We were able to catch up with photographers Morgan Maassen, Dean “Blotto” Gray, and Lucas Gilman from the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2013 to get some details regarding their winning shots, what kind of equipment they are working with, and what it feels like to be included in the largest action sports and adventure photography contest in the world.
FTK: What is your approach to action sports photography?
Morgan Maassen: My approach to action sports is to try to capture not just the ability of the athlete, but their environment. I try to document the extreme places they travel to, the weather they deal with, and all the fascinating lifestyle, culture, and landscapes they traverse. Also, I feel like my eye gravitates towards the intriguing moments of sports, the intricacies of movement, and the simplicity of some of the moments for which we find ourselves.
Dean “Blotto” Gray: To capture the best possible image in the situation given: riding conditions, weather, and an athlete’s ability.
Lucas Gilman: I like to shoot action sports with a sense of place. You could call them “scenic’s” that just happen to have an amazing moment happening in them.
Can you describe the moment when you captured your winning image?
MM: I was in Fiji with a group of America’s next best surfers, enjoying a picturesque day of waves at the famous Cloudbreak of Tavarua Island. In between sets, I noticed that they stayed close together, merrily comparing waves, discussing social drama, laughing and teasing each other about everything. I swam underneath them with my fisheye lens, and captured them lining up directly underneath the searing noon sun.
DG: We flew all the way to Alaska to capture this image. So after the long flights, the time it took to ready the location, and Jeremy’s commitment in getting the trick, it felt great achieving this goal.
LG: We found this waterfall during the first complete descent of the Rio Alseseca – deep in the jungle of Veracruz, Mexico in 2006. That year, we rappelled around this beast of a waterfall named Big Banana Falls. Most in the crew thought it would never be run. Red Bull athlete Rafa Ortiz had a dream to run the monster. So for four years we went back every year waiting for the conditions to be perfect. On that day, there was a kind of electricity in the air. Rafa rappelled into the lip for a final look and gave us a thumbs up. I set up my Nikon Cameras deep in the gorge more than 200 feet below the canyon rim and watched Rafa lower his boat into the slot canyon, which was the entrance to the giant waterfall. Next, he rappelled down to his boat. Not only is Big Banana huge, but Rafa had to paddle into it blind with almost zero lead in. The last thing I remember was hearing over the radio, “Rafa is dropping in 15 seconds.” And then he was on the lip of this massive waterfall for a split second. Then he was gone – engulfed in the waterfall. He popped up on the river left of the waterfall fists pumping. I could see the adrenaline and blood from a cut above his eye literally flowing off of him as he got out of his boat. My Nikon cameras shoot at eight frames per second and I literally had three frames of the drop. I was stoked that everything worked out. My buddy was safe and I got the shots. We celebrated like kings with many rounds of tacos and tequila.
What did it take to get this shot?
MM: I wasn’t planning on taking this exact photo that morning, as I was actually going for underwater photos of the kids surfing waves. But when I popped my head up during a lull and noticed them all together socializing, I knew I had to document it from below. Technically, I used a 16mm f/2.8 fisheye on my Nikon D700, in an SPL water housing. I was swimming with a mask and snorkel, as well as my trusty Churchill swim fins.
DG: A round trip flight to Alaska, a few hours set-up time, Jeremy’s vision to see this obstacle as a possibility, his commitment to landing the maneuver, and our entire film team’s efforts in seeing the process through.
LG: We bushwhacked through the overgrown jungle deep into the gorge below the waterfall. Since we’d been there many times in the past, it was much easier to find our way as we worked our way down the steep canyon wall among the biting bugs and sweltering heat.
As the largest action sport and adventure photography contest in the world, how does it feel to be included? What were you pursuing before entering this contest?
MM: To be a part of Red Bull Illume is an absolute honor. I never imagined the exposure that we’d get for being a part of the contest, the amazing book our work is featured in, as well as the exceptional prizes. But above and beyond anything else, getting to visit beautiful Hong Kong and christening the exhibit’s arrival to America in Scottsdale…I am delighted that a photography contest could take me to such cool places to hang out with my peers and Red Bull athletes.
DG: To be recognized for my photography alongside the other winners is an absolute joy. It makes you feel really good about what you do. I’m honored.
LG: It’s a real honor to have an image in the finals of the 2013 Red Bull Illume contest. There were so many amazing images entered. The sheer variety was so inspiring. There is a real sense of community when you meet other action sports photographers from around the world. They are such great people.
Do you usually prefer to shoot close with a wide-angle, or tight with a telephoto? What kind of equipment are you working with?
MM: I almost always shoot wide-angle. It lets me capture way more atmospheric photos from right where the action is happening, which is something I really enjoy doing. I shoot with Nikon D4’s, a Red Epic, and Hasselblad digital and film equipment. Almost all of the lenses I use are primes between 10mm – 50mm, although I do own a couple longer prime zoom lenses for that rare occasion I distance myself from the subject.
DG: The photographic possibilities are endless at any given location, so I keep wide-angle and telephoto lenses with me at all times. The overall composition of the photo will determine how close or far I choose to shoot from; I have no preference.
LG: I like shooting with a wide range of NIKKOR lenses. I shoot with just about every lens at one point or another. There’s a perfect lens for every job.