Eyes on the prize: meet the Redline Challenge judges

As the competition enters the judging phase, meet the panel of experts who will be picking the winner and find out what they look for in a prize-winning image.
A road network at night with red and white light trails caused by the long exposure, shot from a bridge passing over two roads and a train track.

The Redline Challenge, for ambitious amateur photographers who want to stretch their creativity and test their technical know-how, is now entering the judging phase. A panel of judges made up of professional photographers and industry experts has been assembled, and they will be looking for images that best meet the "Light in the Dark" brief set by Canon Ambassador Lorenz Holder. Creativity, impact and technical prowess will also be key considerations.

Each valid submission will be reviewed intensely and rigorously, with images facing a tough voting process to make it through each round of the three-stage judging process. The final stage will see our panel of judges come together to choose the overall winner from a shortlist of 20 entries.

So who are the judges, and what will they be looking for in the submissions? What makes a prize-winning image?

Lorenz Holder is a former semi-pro snowboarder who has carved out a successful career as a professional action sports photographer with a fine-art aesthetic. His innovative compositions have earned him numerous accolades – notably, he has twice won the top prize at the Red Bull Illume awards, the prestigious international photography contest dedicated to adventure and action sports.

Lorenz's original style has also made an impression in the commercial sector, and he now lists car manufacturers and sportswear brands among his clients.

Lorenz Holder

Action sports photographer, Canon Ambassador and Redline Challenge mentor.

As well as setting the brief and sitting on the judging panel, Lorenz will be mentoring the overall winner of the Redline Challenge on a personal photography assignment.

What will he be looking for when judging the Redline Challenge? Lorenz provides a simple answer: "The wow factor."

Creativity and technical prowess are high on his wish list as well. "It doesn't have to be something that I've never seen before; it's not about reinventing the wheel. I just want to see photographs that are creative, with good composition – and, of course, images where the photographer has displayed a real understanding of light.

"What I also really like is when I can see that photographers understand how their cameras work. You can see that in the settings they have chosen. But in the first place, I want to look at an image and be blown away."

The Canon Redline Challenge logo.

The Redline Challenge

See the submissions and meet the winner of the first Redline Challenge.

Lorenz has earned a reputation for pushing the boundaries of creativity when it comes to action sports photography but reveals that he faced his his own "red line" when shooting a still, autumnal landscape. "I was trying to get a perfect reflection of the colours in a lake, but I was a couple of days late and some trees had already dropped their leaves into the water. So my friend and I put on fisherman's waders and spent three days in the lake removing the leaves before I could get the shot."

The sun sets over Cairo, Egypt, with the city shown in silhouette.

Captured from the window of Laura El-Tantawy's childhood home in Cairo, Egypt, this image featured in her In the Shadow of the Pyramids photobook. Laura promises to bring "honesty, modesty and collaboration, and a perceptive eye for seeing images that are unique or different," to the judging. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM) at 28mm, 1/30 sec, f/22 and ISO200. © Laura El-Tantawy

A British-Egyptian documentary photographer based in London and Cairo, Laura El-Tantawy focuses on thought-provoking, distinctive social and environmental documentary projects. Her work has been widely exhibited, and published in Le Monde, Time, The New Yorker and National Geographic, and her self-published photobook In the Shadow of the Pyramids (2015) was nominated for the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize.

Laura was a recipient of the W. Eugene Smith Fund Grant in 2020, for the continuation of I'll Die for You, a long-term series on the relationship between farmers and the land, which was inspired by her paternal grandfather. She is currently working on two new commissions, alongside a series of cyanotypes titled LULL, which she began compiling during the 2020 lockdown.

Canon Ambassador and documentary photographer Laura El-Tantawy.

Laura El-Tantawy

Documentary photographer and Canon Ambassador.

Laura says that while first and foremost she will be looking for images that best meet Lorenz's "Light in the Dark" brief, she is also keen to discover "work that surprises me in some way, through the photographer's use of light or their perception of the world.

"What's interesting for me is an image that raises questions, an image that doesn't give it all away, an image that leaves a little bit of mystery for me as a viewer to dream a little bit and allows me to bring my own interpretation to it. So I'll be looking for a photograph that's thought-provoking in that sense but also one that is technically successful at the same time. And again, I'm really interested in somebody who is going to be using light in a way that's very provocative and evocative and emotive as well."

This approach is a hallmark of Laura's own work. "With every picture I really try to think about what I'm feeling at that moment, and how I can express that in the image. Even though I'm a documentary photographer, my images are quite impressionistic, and they're more evocative about the feeling rather than just what I'm seeing. With all the pictures I take, I'm trying to go there, to reach that point, so every image is a redline challenge for me in a way."

A long exposure of a woman wearing a crown and a long grey coat leaning against a large grey ball. Green light trails can be seen in the foreground.

An image by Canon Ambassador and visual artist Eliška Sky illustrating the possibilities when playing with light. Judge Monica Allende says she is interested to see how the entrants meet such a broad brief, and "how proficient they are when it comes to the use of the equipment". Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens at 28mm, 2 sec, f/8 and ISO200. © Eliška Sky

Monica Allende is an independent artistic director, curator and educator who grew up in Spain but has made London her home for the past 34 years.

