”
5 Jeroen Nieuwhuis was named the winner of the Close Up category for this shot of Erik Journee skating in Denekamp, Netherlands. “I was looking at my portfolio and thought to myself that I should shoot some different images — less ‘studio-lit’, if you will. After a short brainstorm session, my buddy Erik and I thought it would be a cool thing to try something different than usual. I wanted this shot to be less set up. We grabbed our boards and went to the street seen in the picture. It’s just outside a forest, and a couple kilometers from where I live. The position of the sun was just right. I quickly grabbed my camera. Skating the street from front to back a couple of times, I kept trying to get the right shot. After almost smashing my camera on the concrete, I thought I would give it just one last try. This is the last image I shot in that series.”
6 Scott Serfas won the Illumination category with this photo of Travis Rice in Alaska’s Tordrillo Mountains. “This photo was taken on the second trip during the making of the “Art of FLIGHT” snowboarding film. We had been in Alaska for a month and I knew the trip was ending very soon. I really wanted to shoot a photo from the helicopter, right above Travis Rice as he was riding a line, but it was very difficult to coordinate because there was another heli in the air shooting with a Cineflex camera. The sun was setting fast so the director Curt Morgan called for Travis to drop into the line and as he made his second turn down the mountain I snapped this shot. This turned out to be the last photo I took during what was the best snowboarding trip of my life!”
7 Left: Lorenz Holder’s finalist image of Benny Urban in Oberschleissheim, Germany. “I had the idea to shoot a snowboard waterslide from underneath the surface a couple of years back, but I found out pretty fast that it wasn’t as easy as I thought. After several tries, I knew that I would have to go down into the water myself. So I rented water-housing and diving equipment and went to a pretty perfect location in Munich, Germany for the shoot. The idea was to shoot upwards where the rider would be, in the so-called ‘Snell’s window’. Looking upwards underwater, this is the circular area of light on the surface caused by refraction of light entering the water. In my image you can see the rider and the sky through that window. In other parts of the surface this effect takes place and mirrors the underwater world. The communication with the rider was also a bit difficult, because we both were in two different worlds and we could not just raise our hands when both of us were ready. But in the end, everything turned out way better than I expected!” Right: Olaf Pignataro, finalist in the Playground category. “After waiting for the town to go to sleep and for the streets to empty, Stefan Lantschner climbed down a rope into the hole of the ancient bridge Ponte Pietra in Verona, Italy. Using the same rope, crew members lowered down his BMX, and Stefan began to ride the giant full pipe. Some tourists noticed the flashes coming from the bridge, but Stefan was lucky enough to climb up without getting caught by the police after a short session. Ponte Pietra is a Roman arch bridge crossing the Adige River and was completed in 100 BC.”
8 Morgan Maassen, finalist in the Close Up category: “On this overcast day in late autumn, Rebecca Ronald and I went out to Chun’s Reef in Hawaii for a surf as the waves were quite clean and uncrowded. Despite the overcast skies, the water was unusually clear so I figured I would shoot with a fisheye, hoping the sun would pop out at some point during our session. Unfortunately, the sun never did come out, but Bec had a marathon session and we lined up on too many waves to count. After riding a wave past where I was shooting, she paddled back towards me… only to swing around and catch another wave. And it was at this moment that I captured this over/under shot of her, showcasing her as she prepares to nab another wave on that delightful day at Chun’s Reef.”
9 Vince Perraud’s image of Luc Legrand was a finalist in the Sequence category. “The great magazine ‘The Albion’ asked me to follow Frenchman Luc Legrand for an article, and we arranged to spend a week on the road all across Spain, living in his van. Luc loves to ride in unique locations even if they are not easy. He remembered a crazy set-up around the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and we found it again. I was not used to shooting sequences but I thought it would work for this one. I also thought shooting fisheye from below would really capture the movement. After a couple of run-ups, he just did it first go, and I was really happy to catch it first go too!”
