SLC Photographer Wins Global Photography Contest

For his breathtaking image of a climber falling from a rock tower in Indian Creek, UT, USA, Will Saunders has won the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021. The Salt Lake City based   photographer was announced as the overall winner at a ceremony in Aspen Snowmass, CO, USA, on Saturday evening local time. His shot of climber Jake Talley striking a pose as he took a lead fall was voted overall winner by a panel of 53 judges from around the world. 

“To be a Red Bull Illume award winner is something that I’ve always aspired to. There are past winners I look up to, and I have friends in the exhibit. It’s hard to believe I’ve won and it’s the ultimate achievement in action sports photography,” said overall winner Will Saunders.

Saunders was handed the overall winner trophy by former Red Bull Illume Overall Winner Chris Burkard in the mountain resort, which now hosts the first tour stop of the Red Bull Illume Exhibition. “Red Bull Illume is a celebration of the artistry and incredible efforts that these photographers and athletes go to create moments that many won’t be able to experience,” says Burkard. “In some ways it’s this beautiful marriage of two creatives coming together to make something really special. It’s more than just an exhibit, printing images and sharing that with the world – it’s celebrating art the way it’s meant to be.”

Ulrich Grill, founder of Red Bull Illume, said, “I offer my sincere congratulations to Will for his outstanding image. It’s a great shot and a worthy winner to take the Red Bull Illume crown, joining many other iconic shots that have won in the past. This year we saw an unbelievable display of talent from adventure and action sports photographers from around the world – 41,447 images were submitted by over 7,500 photographers from 108 different countries. To select the finalists, category winners and overall winner has been a tough choice. There were so many creative, unique and technically brilliant images this edition. Of course, I would also like to thank all the partners who make this event happen.” 

Becoming overall winner of Red Bull Illume is the highest honor in action and adventure sports photography, bringing huge recognition and prestige. Saunders also wins a selection of prizes worth €50,000 including a Lenovo 9i laptop, a Leica SL2 camera with three lenses, a Workflow Bundle from SanDisk Professional, and gear from Black Diamond and COOPH. In addition, he will receive a printed and framed copy of his winning image from WhiteWall.

Saunders’ winning shot was already the category winner in the Masterpiece by SanDisk 
Professional category. It shows Jake Talley mid fall while climbing. Saunders explains the story behind the shot, “I’ve shot many whippers but this time I wanted to try something a little different. A group of us rallied out to my favorite place in the desert to get some climbing in and make some imagery along the way. I asked Jake to really shape his body into more of a powerful movement rather than the classic falling position. With grace and style, Jake pulled this shape out of the air, allowing me to capture an image that is unique compared to most of the literal climbing imagery we see.”

He adds, “His body reminded me of a superhero, which is fitting to me because most of my friends in this action sports world are my heroes. The ticket here was to just push the conceptual idea enough while also grounding the image in reality.”

With the contest officially over, Red Bull Illume now hits the road as a unique global exhibit tour, kicking off with a stop in Aspen Snowmass until January 2, 2022. It will then tour the world with planned stops across Europe.

Scroll down for the full list of Red Bull Illume Category Winners who were unveiled during the week:

Best of Instagram by Lenovo – Photo: Yhabril (Spain)

Best of Instagram by Lenovo – Moving Image: Bruno Diego Cavalcante (Brazil)

RAW by Leica: Bruno Long (Canada)

Photo Story: Philipp Klein Herrero (Spain)

Playground by WhiteWall: Markus Berger (Austria)

Lifestyle by COOPH: Carolin Unrath (Germany)

Masterpiece by SanDisk Professional: Will Saunders (United States)

Emerging by Black Diamond: Victoria Kohner-Flanagan (United States)

Creative by Skylum: Jan Kasl (Czech Republic)

Innovation by EyeEm: Thomas Monsorno (Italy)

Energy by Red Bull Photography: Rod Hill (New Zealand)

This brings the Red Bull Illume Unveiling Week to a close, which saw us announcing the 11 category winners live on Instagram @redbullillume. Check out our social channels and redbullillume.com to see the winning shots. 

Stay tuned for the latest updates on the exhibit tour, and to see all the category winner shots, head to redbullillume.com.

The top 256 images can also be viewed in the limited-edition Red Bull Illume 2021 Photobook which can be ordered here.

Stuart is the founder, writer and wrangler at several sites including Gastronomic SLC, Utah Now and, The Utah Review; Stuart is a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune and has worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake.