Lorenz Holder wins Red Bull Illume

Red Bull

Lorenz Holder smiles with one of the four awards he won through the Red Bull Illume contest.

So you think high-quality photography is all about fashion and portraits? Not in 2013. Red Bull's Illume photo contest proves that sports photography is more than just capturing a trick.

More than 6,400 photographers from 124 countries submitted 28,257 photos for this year's contest -- quite the competition for Lorenz Holder, who took home the Overall title as well as wins in the Experimental and Playground categories and a top-five finish in the New Creativity category.

The 34-year-old from Munich still can't believe his name was announced on stage at the big prize giveaway in Hong Kong last week. It's almost hard to believe that he used to study geography and economics and planned on becoming a schoolteacher. Until just a couple of years ago, he even had to schedule his shoots in between classes and exams.

Lorenz now has his roots planted deep in the snowboard world. He has been a staff photographer for Pleasure Snowboard Magazine and Nitro Snowboards, and his work proved from the beginning that action and art go hand in hand. Always extremely focused on details, an expert when it comes to flashes and willing to take a photo over and over again until it is perfect, he is also a humble and easygoing person.

We tracked him down to ask a few questions as he was hopping on a plane to his next shoot.

XGames.com: How did you get into action photography?
Lorenz Holder:
I was a sponsored snowboarder way back and one day I hurt my shoulder, so I had to take the season off. But I still wanted to hang out with my friends on the mountain, so I grabbed my camera.

I simply took pictures of them in the way I thought I would have loved to be photographed. That's how it all started.

Red Bull Illume 2013

Why did you choose "learning by doing" instead of a photo school?
I was already studying when photography became more serious in my life, so it was too late to apply for a photo school. I pretty much taught myself everything, and when I had technical questions, I just Googled them. The Internet always got the answers right away; you just have to ask the right questions.

With which intentions did you submit your photos to the Red Bull Illume? Did you think of winning at all?
Illume is bringing out a high-quality book with the best 250 pictures. My personal goal was to get one or two photos in that book. I had already entered the competition in 2010 and was stoked on my spot in the top five of the New Creativity category then. Winning the whole thing was never even close to my mind.

How big was the competition?
A lot of my personal heroes, like "Blotto" [Dean Gray], Scott Serfas or Frode Sandbech, were contributing as well. It felt so unreal to beat those guys, because I was pretty much looking up to them my whole life. It really meant a lot to me when Blotto and Scott gave me compliments on my work.

What's the story behind the winning shot? It took a long time to get it, right?
I found this spot in the summer before. Raisting is such an unreal-looking area about an hour away from Munich. In the middle of the beautiful Bavarian countryside there are six giant satellite dishes. This contrast of nature and technology looks so unreal.

Lorenz Holder/Red Bull Illume

Aside from the Overall distinction, Holder also took home a win in the Experimental category for this Photoshop composite shot of Jordan Mendenhall.

I drove there about five or six times to shoot landscape photos in all kinds of light conditions: sunset, night, rain and fog. When I shot in the fog, I used flashes and lit up the whole thing from behind. That's when I thought about snowboarding there for the first time.

I wanted to shoot the silhouette of a rider in heavy fog, but unfortunately there was never any fog around in the winter, so the only conditions that could work out as well were a wild snowstorm. There was only one snowstorm all winter, and I'm really happy that Xaver and I made it there that day.

Why did you choose German snowboard legend Xaver Hoffmann as the rider?
Xaver grew up in s---ty halfpipes, so he is used to riding any kind of transition. There are not too many riders out there who are that good in transitions, and that's what I needed for this one hit with the winch.

What secrets can you reveal about the tech parts of the photo?
My camera was a Canon Mark II with an 18 mm Carl Zeiss lens. I used two big flashes in the background to create the silhouette of the dish. The only problem was to get light into the dish as well. There was no way to get artificial light from a flash in there, so I had to use a four-second exposure to get some light from the moon.

Have you ever been bummed that you "only" shoot sports, and not fashion?
I don't really know why fashion photography has such a high standing. You have to deal with b----y models, and fashion photographers are often squeezed in a concept with a creative director on their back.

I rarely have any guidelines. I can do what I want, and I have so much diversity in my field: action, product, studio, landscapes, travel, portraits. There's nothing that's not connected to action sports photography. I even shot underwater!

Any good advice for young photographers?
Don't get frustrated, even if a photo editor doesn't like your work. Believe in what you do and practice, practice, practice.

Taking photos is like driving a car: In the beginning, you don't have a clue about all the settings. You have to focus on changing gears every time. But after a while, you don't even think about the hitch anymore. You just drive. That's when it starts to be fun, when you're able to transform what you have in your mind.

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