Redline Challenge: exploring 'Light in the Dark'

From sketching out ideas to scouting for locations – action photographer Lorenz Holder explains how he tackles a brief and offers advice on how to push your creativity.
The bottom half of a woman silhouetted against a green neon reflection on the surface of a wet road. Red reflections from a car's brake lights are on the road beside her feet.

Shooting at night doesn't mean that you always need to use a flash. Here, Lorenz Holder, the pro behind the Redline Challenge, has captured the bottom half of his subject silhouetted against the light from a green neon sign. "We were actually just picking up some food and I saw a car parking and thought it would be pretty cool to get all those coloured reflections," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 153mm, 1/8 sec, f/2.8 and ISO320. © Lorenz Holder

Light trails, subjects in silhouette, coloured filters or clever use of flash – the 'Light in the Dark' challenge offers a wealth of creative possibilities and plenty of opportunities to take your photography to the next level. "It's a wonderful theme because it speaks to so many photographers," says action sports pro Lorenz Holder. "Street, landscape, portrait and sports photographers can all shoot in the dark and make use of light, so it's not limited to any particular genre. It's like having a blank sheet of paper."

Lorenz's high-impact images have won him many followers and building a successful career has meant constantly pushing himself to capture ever-more imaginative and interesting compositions. Here, he shares the thinking behind his own creative process and discusses some of the techniques you might use when capturing the relationship between light and dark.

A woman stands holding an umbrella in the middle of a concrete flight of steps lit by streetlights.

Seemingly ordinary locations can take on a whole new atmosphere at night. "I really like the concrete structure and the diagonal line through the image," says Lorenz. "The lights above the model created a brighter area in the middle so I thought it would work even though she was dressed in black." Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 115mm, 1/60 sec, f/5 and ISO8000. © Lorenz Holder

Unpacking the brief

The aim of the first Redline Challenge is to explore your creativity and technical know-how while working in the dark. It's open to everyone and it doesn't matter what kit you're using – what's important is trying to push your photography to the next level. So, where should you begin?

"The brief gives you an idea and a direction to go in," explains Lorenz. "I would probably start by thinking, 'where is a really cool location where I could be creative with light?'. That could be a building, or a cool street that I know has potential, or a forest – anywhere that looks good in the dark.

"It's ideal if I can scout out a location first, and take some test shots. Then I storyboard ideas and do some sketches. I try to sketch the action into the test image – that helps me with the setup and with positioning flashes. I prefer to have a plan – to have the final image more or less complete in my head. Then I can go out and put all the pieces together – it saves time that way, and you're more prepared."

The Canon Redline Challenge logo.

Take on the Redline Challenge

Have you got what it takes to push past your limits? Enter the Redline Challenge and master 'light in the dark' for your chance to win the latest Canon kit and mentoring from pro photographer Lorenz Holder.

The amount of time Lorenz spends preparing his shoots depends on the client and their requirements. "If I'm working on a long-term project, it might be months between receiving the brief and creating the final image. If I think an image I could create in the autumn would look better in spring, I try to convince the client to wait. Of course, if a shoot needs to be done quickly, I can turn it around in two or three days. It all depends on what the client wants."

As a sports photographer, Lorenz's natural inclination would be to shoot an athlete in action, telling the story of a whole day in a single shot. With 'Light in the Dark' being such an expansive brief, however, whether you try to tell a story or just seek to craft the most technically daring image possible is really up to you.

A woman in a yellow coat with a fur-lined hood stands in a field of long grass; smoke billows behind her.

Lorenz has used a smoke machine here to demonstrate how to light particles created by rain, snow or fog. "We used one flash, three or four metres behind her – you could use exactly the same technique on a foggy day," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 163mm, 1/200 sec, f/6.3 and ISO100. © Lorenz Holder

Deciding on a location

Lorenz has shot images all over the world, so when presented with a new brief, his first instinct would be to consider whether a location he'd already used might be suitable. "I know a lot of photogenic places, so I'd use one of those if it fitted the brief," he says. "You cannot really look for cool locations, they find you. I like to be outside at the weekend, I try to get into the mountains to explore. And then, of course, you see cool stuff. I find inspiration everywhere. I might be watching a documentary about volcanoes in Iceland and think, 'Oh, that's such a photogenic place.'"

Lorenz also advises thinking about the conditions that you might be shooting in, and what impact that could have on your final image. "I probably wouldn't shoot in 'perfect' conditions, I'd wait for rain or snow to add some drama and use lights to create an atmospheric picture," he explains. "Fog is perfect for shooting silhouettes. You just need a light source positioned towards the camera to light up the small particles in the air. The flash has to be a little bit hidden – you don't want all the light on your lens – so you need something in between. Snow is reflective, so you can use lights in a nice way."

When shooting outdoors, remember that it's not always possible to control everything precisely. "You have to fit the brief within your natural shooting style and the conditions at the time, while remaining flexible," explains Lorenz. "Your technique will depend on the weather and the time of the shoot. You have to take what's there and decide on what's right for the conditions. If something isn't working, don't push it – look for other creative opportunities."

A woman leans on a building, with one hand on her hat and one foot against the wall. She is silhouetted against the light from the first of a series of archways along the side of the structure.

