Photographer: Tim Kemple/Red Bull Illume
Photographer: Tim Kemple/Red Bull Illume

See the Incredible Adventure Photos From Red Bull’s Illume Contest

This year marks the 10th year of Red Bull Illume, which draws together hundreds of surreal action sports photographs from around the globe. See our favorite adventure travel shots.

Every year, Red Bull holds an action and adventure sports photography contest that features professional and amateur shots of incredible athletes in unreal places. This week, the winners of Illume were announced in Chicago, in the launch of an exhibition at Millennium Park that will go on to tour cities around the world. Here are our favorites from all the finalists, plus the stories behind them.

Marianne Aventurier in the Azores Islands, Portugal
Marianne Aventurier in the Azores Islands, Portugal

Category: Close up

Photographer: Alexandre Voyer

The Shot: 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.

You can see on this shot Marianne Aventurier facing a curious blue shark. The photo was taken with a Canon 5D mark2 and a 16/35mm f2.8 lens in an underwater housing. Now, just try to relax, take one breath, and fly!

Photographer: Alexandre Voyer/Red Bull Illume

Victor Salazar in Castle Hill, New Zealand
Victor Salazar in Castle Hill, New Zealand

Category: Playground

Photographer: Bartek Woliński

The Shot: When you are in New Zealand you don’t hide your camera often. Crazy riding spots await those who keep their eyes open! I was on a BMX trip in the beginning of 2016, coming back from Queenstown on our way to Arthur’s Pass. Short on time, we caught a glimpse of something that looked like a torn down medieval castle.

‘Castle Hill’, as we learned afterwards, was a dream come true for every epic spot hunter. After a few tries of finding a good action shot angle I made a deal with myself—I will shoot a landscape instead. All of the sudden Victor Salazar—the rider in the photo—asked me to catch his bunny tailwhip. I was already standing on one of those boulders and picked up a frame for the task. As wide as it gets but still enough F stops to bring details on the rider. This photo is the outcome.

Photographer: Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Illume

Skydivers in Kazimierz Biskupi, Poland
Skydivers in Kazimierz Biskupi, Poland

Category: Energy

Photographer: Kuba Konwent

Athletes: Bartosz Staskiewicz, Sebastian Dratwa, Marta Molińska, Jan Kaczmarczyk, Sen Marcin and Agnieszka Romull

The Shot: I started jumping from planes in 2014. When I discovered how vast this sport is, how challenging it is for a photographer, I felt like the kid in the candy store. Keeping in mind my own safety I had to gain experience to be able to jump with a camera. So in 2014 and 2015 I was more focused on those shoots I could get in just before the jump (while still in the plane) or right after it (during landings).

The night jump shot was on my mind since August 2014 when I learned that my dropzone organizes this kind of jumps once a year. My first try was unsuccessful, because of much humidity in the autumn air. I had to wait another year. But it was worth it.

The camera was mounted onto the plane's wing with a special articulated mount that I made myself. I prepared the frame and settings of the camera before we took off. I then took the picture with a wireless remote release and right after the shot we all jumped together.

Photographer: Kuba Konwent/Red Bull Illume

The Flying Bulls in Jaroměř, Czech Republic
The Flying Bulls in Jaroměř, Czech Republic

Category: Sequence by Sony (Winner)

Photographer: Daniel Vojtěch

Athletes: Miroslav Krejci, Jan Rudzinskyj, Stanislav Cejka and Jan Tvrdik

The Shot: Red Bull asked me to do some portraits and action photos of the Flying Bulls. We had an air to air photoshoot and I knew it would be great for a sequence. An airplane is the only place from where you can see something like this. I did one fast attempt. After I stitched the sequence it was great, but I could still be a little bit closer.

We had another photoshoot on another day so we tried it again but I was much closer to the planes in front. It was cloudy so the final image looks very dramatic. The pilot also turned on the smoke so you can see the trail behind.

The camera I used for this photo was Nikon D5 and Nikkor 16/2.8 fisheye because there was almost no space and I wanted to show inside the part of the airplane I was sitting to show the pilot’s POV.

Photographer: Daniel Vojtech/Red Bull Illume

Guillaume Nery in Tulum, Mexico
Guillaume Nery in Tulum, Mexico

Category: Enhance

Photographer: Klaus Thymann

The Shot: 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. Originally shot for Johnnie Walker Blue Label the concept was to capture a moment of exploration for ‘rare depth and character’ that reflected the quality of the drink.

