ARTICLE

Where breathtaking landscapes meet epic action: inside the world of Lorenz Holder

Get to know the Canon Ambassador and Redline Challenge mentor, and find out about his unique adrenaline-fuelled landscapes.
A snowboarder high in the air in foggy conditions, eerily lit from behind the crest of a hill.

A snowboarder performs a daredevil jump in foggy conditions in this atmospheric image taken by Lorenz Holder in Norway. "We built the jump, then set off a studio flash in the background, behind the hill, just as the fog came in," says Lorenz. "You can see what's happening but there's a mystical feel to it." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM) at 43mm, 1/200 sec, f/5 and ISO100. © Lorenz Holder

The small, shadowy silhouette of a snowboarder against an eerie green sky; a skater launching himself into the air using a red brick viaduct as a halfpipe: Canon Ambassador Lorenz Holder's images are striking for many reasons, but what makes them really stand out is that the sportspeople he photographs are often almost incidental. Instead, it's the dramatic backdrops that draw the eye, whether that's a snow-covered landscape or the crisp lines of an unusual structure.

"I always try to do something that nobody else has done before," says Lorenz. "I want people to ask 'how did he do that?' Thinking outside of the box – that's the fun part of photography and there's really no limit. You come up with ideas and experiment – maybe you have some luck or maybe it doesn't work, in which case you just start all over again."

It's that quest for boundary-breaking images – and his unique style and technique – that makes Lorenz the ideal pro behind the Redline Challenge. We asked him how he has built a career combining action and fine-art style photography and how he finds inspiration for his creative shots.
A black and white image of a man walking a dog down a snow-covered street, while in the distance a snowboarder performs a stunt on a rooftop.

Lorenz finds that making the most of coincidence can improve a composition, as with this dog walker in the Swedish town of Umeå, who was not originally intended to be part of the shot. "I love the way he draws the eye so viewers don't always notice the athlete," says Lorenz. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at 1/1000 sec, f/6.3 and ISO320. © Lorenz Holder

A skateboarder performing a fakie kickflip on the curved brickwork of a viaduct, framed so that the brickwork repeats recursively into the distance.

After a tough two-day shoot, Lorenz finally got his shot of skateboarder Vladik Scholz performing a trick on the Balcombe Viaduct in West Sussex, England. Waiting for the best light and getting into exactly the right position, enabled him to create the surreal repeat effect. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM) at 110mm, 1/800 sec, f/8 and ISO2500. © Lorenz Holder

Making the most of opportunities

Lorenz grew up in Munich, Germany, close to the Bavarian Alps, and has always had a passion for sport. He once had a promising career as a snowboarder, but a shoulder injury forced him to take time out. Unwilling to give up his life on the slopes, he picked up a camera so he could photograph his friends instead.

His skills soon landed him work as a sports and action photographer for big commercial clients, and he pursued personal projects involving architecture and landscapes on the side. Eventually, he found a way to bring these worlds together. "A landscape is just a landscape, without much happening," he says. "I started to think about how I could spice things up by adding some action, to challenge myself a bit."
The Canon Redline Challenge logo.

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Lorenz has twice won the Red Bull Illume award, the famed international contest dedicated to adventure and action sports, but for him, the perfect action sports photo should be more like a piece of art. "For me, it's an image that people would put on their wall even if the athlete wasn't in it. If you create a great surrounding and manage to get an athlete in there as well, then that, in my opinion, is the perfect action shot."

From fog-shrouded lakes to epic mountain ranges, grand buildings to gritty street scenes, he says the right location is key. "I don't choose them; they choose me," he explains. "You have to go through your life with open eyes, and you'll see possibilities everywhere. For example, I'll walk through a city and see some kids skateboarding on a roof or just fooling around and think, that could work. Or I might see a landscape image that would make the perfect location for an action shot – there just has to be something that fascinates me."
A sepia double-exposure image of a surfer appearing to be riding a wave across a city street.

