10 of the Hottest Photographers In Dance Music Share Their Advice on Making It in the Scene

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Galen Oakes
Gesaffelstein

'This isn't a normal 9-5 job, but the people who hire you will remember if you acted professional or not.'

Dance music, across all its multifarious subgenres and styles, has brought music and parties to nearly every corner of the globe, creating extraordinary experiences and memories for all of us in laser-drenched nightclubs and breathtaking outdoor venues.

Alongside the globetrotting artists and event brands exists a league of dance music photographers, often-unsung heroes who have connected us across time and space with peeks and previews of those unforgettable moments, no matter where in the world it might’ve taken place. They have battled through packed dance floors and survived grazes with stage pyrotechnics to dazzle our feeds with brilliant snapshots from the most beloved artists and events in dance music. Early pioneers like Rukes, Rudgr, Doug Van Sant, Oh Dag Yo and AJR helped pave the way to define dance music photography as an art form during EDM’s heyday in the late 2000s, making way for a new generation of historians to emerge.

Billboard Dance caught up with 10 of the most exciting photographers in the scene to learn more about their gear, work ethic and inspiration.

JULIANA BERNSTEIN

Instagram: @gettiny

Hometown: New York, New York

Has Worked With: Gryffin, Damian Lazarus, Day Zero, Coachella

Her Set Up: My main body is a Nikon d850 and my go-to lens is a 14-24mm. There's omething about Nikon colors that I just love deeply, so the majority of my equipment is Nikon.

When did you first become interested in photography?

My uncle Joel was a photographer for Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Prince and a few other legends. He gave me my first camera and got me into it a very early age, when I was about eight years old. I fell in love at first darkroom and never looked back.

What was your first gig in dance music?

I fell into dance music in a few different ways, but it started with a little crew in New York City called the Bass Squad. They would throw amazing pseudo-underground dance music events in New York. I also shot a lot for [dance music news site] The Untz, and they gave me the opportunity to shoot a ton of different dance music events. It's easy to love shooting music. There's so much going on, the crowd is always interesting, different and nothing is ever stagnant.

Best advice you could give to an aspiring music photographer?

You're never done learning. I've been shooting shows since I was 16, and I still feel like I learn something new every single day, so always been open to learning whether its from your peers, a class or an opportunity. There's always room to grow as an artist. Along those lines, it's easy to feel a little burned out or stagnant, so it’s important to work on personal projects that keep you inspired with the art form of photography itself. That's the one I have to remind myself of consistently, but it's always a helpful reminder of why I do what I do.

QUINN TUCKER

Instagram: @quasarmedia

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona

Has Worked With: Coachella, Camp Flog Gnaw, FYF, Mija, Skrillex, Brownies & Lemonade

His Set Up: Typically I just rock a Canon 5D Mark IV. I almost exclusively use third party zooms: Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8, and a Sigma Art 14-24mm f/2.8. For portraits I use my Canon, my Fuji X100F, or a variety of 35mm and 120mm film cameras. My recent fave is my Mamiya RB67!

What was your first gig in dance music?

I started showing up places in Los Angeles with my camera in 2014: Low End Theory, Hang Time at Los Globos, The Yost in Santa Ana. I was just shooting for free for a while I bounced between day jobs. Around that time, I would team up with other Arizona natives (shoutout Mija and 2ToneDisco) and photograph their shows. I met this dude Edwin in 2015, who threw a party called AllMineLA. He introduced me to the Brownies & Lemonade, Space Yacht and Free Grilled Cheese crews who I would go on to work with. Those years are a blur.

Best advice you could give to an aspiring music photographer? 

Believing in yourself is paramount to success and self-fulfillment. It can be tough to find a balance between being your own biggest fan and your toughest critic. On one hand, practicing humility and kindness will take you so much further than natural ability. Nobody wants to work with or support someone with an ego problem. On the other, learning how to pitch yourself and articulate your strengths to others is crucial in accessing the resources you'll need. Learn to view every situation as an opportunity to learn, and always be open to constructive criticism.