Photographer: Klaus Thymann/Red Bull Illume

 Jamie Smith in Cape Town, South Africa
Jamie Smith in Cape Town, South Africa

Category: Wings (Winner)

Photographer: Micky Wiswedel

The Shot: 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.

Lighting is also difficult, as climbers prefer to climb in the shade as cooler temperatures provide more friction between skin and rock. This often means overexposed backgrounds and underexposed foregrounds. The best I could do in this situation was to shoot somewhere in the middle.

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.

We had planned to grab some cool climbing shots, but in the end this image of Jimbo mid-air was the shot we felt captured the intensity of the climb. Jimbo did send the route that day—after a few more falls.

Photographer: Micky Wiswedel/Red Bull Illume

Ken MacDonald in Choum, Mauritania
Ken MacDonald in Choum, Mauritania

Category: Lifestyle (Winner)

Photographer: Jody MacDonald 

The Shot: 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 tens of thousands of tons of iron ore across a country crippled by terrorism, slavery, and poverty.

I photographed this image with Leica’s new X-U all weather camera with a fixed 23mm lens. I used a shutter speed of 1/500 to stop the motion of the train and an f-stop of 7.1 at ISO 100.

Photographer: Jody MacDonald/Red Bull Illume

Rahel Schelb in Iceland
Rahel Schelb in Iceland

Category: New Creativity

Photographer: Tim Kemple

The Shot: In March 2015 I traveled with professional climbers Rahel Schelb and Klemen Premrl to explore the possibility of climbing inside the glaciers and on the icebergs found along the southern coast of Iceland. Having only seen pictures on the internet of possible ice caves and floating icebergs in the ice lagoon, we spent a week exploring and pushing the limits of traditional ice climbing.

During one day of exploring we discovered a giant iceberg that had broken off from the glacier. We spent hours watching the ice before we decided it was safe to climb. As the sun went down we noticed that the Northern Lights were visible, so we used our three headlamps to illuminate the climb as well as the shape and color of the iceberg from the inside. With this little bit of light Rahel climbed the face while I snapped photos from below.

Photographer: Tim Kemple/Red Bull Illume

Sabrina Chesterman in Platteklip Gorge, South Africa
Sabrina Chesterman in Platteklip Gorge, South Africa

Category: Mobile

Photographer: Kelvin Trautman

The Shot: I have this creative moral dilemma each time I leave the house to go running on the mountain. Do I take my camera with me or not? What if conditions are going to be all time? What if I miss an opportunity to take an award-winning picture?

The other voice in my head says: “Just go and enjoy the peace and quiet, the scenery, the experience. You spend so much of your time looking through a view finder anyway. Give yourself a break for f$@# sake.”

When that happens I often compromise by taking just my phone. Justifying it by saying my phone could get me out of trouble in an emergency. On this morning I took just my phone. I’m glad I had something at all to capture the scene at the top of Platteklip Gorge. It was all time. And it made me think that often the best camera is the one you have with you. So here it is, Sabrina boulder running near the top of Platteklip Gorge, immortalized by my iPhone 5.

Photographer: Kelvin Trautman/Red Bull Illume

François Le Vot in Budapest, Hungary
François Le Vot in Budapest, Hungary

Category: Sequence by Sony

Photographer: Balázs Pálfi

The Shot: As an extreme sport photographer I usually shoot skateboarding, BMX, and car racing. I really wanted to make a series about the Red Bull Air Race too. I was therefore really glad that in 2015 the event was organized in Hungary. So I took my camera, and went to Budapest to take some photos.

I decided to shoot a sequence which could show the rapid change of direction of the airplanes. I was curious also to see how an image could demonstrate height and speed. I was also interested in how wind and smoke would behave in a sequence photo. The whole shoot was a great experience for me.

I took this photo with a Nikon D3 camera with a fixed 50 mm/ f.1.8 lens. I used f.11 F-stop to reach the right focal depth and a shutter speed of 1/1000 to freeze the motion.

Photographer: Balázs Pálfi/Red Bull Illume

Charlie Cronk in Fairfax, CA
Charlie Cronk in Fairfax, CA

Category: Mobile 

Photographer: Satchel Cronk

The Shot: For me, sunrise rides often feel like a special secret shared amongst a few committed souls. Yet for those willing to brave that early alarm and the heavy fatigue that seems to drag on your eyes as you get your gear together, it’s a magical time. It seems as if each time I convince myself to go to the trail before dawn breaks on the horizon, I am rewarded with some sort of special moment of meaningful introspection or quiet beauty.