In this double exposure, a New Zealand surfer seems to be surfing across a Berlin street. "This image was part of a personal project where I combined nature shots with architecture and city life," says Lorenz. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at 1/640 sec, f/7.1 and ISO200. © Lorenz Holder

The quest for perfection

Lorenz is always pushing himself and his equipment, shooting in harsh conditions, capturing unpredictable action that tests his reflexes and his camera's focusing capabilities. However, he says it is when it comes to fine-tuning a composition that he often finds himself pushing past his own boundaries. "There are so many shoots where I've thought, 'This will never even come close to what's in my mind'," he says. "The challenge for me is having the patience to wait until the time is right for the perfect picture."

One of Lorenz's most striking images is of a skateboarder performing tricks within the arches of the Balcombe Viaduct in West Sussex, England. He spotted an image of the structure online and was immediately drawn to its concentric shapes. The bridge supports are shaped like halfpipes, and Lorenz knew it would be the perfect location to shoot a skateboarder in action.
"It just blew my mind because it was so surreal and seemed almost manipulated. It got stuck in my head and I knew I had to shoot something there."

It was a tricky shoot to organise. For starters, Lorenz didn't know whether the arches were actually rideable. He also needed to keep the structure in focus, while capturing the action, so he had to use a small aperture (large f-stop) and a fast shutter speed – which meant he had to push up the ISO. "It was a thin line between grain, depth of field and shutter speed," he explains.

After two days of getting to grips with the unusual skating surface and experimenting with the light and the positioning, his hard work paid off and Lorenz got his shot. "When I saw the light in that tunnel, with tiny shadows on each arch, and then the skateboarder doing his trick, it was an amazing feeling," says Lorenz. "I knew this was the shot because the trick was so on point and the light was perfect, with slight beams coming from the sides. I thought about whether we could do anything better – any other position, any other light – but I saw the picture and knew that was it.

"It's tempting to shoot the picture in a different way, to get it done sooner – but I don't want to look at an image and think 'Oh, it's nice, but it could have been better.' Being patient is tough, but I have to force myself to wait."
Photographer Lorenz Holder and skateboarder Vladik Scholz look up at the Balcombe Viaduct.

Action photography in a fine art style

Lorenz Holder shares how he photographed a skateboarder in action under a viaduct in a fine art style, using the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens.
A double-exposure image of a snowboarder in the air appearing in the centre of a circle of trees shot from below.

During a snowboarding competition, Lorenz shot an image of an athlete jumping over his head. Then, on a whim, he took another shot in the forest, combining it with the first image in an in-camera double exposure. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at 1/1000 sec, f/11 and ISO200. © Lorenz Holder

A mountainside with numerous grooves showing the tracks of skiers and snowboarders. A lone snowboarder is pictured kicking up a cloud of snow.

"This is a ski slope just after the lifts have closed, so we had the mountain all to ourselves," says Lorenz. "We told the snowboarder: 'Turn so you create a cloud of snow, then release your board and go through the cloud'." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 200mm, 1/1000 sec, f/9 and ISO100. © Lorenz Holder

Powerful and reliable kit

Lorenz's subjects typically appear quite small and silhouetted, so making each composition work demands technical accuracy and advanced kit. Lorenz has been a Canon user since he first picked up a Canon EOS 30 two decades ago. In recent years, his camera of choice has been the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. "I love how intuitive it is," he says. "You don't have to think 'Where's that button?' It just feels so natural when you have it in your hands. It's almost like part of my body. The picture quality is really outstanding," he continues. "It lets me shoot in lower light, and it has a great dynamic range."

Lorenz's favourite lens is the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM (now succeeded by the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM). "When you zoom in a little, you crush down the depth of field," he says. "If there's something that's a little further away, it comes closer to your subject, which has been essential to achieving my style of picture. If I could use only one lens for the rest of my life, it would be this one."
Canon Redline Challenge mentor Lorenz Holder attaches a lens to the Canon EOS R5.