"Someone else has done the lighting work here," says Lorenz. "I think architects think about light in the dark as well, because they want their buildings to look good during the day and at night. The arches, and the light lifting up from the inside, made it easy to create this silhouette." Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 153mm, 1/25 sec, f/2.8 and ISO12800. © Lorenz Holder

Choosing your kit

If he's shooting on location, Lorenz tries to carry as much kit with him as possible. "I might leave the fisheye lens behind, but I always try to have everything at least in the car. If I decide a flash would be helpful – say if fog or clouds suddenly come rolling in on a sunny day – then I can go back and get it."

So, faced with the 'Light in the Dark' brief, what kit would Lorenz want to take with him? "I'd certainly want an EOS R System camera, such as the Canon EOS R5 or the EOS R6, plus the Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM, RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM and RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lenses, and probably one big studio flash," he says.

The theme naturally lends itself to night-time photography, which offers lots of creative opportunities. "During the day, your main source of light is the sun and everything is visible," he says. "But at night, you create the light, which means you can put it where you want. If you don't want something to be in your image, you simply don't light it."

Shooting at night and using flash is also a great way to make a subject stand out and give your images impact. Lorenz often uses carefully positioned flash lighting to capture his subjects in silhouette, their shape clearly defined because the shot has been taken at just the right angle. "I visualise the shoot and set the lights up to illuminate what I want to see," he says.

It's possible to create lots of interesting light effects, even if you don't have access to a studio flash or Speedlite – Lorenz advises considering ways to make the most of the available light. "In the city, there are so many different kinds of light sources that you could use. You just need to look for them," he says.

Action photographer Lorenz Holder with his back to the camera photographing a woman in a black hat and coat standing next to the entrance to a building.

Social distancing restrictions may mean your choice of models is limited, but you could ask a friend or family member to pose for your shots. © Lorenz Holder

Selecting a subject

You might choose to shoot a landscape on its own, or decide to include a model in your shot. If you prefer shooting portraits, think about how you want to use your subject in the final image. Many of Lorenz's shots have a minimalistic look, and he doesn't always frame them so that the subject dominates the picture – instead preferring to craft a wider scene. "There needs to be a reason for making your subject small in the frame and the more minimalist the image, the further you can go," he explains. "It might be to show the scale of the surroundings, or to add drama, but if there are too many distractions, you're too far away."

A snowboarder high in the air in foggy conditions, eerily lit from behind the crest of a hill.

Adrenaline-fuelled landscapes

Discover how Canon Ambassador and Redline Challenge mentor Lorenz Holder fuses landscapes and action in a striking and original way.

Lorenz usually photographs professional and amateur athletes, but whoever you're working with, even if it's a friend or family member, communication is crucial so you can explain what you're trying to achieve. "Sometimes, if I'm shooting an athlete, I might miss the moment, or they might not get the trick right, or I might not be happy with their facial expression; it's important to understand what they can do and what's possible," Lorenz explains.

If you prefer shooting landscapes, then play to your strengths. Although Lorenz is predominantly an action photographer, he doesn't always include a subject in his images. "Ask yourself whether you should add a model to the scene," he advises. "If you have a person, the focus is always on them, but sometimes the surroundings are also really beautiful, and you want to show them off a little bit more."

A woman leans against a building with one hand on her hat and one foot against the wall. The white balance settings have given the image an amber tone.

Creative use of colour is a great way to elevate your low-light images. This image and the one next to it are essentially the same but with different white balance settings. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 58mm, 1/30 sec, f/2.8 and ISO2000. © Lorenz Holder

A woman leans against a building with one hand on her hat and one foot against the wall. The white balance settings have given the image a blue tone.

Adjusting the white balance gives the image a colder feel. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 58mm, 1/40 sec, f/2.8 and ISO2000. © Lorenz Holder

Think about colour

Colour is an important consideration in all photography, but especially when you're trying to create a prizewinning image. If you're photographing a person, think about the colour of their clothes and make sure that works with the scene that you're planning to shoot. "I always ask my athletes to bring a red sweater or jacket, because it really glows in an image," Lorenz explains. "Yellow can be too bright, and blue soaks up too much light, but red looks great. It also contrasts well with blue, which you get a lot of in night and snow photography."

Photograph what you love

Whatever genre you shoot and however you choose to interpret the 'Light in the Dark' brief, Lorenz urges all Redline Challenge participants to push themselves to be creative and not to be afraid of trying new styles and techniques. "Over the years, I've pretty much done it all when it comes to winter sports photography; I've even shot snowboarding underwater," he says.

He also advises shooting what you love, because that passion will shine through in the final image. "I thought it might be interesting to shoot a new sport, like skateboarding or BMX, that gave me the opportunity to be creative during the summertime and on location when there's no snow, but winter sport is what I know best, he says. "It's always in my heart."

Angela Nicholson

Lorenz Holder's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs


Canon EOS R5

Rethink 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.


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. Lorenz says: "I like the 24-70mm because it has a wide aperture, so I can shoot when it's darker and still have sharp images."


Relaterte artikler


    Tokyo at night with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

    Discover how art director and photographer Liam Wong used the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV to capture atmospheric shots of neon-lit cityscapes.


    The dark side: low-light photography

    Valtteri Hirvonen forged his technique during Finland's gloomy winters. Here he reveals his tips for shooting in low light.


    Wakesurfing with flares: testing the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

    Low light, fast action and lots of water… Extreme sports photographer Richard Walch takes the EOS-1D X Mark III on its toughest challenge yet.


    Fotografere månen

    En trinnvis veiledning til kreativ månefotografering.

  • Get the newsletter

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