Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2016

Photographer: Leroy Bellet Red Bull Illume 2016 Category: Energy Athlete: Scott Dennis Location: New South Wales, Australia
If this was a semifinalist, it’s hard to imagine what you’d have to do to win. Photo: Leroy Bellet

Ten years ago Red Bull Illume was introduced to the world as a photography awards platform, geared specifically to action and adventure sports.

Now, through its fourth round of finalists and winners, the collection of images they’ve accumulated is like nothing you’ve seen before.

What makes action and adventure sports photography different from shooting traditional sports? The trait that stands out most to me are the athletic and climatic situations and risks photographers put themselves through to “get the shot.” We as surfers might be somewhat used to seeing psycho water angles from people like Brent Bielmann, Zak Noyle, Pat Stacy, Daniel Russo, Russell Ord and plenty of others who came before them over the decades. But sometimes it takes perspective to remember exactly how gnarly it is to document those moments.

When I see a photo from a snowboard photographer like Scott Serfas, I’m reminded of the conditions he has to endure to be in the right spot at the right time, then has to bomb down the mountain behind the professional riders. Same as when I see a photo of someone climbing a vertical rock hundreds of feet from imminent death. To the side, there’s a person like Christian Pondella who climbed up a similar path, and did it with a load of camera equipment.The stories behind these photos will always entertain our minds in the same way the pixels entertain our eyes.

During this year’s Red Bull Illume, 34,624 images were entered by 5,645 photographers from 120 different countries. A truly worldwide competition. Narrowing that down to 275 semifinalists, then to 55 finalists, and 11 winners is no easy task.

I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of the 53 judges and took a long time deliberating over choices, most of which were from sports I’m not familiar with. In the end, you can really choose no wrong. All the photos were top notch.

Congrats to all the surf related photographers who made the top 275 (some listed here). To check out the entire gallery, please visit their website.

Photographer: Jody MacDonald Red Bull Illume 2016 Category: Lifestyle Athlete: Ken MacDonald Location: Choum, Mauritania
Category: Lifestyle (Winner)
Photographer: Jody MacDonald/Red Bull Illume
Athlete: Ken MacDonald
Location: Choum, Mauritania

Photographer: Stuart Gibson Red Bull Illume 2016 Category: Close Up Athlete: Beau Pilgrim Location: Namotu Island, Fiji
Category Top 50 Finalist: Close Up (Top 50 Finalist)
Photographer: Stuart Gibson/Red Bull Illume
Athlete: Beau Pilgrim
Location: Namotu Island, Fiji

Photographer: Ben Thouard Red Bull Illume 2016 Category: Masterpiece Athlete: Landon McNamara Location: Teahupo'o, French Polynesia
Category Top 50 Finalist: Masterpiece (Top 50 Finalist)
Photographer: Ben Thouard/Red Bull Illume
Athlete: Landon McNamara
Location: Teahupo’o, Frech Polynesia

Photographer: Corey Wilson Red Bull Illume 2016 Category: Spirit Athlete: Mick Fanning Location: O'ahu, Hawaii, USA
Category: Spirit (Top 50 Finalist)
Photographer: Corey Wilson/Red Bull Illume
Athlete: Mick Fanning
Location: Pipeline, Hawaii

Photographer: Seth de Roulet Red Bull Illume 2016 Category: Close Up Athlete: Eithan Osborne Location: Outer Banks, NC, USA
Category: Close Up (Top 275 Semifinalist)
Photographer: Seth de Roulet/Red Bull Illume
Athlete: Eithan Osborne
Location: Outer Banks, North Carolina

Photographer: Leroy Bellet Red Bull Illume 2016 Category: Energy Athlete: Scott Dennis Location: New South Wales, Australia
Category: Energy (Top 275 Semifinalist)
Photographer: Leroy Bellet/Red Bull Illume
Athlete: Scott Dennis
Location: New South Wales, Australia

Photographer: Nathaniel Harrington Red Bull Illume 2016 Category: Lifestyle Athlete: Blake Speir Location: Sebastian Inlet, Florida, USA
Category: Lifestyle (Top 275 Semifinalist)
Photographer: Nathaniel Harrington/Red Bull Illume
Athlete: Blake Speir
Location: Sebastian Inlet, Florida

Photographer: Zakary Noyle Red Bull Illume 2016 Category: Mobile Athlete: Mason Ho Location: Serra do Cipó National Park, Brazil
Category: Mobile (Top 275 Semifinalist)
Photographer: Zakary Noyle/Red Bull Illume
Athlete: Mason Ho
Location: Ehukai, Hawaii