The shutter on the Canon EOS R5 closes automatically when the power is off, which means Lorenz can change lenses when he's on a shoot in rain or a snowstorm without the risk of damaging his sensor. © Lorenz Holder

Canon Redline Challenge mentor Lorenz Holder crouches down while holding a Canon EOS R5.

Lorenz has recently been experimenting with the full-frame mirrorless Canon EOS R5, which features advanced AF that uses deep-learning AI to track bodies, faces and eyes. "I've struggled in the past, when a snowboarder is coming down a mountain and you say, 'Follow this line', and they go the other way. With the EOS R5 I'll be able to keep my framing, and the AF will always be on the athlete," he says. © Lorenz Holder

Moving to mirrorless

More recently, Lorenz has been shooting on the full-frame mirrorless Canon EOS R5 and has found that, no matter how much he has pushed his equipment, it's been up to the task. This applies even to relatively unsung aspects of the design. "When you're shooting in a snowstorm and want to remove the lens from a typical mirrorless camera, the centre is open and every particle can get onto your sensor," he says. "The EOS R5 automatically closes the shutter to protect it."

And when it comes to capturing action, Lorenz is equally impressed with the EOS R5's handling and uncompromising performance at up to 20fps. "As an action photographer, those fast frame rates are ideal," he notes. "When you hold the EOS R5 in your hands, the size and weight are just perfect. The weather sealing feels even better than on the EOS 5D Mark IV."

The in-body image stabilisation of the EOS R5, which provides up to eight stops of protection against blurring caused by camera shake, is also a big lure. Not that Lorenz typically shoots handheld. "Most of the time I use a tripod," he says. "But tripods are heavy, and if I'm hiking through the snow in the backcountry, I can't always bring one, so I'm excited about the camera's image stabilisation. In fact, I'm hoping I can leave my tripod to gather some dust!"

The ultimate challenge

Despite his considerable achievements, Lorenz's mission to push photographic boundaries continues. "I'm always in search of the perfect picture. Sometimes I can't sleep at night when I'm thinking of pictures. It's what drives me – I guess it's a never-ending story."

As for his dream shoot: "I'd travel the cities of Europe with a BMX rider," he says. "I'd have a free pass, so if I was inspired by a building, I'd be able to shoot inside or on the roof, then and there. Normally, it takes ages to get permission, or it's simply forbidden. You can't really bring a BMX into a museum, for example. So that would be my dream, even though it's kind of impossible!"

Impossible? Not really a word in Lorenz's vocabulary. "I don't really have a rule book or anything," he says. "I just follow my instinct. I always try to visualise the final image and get the composition perfect before any action happens. Then, when everything is set up, you just stand there and try to get the right moment."

Scris de Tom May


Lorenz Holder's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Lorenz Holder's kitbag containing Canon cameras and lenses.

Cameras

Canon EOS R5

Re-think what you know about mirrorless cameras. The uncompromising performance of the EOS R5 will revolutionise your photography and filmmaking. Lorenz says: "As an action photographer, the fast frame rates are ideal for me."

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Designed to perform in every situation, the EOS 5D Mark IV is beautifully engineered and a thoroughly accomplished all-rounder. "I love how intuitive the camera is. It just feels so natural when you have it in your hands; it's almost like part of my body," says Lorenz.

Lenses

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM

An essential lens in the professional trio of zooms, the RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM is the perfect companion for news, sport and travel. "This lens gives a lot of flexibility: 70mm is pretty wide for me, and the 200mm end gives a great compression of perspective for landscapes," says Lorenz.

Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM

Give your full-frame mirrorless photography the professional edge with a 24-70mm zoom boasting a fast aperture and 5-stops of image stabilisation. "I like the 24-70mm because it has a wide aperture, so I can shoot when it's darker and still have sharp images."

Accessories

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