As the photo editor for The Sunday Times Magazine from 2002 to 2015, she was part of the team that launched the award-winning photography section, Spectrum. She was also the GetxoPhoto International Image Festival Artistic Director from 2017 to 2019 and is currently the artistic director of Landskrona Foto Festival.

Monica has been a nominator for several photography awards, including the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize. She also curated and produced the Blue Skies Project, a multi-disciplinary project by artist Anton Kusters and musician Ruben Samama memorialising the Holocaust. She is a visiting lecturer at both the London College of Communication and the EFTI International Centre of Photography and Film in Madrid, and has just finished teaching at the VII Academy in Arles, France.

Monica Allende

Monica Allende

Artistic director, curator and educator.

"Judging photography competitions is one of my favourite activities," Monica says. "I find it a very good way to explore the new trends, and because I judge internationally I get to see how different parts of the world engage with photography and visual storytelling."

Monica has considerable experience in the critical evaluation of photographs, having served on the World Press Photo jury four times, as well as Visa pour l'Image, the National Portrait Gallery's Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize and a host of other international photography competitions. "I like the fact that I don't see just one type of work, such as photojournalism or art photography," she says. "I cover a broad range of categories and I'm able to judge a cross-section of work.

"It's going to be very interesting to see how photographers are able to fulfil the 'Light in the Dark' brief, as I think it's a very difficult challenge. We talk about light a lot in photography, but I think it's sometimes taken for granted. You have to have the perfect intersection of the light, the composition of the frame and the content to create the perfect image, and I think it's very difficult to do well."

A man sits on a wrought iron balcony looking at his phone. He is lit by a warm orange glow from the room behind him.

The contrast between light and shade creates atmosphere in this image by Canon Ambassador Aline Deschamps. Gabrielle Fonseca Johnson is looking for images that offer an insight into the photographer's world and capture a story in a single frame. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 26mm, 1/4 sec, f/4.5 and ISO800. © Aline Deschamps

Gabrielle Fonseca Johnson's career has taken her from the Tate gallery and The Times newspaper to Reuters news agency in London, where she has spent a decade working closely with some of the world's best photojournalists. She is currently editor of The Wider Image, a multimedia imprint that delivers in-depth multimedia stories to Reuters clients and readers, and is responsible for commissioning these from photographers around the world on subjects that are related to the top news of the day.

One of the highlights of the work, Gabrielle says, is working with photographers and other journalists to find, develop and tell the stories that will elucidate the issues the world faces and engage millions of people globally. She also mentors young photographers through the Yannis Behrakis photojournalism grant with a focus on improving diversity in the industry.

Gabrielle Fonseca Johnson

Editor, The Wider Image.

With her extensive news agency experience, Gabrielle brings a unique photojournalist perspective to the Redline Challenge judging panel. "Photojournalism is about accurately capturing a moment that tells the story in the most aesthetic and powerful way possible," she says.

Although her role at The Wider Image is primarily focused on building bodies of work that explore contemporary issues more deeply, Gabrielle emphasises the impact that a single image can have. "The most enduring and iconic news photos, the ones that you'll never forget, tell a story in a single frame. It's the essence of photojournalism."

As a result, she is hoping to see Redline Challenge submissions that "give us insight into how the photographers see the world," and images that are both "inventive and surprising". A high technical standard is, of course, expected too. "For an image to be successful, it needs to be technically accurate, even if it plays with technique to produce an artistic effect."

Gabrielle is no stranger to sitting on judging panels, and is ready to argue the cause for images she feels strongly about. "I'm sure everyone on the panel will," she says, "and that's been my experience in the past. You've got to advocate for what you see as powerful work."

Snow-covered conifers at night, lit with an off-camera flash so they cast long shadows on the snow's surface.

Susie Donaldson hopes to see images that demonstrate a balance of imagination and technical ability, such as this snowy night-time scene by Canon Ambassador Valtteri Hirvonen. "Entrants will really need to challenge themselves and their kit to achieve their best shot," she says. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 at 24mm, 0.3 sec, f/2.8 and ISO3200. © Valtteri Hirvonen

Susie Donaldson has worked at Canon for 14 years, and in that time she has sat on many competition judging panels. She says the Light in the Dark theme for the inaugural Redline Challenge was intentionally broad to ensure that all photographers, regardless of their preferred genre or proficiency, would be inspired to push their photography further and enter their images.

"Whether entrants choose to submit a detailed macro shot or an epic landscape, a fast-paced action shot or a heart-stopping portrait, we believe the brief can be met," she says.

Canon European Marketing Director Susie Donaldson.

Susie Donaldson

European Marketing Director, Canon EMEA.

"For many years, we have talked about photographers who achieve great things in low light. But with this brief, we are asking for an active use of light, not just as something to light up a scene or a subject but to create a feeling, a mood, drama, action, a different perspective, a challenging view, or to highlight the hidden – wherever the photographer wants to go with it.

"For Canon, the 'red line' may be the common thread that binds together an amazing range of cameras, lenses and printers, but for our photographers, it represents belonging to a creative community. Through this competition we will be able to celebrate the achievements of thousands across EMEA.

"Imagination will be key to achieving standout and distinctive imagery," Susie concludes, "and I'm looking forward to seeing the unique perspectives that we know our photographers will bring to the competition."

Marcus Hawkins

Related articles

Get the newsletter

Click here to get inspiring stories and exciting news from Canon Europe Pro