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Check Out 2019’s Best Extreme Sports Photography

Winning images from the 2019 Red Bull Illume contest will give you an adrenaline rush…

When it comes to sports action photography, there’s one competition photographers wan to win. The Red Bull Illume is the pinnacle of this exciting,  adrenaline-fuelled genre with previous winners including Fred Mortagne and Chris Burkard. This year’s contest saw a record-breaking 59,551 images submitted by thousands of photographers from all over the globe.

A judging panel of 50 photo editors and digital experts were charged with selecting the winning photos and taking the top honour was Ben Thouard, who’s based out of French Polynesia. Ben spoke about his image, which was captured on a Canon EOS-1DX Mark II paired with a 14mm lens; ‘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. Luckily I was right below, breathless with my water 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.’

© Ben Thouard / Red Bull Illume

Ben’s image, along with the winning shots from the 11 featured categories and the top 260 photos in the competition are published in the Red Bull Illume 2019 Limited Edition Photobook and Ben takes home a prize bundle that includes a Sony a9 camera with a 24-70mm f2.8 lens.

Other winning images included Baptiste Fauchille, won took top honours in the Best of Instagram category for an incredible image captured using a DJI Mavic Pro drone. Baptiste commented; ‘his 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 realised that the bowl was really clean: no tags, no dust. I was able to have the rider and his shadow come out well. I asked Alex Bibollet, one of the riders, to do what he did best, and I immortalised this moment!’

© Baptiste Fauchille / Red Bull Illume

Russian photographer Denis Klero won the Creative category thanks to a spectacular image captured with a Nikon D80 paired with a 24-70mm lens. ‘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 is one of those.’ commented Denis.

© Denis Klero / Red Bull Illume

French photographer Jean-Baptiste Liautard was named winner of the Emerging category for an epic low light BMX image, which was captured with a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and 16-35mm lens. Jean-Baptiste commented on his image; ‘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. 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.’

© Jean-Baptiste Liautard / Red Bull Illume

UK-based shooter Laurence Crossman-Emms took top honours in the Innovation category for an energy-filled frame featuring a motocross athlete in Wales, UK. Laurence, who took the image using his Canon 5D Mk3 paired with a 16-35mm lens, explained the image; ‘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.’

© Laurence Crossman-Emms / Red Bull Illume

German photographer Lorenz Holder used a Phase One medium format camera to shoot this frame, which was named winner of the Lifestyle category. “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,” explains Lorenz. ‘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.’

© Lorenz Holder / Red Bull Illume

US photographer Noah Wetzel took top honours in the RAW category for an insane frame that merged extreme sports with an eclipse. Captured using a Canon 5D MkIII paired with a 16-35mm, Noah explained the image; ‘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.’

© Noah Wetzel / Red Bull Illume

Austrian photographer Philip Platzer took first place in the Wings category for an out-of-this-world frame that drips with energy. Captured with a Nikon D4s paired with a 24mm fisheye lens, Philip explains the extreme image; ‘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 realised that I wouldn’t get the perfect shot by simply shooting from the inside of the basket they were 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 money shot.’

© Philip Platzer / Red Bull Illume