A lot of great photography is about being in the right place at the right time, with just the right light to freeze a moment of time into a piece of art. And while a photographer in a studio can control a lot of those factors when composing a shot, action sports photography is a completely different game — moving targets, changing weather and light conditions, challenging access and angles. But sometimes everything comes together and you end up with a shot that's truly great.
That kind of luck had a little to do with Scott Serfas' award-winning photograph of snowboarder Travis Rice, which placed first in the "Illumination" category at the Red Bull Illume awards in Hong Kong on Aug. 29.
Illume is like the Olympics for action sports photography with awards every three years. This time around, judges narrowed down the winners from a selection of some 38,000 action and adventure sport shots.
"(The winning shot) was from a trip I did to Alaska to film the Art of Flight movie," says Serfas. "We were there for a month, and it started off kind of slow because we spent the first seven to 10 days stuck in the cabin wondering when the clouds were going to leave... We really had no idea what we were getting into, but it turned into by far the best trip of my life."
Serfas took all kinds of pictures that you might have seen in snowboard magazines promoting the video and its stars, Travis Rice, John Jackson, David Carrier Porcheron, Scotty Lago, Jeremy Jones, Nicolas Müller, Jake Blauvelt and others. But the winning shot, the one he wanted from the start, took until the last day of shooting to put together.
"The whole time I wanted to shoot from the helicopter, but we never got around to doing it" he recalls. "The Cineflex camera was around shooting all the time and to put another helicopter in the air would have slowed things down... But for the last day we worked out a flight pattern where I could sit and shoot out of one helicopter while the other helicopter flew around us. It was late in the day, Travis Rice was dropping in and we hovered above him and followed him, and I managed a few snaps on the way down — and I didn't really know what I had until I got back."
In the end Serfas submitted 20 shots to Red Bull Illume, and when the field was narrowed down to the top 250 some five of his pictures had made the cut.
"All I knew from that point is that I'd probably have at least one photo in the top 50, but things just got progressively better and better," he says. "It was pretty surreal. When they announced I had won that category, I was just speechless. I'd been told that it's arguably the hardest category to win and the one that most people go for. They describe it as 'show us what you've got,' and that means everybody's best photo, so it was definitely an honour to win."
The other Serfas shot that made the top 50 was a sequence shot of John Jackson from the same trip.