10 Jody MacDonald, finalist in the Illumination category: “In the fourth year of a five-year world kiteboarding expedition, we sailed 600 miles across the Mozambique Channel from Madagascar to the Bazaruto Archipelago, off the southeast coast of Mozambique. As we made landfall, a massive 20-mile sand dune grew off our bow. No words were said, everyone just ran for their wings. The east side of the dune juts out into the Indian Ocean at a perfect angle for paragliding a few hundred meters above the sea. In no time we were soaring and exploring a place by air that had never previously been flown. It is the stuff that even vivid dreamers cannot imagine and as a photographer it was perfection. The way the light danced and played along the sand was mesmerizing. It was perfect until we spotted our dinghy washed up on the beach. By the time we reached it, there was no obvious damage but we would still have to wait again for low tide to make any attempt to leave. We ended up sleeping on the dune that night in our paragliders and awoke again the next morning to more perfect flying conditions. Being quite possibly the most playful and stunning soaring site on the planet, we had to keep flying. Only after we were sunburnt, exhausted and dehydrated did we manage to get the dinghy through the shore break and back to our catamaran.”
11 Jussi Grznar’s shot of Jeff Croker in Sussex Inlet, Australia, was also named a finalist. “Jeff Croker is a true Australian bushman. Having lived in Australia all his life, he only saw the ocean for the first time at the age of 20. The next day he packed all of his stuff and moved to the beach. To this day, Jeff still lives by the beach with his lovely wife and two not-so-lovely sons (just kidding!). I met him during a personal trip to Australia in 2012, and I really wanted to photograph him. Jeff is known for not interacting with people very much, so I decided to put the camera away and just sit back for a bit. After one long night and a happy wedding we all went for a surf together, and I got the chance to get to know the man a little better. Sometimes all it takes is a couple of good waves, and maybe a beer or two!”
12 Zakary Noyle was named the winner of the Sequence category for this shot of Gabriel Medina in the surf off Oahu, Hawaii. “This was not a large day by North Shore standards but sort of a lay day. When the waves are smaller, the surfers usually go out for a surf right before the sun sets. I walked down the beach with my camera and a 70-200mm lens — I did not take a tripod, as it is easier to hand hold. I really love capturing the different elements of my surroundings, to be able to put the viewer of the image into the exact location of where I was and what I saw. By pulling the lens back, I was able to get the sand and sky, so it is almost as if someone were walking down the beach and looking over to see Gabriel doing this massive backflip.”
13 Finalist Ismael Ibanez Ruiz: “I was in Barcelona for a week shooting the local BMX scene. Barcelona is definitely one of the most interesting BMX Meccas in the world, with many street spots where you can ride all day. After a hard day of searching for different spots, I shot this picture where an old man was angry with one of the local riders (Nil Soler), thinking that what he was doing was a bad thing for the city. He doesn’t understand it’s only BMX! After this mishap, which is usual in Barcelona lately, we continued our search for new images, new spots and new sensations.”
14 Morgan Maassen won the Lifestyle category for his photo of surfers Jake Marshall, Taylor Clark, Frankie Harrer, Colt Ward, Thelen Whorrell, Nolan Rapoza, and Dryden Brown, in Tavarua, Fiji. “Late one fall I gathered a group of America’s next generation of young surfers, and we departed for Fiji to try our hand at an impressive south swell. Arriving at Cloudbreak to perfect conditions and an empty beach, we had an absolute blast enjoying the dreamy scenario. They surfed for ten hours a day, coming in only for food or sunscreen. I captured them one morning in this shot, discussing in the crystalline water anything from the surf they were enjoying to homework they forgot at home. Reflecting on the trip after we had gone our separate ways, it was not the performance of the kids or the caliber of surf that made our adventure memorable; it was their social dynamic. I was fascinated by their camaraderie in the intense surf and realized that while the atmosphere was thick with competition, their friendship had them trading waves with nothing but smiles, laughing and hollering at each other’s successes and misfortune with pure glee.”
15 Ryan Taylor, finalist in the Illumination category: “Every year in northern Wisconsin, cranberries are grown and harvested in the late fall. Unknown to some people, cranberries are grown dry, and it is only during harvesting that the fields are flooded. This allows the berries to float to the surface for ease of harvesting, creating a large sea of red. This uncharted territory seemed almost impossible to ride, until the invention of the winch. This image of Ben Horan carving through a cranberry field was a photo that I had wanted to shoot for a long time. I was finally able to do it in October 2012, when the Red Bull Winch Sessions crew asked me to tag along once again and shoot stills as well as some video. On the morning that this photo was taken, we awoke to a fresh blanket of snow on the ground. By the time we started shooting, the snow had melted but the temperatures were still close to freezing. Knowing how unique the image would be, Ben (as well as everyone else involved) was still willing to put the time and effort into riding. It was a long hard week of shooting, but this particular shoot will definitely go down as one of my most unique shoots to date.”