Such was the case on this winter morning as my dad and I ventured out into the fog for a spin before work. Fatigue was cast into memory as the brisk morning air reddened our cheeks and we climbed through a misty forest. We reached the top as sunlight began to steadily thin the morning fog, then turned our wheels back down the damp trail. I led the descent, and after just a few exhilarating corners, rounded a bend and came upon this magnificent light show.

I didn’t have my DSLR with me that day, so I pulled over and used my phone to capture my dad as he descended towards me through the ethereal landscape; a special sunrise secret shared by us that day.

Photographer: Satchel Cronk/Red Bull Illume

Halley Coxson in Edmonton, Canada
Halley Coxson in Edmonton, Canada

Category: Lifestyle

Photographer: Kirsten Quist

The Shot: On one of the coldest days this past winter, I joined hundreds of other undeterred Canadians gathering at a park in Edmonton, Alberta to view ice sculptures and to enjoy some winter activities. When I first heard about this event I knew there would be amazing photo opportunities and I was excited to bundle up and shoot some winter fun.

I arrived around 4 p.m., which offered some great lighting since the sun set around 4:45 p.m. Walking through the luminous structures of an ice castle, I was inspired by the craftsmanship and beauty. I came across Halley, an avid white water kayaker and sledge hockey team member with the Paralympic Sports Association. She was in charge of tending to the fire pit for the winter enthusiasts. I loved the way both blue and ash covered icicles framed her as well as the contrast of fire and ice. I immediately asked her if I could take some photos.

My biggest challenge here was the near -30C (-22F) temperature. I was using my Nikon D610 and Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 set-up and the cold was affecting both my automatic focus and memory cards. Neither would work. Luckily, after some rudimentary heating techniques (aka body heat), both started functioning so that I could take this photo. After experimenting with different angles and compositions I decided on a straight on photo at 14mm to capture the full structure of ice surrounding the fire pit.

Photographer: Kirsten Quist/Red Bull Illume

Elvis Nunes and Nino Jonas in Pedra de Lume, Cape Verde
Elvis Nunes and Nino Jonas in Pedra de Lume, Cape Verde

Category: Playground

Photographer: Rein Rijke

The Shot: I had been to Cape Verde a couple of times before, mostly to do some kitesurfing myself. This time I went to Cape Verde to follow Elvis Nunes, a professional kitesurfer, competing in the World Kite Tour.

But it was not the big waves that got my attention; it was the dream Elvis had to go kitesurfing inside an extinct volcano in his homeland. The moment I looked over the edge, I knew I had the chance to make a shot that was different to all my other kitesurfing photos. The whole crater was covered in salt evaporation ponds that looked like stained glass windows. In order to get into the volcano, we had to negotiate and it took us a couple of days to get permission from the owners. In the end they allowed us inside the crater for only 30 minutes!

It was an extremely hazy day and I never thought it would be possible to take a good photo, but we were all very excited because it was something no one had done before. With a guard telling me I only had 15 minutes left, I dropped all my gear and started running with my camera to the edge of the crater. It took me 10 minutes to run up and I knew I had very limited time to take the shot. When Elvis and Nino Jonas both entered the same evaporation pond, I knew this was the shot I was hoping for.

Photographer: Rein Rijke/Red Bull Illume

Philipp Schicker in Hoch-Ybrig, Switzerland
Philipp Schicker in Hoch-Ybrig, Switzerland

Category: Lifestyle

Photographer: Claudio Casanova

The Shot: It was just a couple of weeks before the end of the season. Philipp Schicker and I saw the weather forecast for the next day—it was going to be good. That night, it snowed almost 11.8 inches and we knew it would be the last good powder day.

I had already taken a lot of action shots that season and I finally wanted to take some lifestyle shots as well. Philipp was the only motivated rider left at that time. At first, the fog was thick and the visibility terrible. We were afraid that the powder snow would turn to slush before the weather turned better and that we would have to call everything off. However, after a couple of coffees, the fog luckily left and the sky turned blue.

It was time to take action. We could not believe our eyes. The mountain was covered in powder without a single groomed slope. We had to hurry because the sun was pretty warm. After a long hike, we arrived at one of our favorite spots. We got a lot of great shots.

From there back into civilization, we came across a lonely camper in the middle of nowhere. We were surprised at the sight and thought that it would be different to shoot and as a result got a bunch of good shots. This camper has been in the ski area for 20 years. It reminded us of the one in the legendary film, Into the Wild.

Photographer: Claudio Casanova/Red Bull Illume