9 Epic photos to get the adrenaline pumping

Winning images from the Red Bull Illume show the best in extreme sport photography…

If you’ve never heard of the Red Bull Illume before, then you’ve missed out on some truly epic action photography. First started back in 2007 and running every three years, the contest recognises the best photography that covers extreme sports such as surfing and rock climbing.

2022’s Overall Winner was announced as Will Saunders, who also took the Masterpiece category win for this spectacular image of extreme athlete Jake Talley catching some air time while rock climbing in Indian Creek, Utah, United States. The image was captured using a Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR, paired with a 27-70mm f/2.8 L II lens.

© Will Saunders / Red Bull Illume

Yhabril was named as the winner of Best Of Instagram category and the triumphant frame deserves a second glance. Shot in Pico Malacara, Spain using a Nikon D750 paired with a Sigma150-600mm lens, Yhabril commented; ‘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.’

© Yhabril / Red Bull Illume

Taking top honours in the Emerging category was photographer Victoria Kohner-Flanagan, who captured this vertigo-inducing frame of athlete Jack Nugent scaling the granite boulders of Bishop, California. To capture the image Victoria used a Sony a6400 paired with a Sigma 16mm f/1.4 lens.

© Victoria Kohner-Flanagan / Red Bull Illume

In the hotly-contested Innovation category, Thomas Monsorno was named the winner for this jaw-dropping frame captured at Lake Baikal, Russia using a DJI Mavic 2 Pro and the photographer had to contend with temperatures as cold as -35 degrees Celius.

© Thomas Monsorno / Red Bull Illume

This atmospheric image by Bruno Long was named as a winner of the RAW category. The frame shows athlete Dylan Siggers in British Columbia, Canada and was captured using a Nikon D850 DSLR paired with a 16-35mm lens.

© Bruno Long / Red Bull Illume

Taking top spot in the Creative category was this intriguing frame by Jan Kasl, which was shot in Prague, Czech Republic using a Nikon D850 DSLR paired with a Nikkor 14-24mm lens. Jan commented; ‘The idea of capturing this shot snuck into my mind as a side effect from a campaign I produced based on an optical illusion called ‘forced perspective’. It sounds like a pretty sophisticated technique, but it’s basically exactly what thousands of tourists do when holding the leaning Tower of Pisa, hoping to get a unique photo of their holiday in Italy. It’s very similar for most adventure and action sports photographers. It doesn’t really matter if we’re on vacation, on a shoot, or just going on a random walk through the city – our imagination recreates interesting pieces of architecture into an action sports playground. With a tool like forced perspective, I felt like I could push it a little further, bending reality and bringing the athlete into an absolutely surreal environment.’

© Jan Kasl / Red Bull Illume

The Lifestyle category winner was named as Carolin Unrath, who claimed the win for this image of athlete Andreas Mullner at a subway station in Munich, Germany. Carolin commented; ‘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.’

© Carolin Unrath / Red Bull Illume

Austrian photographer Markus Berger took the Playground category for this stunning frame of athlete Dominik Hernler at the Hintertux Glacier in Austria. The image was captured using a Nikon D850 DSLR paired with a 27-70mm f/2.8 lens. 

© Markus Berger / Red Bull Illume

The Energy category was won by photographer Rod Hill for this epic image of athlete River Mutton, captured at Huka Falls in New Zealand. Shot using a Canon 5D Mark IV paired with a 100-400mm lens. Rod commented; ‘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.’

© Rod Hill / Red Bull Illume