15+ Of The Most Powerful Action Photos Of 2016

Red Bull Illume is a major international photography competition dedicated to action and adventure sports. Tens of thousands of amateur and professional photographers enter the contest each year but only a select handful get chosen by the competition’s 53 judges. 34,624 photographs were entered this year from 5,646 photographers across 120 countries, and the stunning winners from the 11 different categories can be found in the list below.

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The main prize went to Lorenz Holder for his beautiful shot of BMX rider Senad Grosic crossing a bridge in Germany. Other eye-catching entries include Daniel Vojtech’s hypnotic picture of fighter planes for the sequence category and Victor Sukhorukov’s mesmerizing picture of a paraglider swirling around a wintry lighthouse. Scroll through the list and vote for your favorites.

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“Senad and I were on the way to a different location early in the morning, when we passed this scenic spot.
One thing that was a little annoying was that the lake was covered with leaves which had fallen from trees, so the reflection of the bridge in the lake was just not there. I then tried to clean the lake by hand. I’d chosen a very low camera position to get an almost perfect mirrored scene on the water surface. The bridge looked like a perfect circle and the light was still very good. When Senad was on the bridge, it took us two or three tries to get the shot.”

Masterpiece Category Finalist, Gablenz, Germany

Lorenz Holder


“After seeing a portrait in a bookstore where I was able to see the photographer’s silhouette against the reflection of an eye, I got the idea to make something similar.
We decided to use my cat. We used a 6×9 meter white sheet meant for shooting cars as a softbox. In front of that Erik Orgo and Kristo Õismets started to perform. We made several good shots, even a few in black and white but color worked out the best.”

New Creativity Category Finalist, Tallinn, Estonia

Jaanus Ree


“Red Bull asked me to do some portraits and action photos of the Flying Bulls. 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.”

Sequence Category Finalist, Jaromer, Czech Republic

Daniel Vojtech


“I was taking a walk to scout spots for a landscape picture and as I was walking through the swamp area around Murnauer Moos, I found this unique spring-bowl with crystal clear water and awesome colors.
I decided that a bird’s-eye view must look incredible and I wanted to get an action sport picture here. However, the closer I got the less snow was on the fields. When I finally got there, it was a big shock: no snow, just wet grass.
I talked to the snowboarder Max Horn and we discussed what we could do and he just made the call, trying it out without snow.
I think we had like three tries before the grass got dry and it became impossible to get enough speed. The image came out differently to what I expected, but with no snow around I think it makes the photo even more special.”

Masterpiece Category Finalist, Murnauer Moos, Germany

Lorenz Holder


“I always wanted to photograph the Red Bull Air Race and I finally had the chance when in 2015 it was organized in Hungary.
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 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.”

Sequence Category Finalist, Budapest, Hungary

Balázs Pálfi


“One frozen foggy morning we decided to shoot BASE jumpers parachuting from the 40m high lighthouse that sits in the waterways of the Gulf of Finland. A magical fog was all around us but it was so thick that we were afraid we would not find the lighthouse. However, soon the lighthouse tower appeared on the horizon.Four BASE jumpers climbed onto an open platform outside the lantern room. I took only a quadrocopter drone from my equipment.
Then the BASE jumpers started to parachute from the top of the lighthouse and I began to shoot in burst mode. Only one photo from the huge number of images was in high quality. It shows Semen Lazarev making his jump”

Masterpiece Category Finalist, Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation

Victor Sukhorukov


“We spent ten days together with four of the best wakeskaters in the world in Red Bull Wing Session project.
This was the last day of the photo shoot and I was already pretty happy with all the photos I had taken so far, but we decided to check one more location and that was this amazing gap on a remote lake in Slovakia. The guys were setting the winch and I jumped into the hole, where I buried myself ankle-deep in the mud and found the most impressive angle I could imagine.

The guys were sending huge tricks, which made my shot even better!”

Wings Category Finalist, Hrabovo, Slovakia

Jan Kasl


“A good size swell was bound to hit Siargao Island. It was off season. There hadn’t been decent surf for a while so everyone had expectations.
There was so much water from the swell already and the high tide was peaking. Hammered by set waves, I got washed back a few meters. Manuel Melindo was paddling back to the line-up after taking one of the waves that got me. When we went under I pointed my GoPro at him, swam back to position and forgot about the shot. I knew I had some good barrel shots but I was surprised to see this amazing one while sorting on the computer.”

Masterpiece Category Finalist, Siargao Island, Philippines

Gaps Sabuero


“This winter some friends and I went to Hakuba in Japan to ski some deep powder and big mountains. The day this shot was taken was a really windy one but the snow was still really good, so we went out into the backcountry.
We hiked for a while, and discovered a group hiking across the ridge above us. The wind and the clouds looked amazing, so my friend took out his camera and started shooting. I hated myself for not bringing my camera. Luckily I had my mobile phone in my pocket.

I had completely forgotten about the shot, so I was pretty stoked when I found it. I edited it to black and white in Photoshop Express on my phone, and was really happy with the result.”

Mobile Category Finalist, Hakuba, Japan

Vegard Aasen


“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.
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. Rahel then climbed the face while I snapped photos from below.”

New Creativity Category Finalist, South, Iceland

Tim Kemple


Enhance Category Finalist, Vail Pass, CO, United States

Dave Lehl


“Nobody had done an extreme sport shot from inside the car having the rider riding on the windshield. I understood that a shot like this had to be made in an iconic spot and the spot had to be in a city so it was clear that New York City with all its bridges was the place. And what could have been better than a NYC cab to shoot from?

Choosing Aaron Chase as the rider was natural. He has been a friend for a long time and happened to be a pioneer of street riding in our sport and is almost a local in New York. It took us one year of preparation, one full day of work, involved a few people and a bit of money. But I kept shooting and 12 attempts later I nailed this shot.”

New Creativity Category Finalist, Brooklyn, New York

Ale Di Lullo


“The main instruments in rock climbing are your hands and arms. With the help of two medium soft box sets on both sides I focused on the hands and fingers, their owner hiding in the shade. I wanted the viewer to see more than just the hands of the athlete, Rustam Gelmanov. In this picture color is not important, the contrast is.”

Close Up Category Finalist, Fontainebleau, France

Denis Klero


“I was traveling with a group of Brazilian bodyboarders. At each end of the beach were sheer cliffs that would refract the swell causing crossed-over peaks, perfect for bodyboarding.
Shooting from down the beach trying to capture some of these abstract formations I didn’t even notice Renan (pictured) in the shot until afterwards. It’s got a kind of duality to the meaning; it could be seen as a salute to the power and randomness of the ocean, or it could be seen as a mocking attempt at some kind of manipulated sorcery, showing man’s unending quest to control nature.”

Energy Category Finalist, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Luke Shadbolt


“The Taipan Wall of Grampians National Park in Australia is a massive wave of overhanging sandstone with bullet hard rock and nails hard rock climbing.
We had been shooting at the wall on and off for a week or two. Wiz Fineron was looking to take another lap on one of the finest routes in the world.

I jugged up my fixed line and had someone pull the other end way out from the base so I could capture the immenseness of the wall and the position Wiz would be in while climbing. On the lower half of the route, he flipped around and was facing out to catch a rest. I grabbed the frame and knew I had captured something unique in the world of rock climbing.”

Playground Category Finalist, Grampians, Australia

Ken Etzel


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