Gear Corner Story with f-stop Ambassador and Red Bull Illume Overall Winner Ben Thouard


f-stop Ambassador Ben Thouard was awarded as the overall winner of the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2019 for his amazing underwater shot of athlete Ace Buchan surfing in Tahiti, French Polynesia. Ben was selected from the 11 category winners and his name was added on the list of overall winners, a list that includes names like Fred Mortagne, Chirs Burkard, Lorenz Holder.  

We had a chance to talk with Ben about this year’s Red Bull Illume and his winning photo.





Your photo was picked as an overall winner in this Red Bull Illume Image Quest out of almost 60000 submissions, how do you feel?


Yeah that’s pretty crazy right!? I still have a hard time to believe it …
As I said there was a lot of incredible images in the contest , the jury had pick up one and I’m beyond honored and so happy that they chose mine but the level was so high with really good content, I was lucky enough to have one that fit the category pretty well I think…

It’s really a dream come true !
I’ve entered the RED BULL ILLUME for the first time in 2013 and ended as a semi-Finalist, I’ve entered again in 2016 and was a finalist with already an underwater image, I went to the award ceremony in Chicago but did not win, and this year has been the best reward I could ever expect !

Especially winning with an underwater photo that has been the main direction of my personal work, it’s the best recognition of my work I could ever get.
I’m so happy and honored !



There were a lot of questions about the photo, can you tell us a bit more about where was this photo taken, and the process behind taking this photo?


Yeah, so it is an underwater photo of a surfer escaping thru the wave.

It’s not a common surf photo because it’s not an usual move in surfing , also it’s been shot underwater which is only possible in a few places like Tahiti because of water clarity.
I’ve been living in Tahiti for the last 12 years and have dedicated my time shooting underwater since almost 10 years

The world below the SURFACE here is unreal and I just can’t get enough of it

Underwater has been my main direction in my personal work and I’ve put several years of work in order to create a unique body of work that I released in a book last year

So winning the Red Bull Illume with an image from this series is such an honor !

The photo was shot while swimming with my Canon camera in my Aquatech housing at Teahupoo in Tahiti .

Teahupoo is known to be one of the heaviest wave in the world but it’s also an unreal show underwater thanks to the water clarity.

The wave breaks on the reef far from shore, so there is no sand, no fresh water or anything that could affect the water clarity …

I just used a water housing and a pair of fins, I shot all my photos breathless because it would be impossible to use an air tank while swimming in the waves and the turbulences

On this photo the surfer, Ace Buchan is escaping from a close out wave, penetrating the surface to reach the other side and avoid being caught by the turbulences

I was lucky to be right below him with a wide angle (14mm) : right time , right place to capture the whole sequence

Being so close to the action allows to see all the water around his face and body and I think that’s what give a strong feeling to the photo and what stick to the energy category.



Shooting in the ocean is very demanding, how do you prepare yourself for a shooting in the ocean and what’s the most important thing to keep on mind?


You definitely need to be in good shape to go shoot while swimming in big waves, such as you should be in good shape to climb a mountain or go on back country skiing trip.

Like most of all photographers, I spend my whole life in my own environment

I spend a lot of time shooting in the water, swimming, surfing, foiling …

So you get used to it, you get your marks and the environment feels like home at some point, it becomes your happy place.

The equipment is also key as I’m trying to capture unique moments that won’t happen twice so I need to make sure all my equipment is ready and that nothing will fail.

In the end I think most of the work is made before the photo, it’s a lot of anticipation and preparation.

Being in good conditions, having your gear ready, read the forecast and try to be at the right place in the right time to create unique images.

Finally it’s only you and the element and sometime you can’t fight it, you also need to know when it’s time to back off. The Ocean is hard to predict , it’s a question if feelings … like for the mountains I guess…



What gear did you use to take this photo, and what gear do you usually carry with you?


This photo was shot with a Canon EOS 1DX MII and a Canon 14mm inside an Aquatech EVO housing using a large dome with a just a pair of Da-Fin.
I’m moslty using fast cameras and wide angle lenses for underwater photography that I carry around my f-stop Tilopa bag. I also use an extra XL ICU bag for an extra carry on bag

I think it’s the best options as it’s small and light but sill offer a good protection of your gear.

It’s getting more and more tricky to travel with lots of gear as carry on these days. So any kg less is great!



What’s next for you?


I’m working on my next series of photos mostly limited edition that is the continuation of my work that I released in my book SURFACE.

I’m hoping to be working with great companies in the future on some cool projects and hopefully this award will bring some opportunities !!

More than anything , I want to spend some time in the ocean !





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