LEAH SEMS

Instagram: @leahsems

Hometown: Toronto, Canada

Has Worked With: Deadmau5, Rezz, i_o

Her Set Up: A Canon 1DX mark 2. I rotate lenses, but my most used during shows is the: 24-105mm, 11-16mm, 70-200mm and 8-15mm fisheye.

What was your first gig in dance music?

I shot some clips of Rezz at a festival in Toronto, then I ran into her a few weeks later at another festival and showed her the footage I took, which I had saved to my phone. She liked the clips so much she asked if I wanted to film her EP release party for Something Wrong Here. We worked well together and made videos for years after that.

Favorite photo you’ve ever taken?

Joel [Deadmau5] was sitting at his computer in Toronto messing around with the cube, doing the first run through of Cube V3. I really felt honoured to be in the room. Seeing it run for the first time was mind blowing. Everyone in the room went very silent and very still. 

Best advice you could give an aspiring music photographer?

Keep your head down, and stay focused on your goal. There are a lot of distractions that are easy to get caught up in within the music industry. The biggest mistake I see people make is not treating an event like a work place. This isn't a normal 9-5 job, but the people who hire you will remember if you acted professional or not. Also, respect the staff and security at venues!

GALEN OAKES

Instagram: @onenativeyouth

Hometown: Mendocino Coast, California

Has Worked With: Desert Hearts, Claude VonStroke, Mija, Anabel Englund

His Set Up: A Canon 5D MKIV. My most used lens is a 24-70 2.8 II, second is the 70-200 2.8 II, then the 16-35 2.8 and the 50 1.4.

How did you get your first gig in dance music? 

My first unofficial gig was in Bali for the first ever Bali Spirit Festival. While traveling around on the island, I met someone who was producing the event. I bought my first digital DSLR, a Canon 40D, and offered to donate my services as a photographer. While shooting the event, I ended up meeting a lot of amazing artists who would later really help shape me as an artist and encouraged me to go to events like Burning Man for the first time.

Craziest gig you’ve ever shot? 

The Great Convergence, which was a festival in Egypt, put on by The Do Lab. It took place on December 21st, 2012, which was the winter solstice and specifically in 2012, was the end of the Mayan Calendar. It was an incredible experience. I got to go inside the king’s chamber in the Great Pyramid of Giza at midnight, see amazing ruins and experience the main event, which was held in a huge tent with electronic and native music overlooking the pyramids. 

Best advice you could give to an aspiring music photographer?

Smile and dance with people while shooting them -- the more you get on the same level as your subjects, the more authentic of a feeling you’ll capture. Share ideas and tips and collaborate. You are unique and your art will be too. Make a point of saying hi to the lighting and visual team and thank them, give them props; they play a huge part in how stunning the production and lighting will look in your photos. Also, get insurance. Create a file naming and folder structure -- the more organized you are, the easier your life will be and the easier it will be to find and deliver content, both now and later.

JASMINE SAFAEIAN

Instagram: @yasi

Hometown: Tehran, Iran

Has Worked With: Madeon, Porter Robinson, Anna Lunoe, A-Trak, Halsey

Her Set Up: My gear is all Canon and my bags are all ThinkTank and SKB. I’m not a gear head at all; I keep it minimal and as light as possible. I’m all about photographing my feelings, and you can do that with any set up.

When did you first become interested in photography?

When I was young, I always volunteered to take the photos at family outings. My mom would critique my work and say things like, "Yasi, you need to leave more space above people's heads." I asked for a digital camera and started practicing photography. As a teen, my friends were in bands, and I'd tag along. That was when I became determined to be a touring photographer. I was obsessed with documenting behind the scenes moments and telling a musician's story through my photos.

Craziest gig you’ve ever shot?

I did six months of touring where I was the only crew member as the artist’s tour manager, personal assistant and photographer, and I had to deliver edits before I went to sleep. I was sleeping about an hour a night and skipping dinner to go to sound check. It was a low point for my health -- I lost 20 pounds, got alopecia and was waking up in a panic every night -- but it was a rewarding experience, because I truly wanted to do the work until my body couldn’t handle it. Afterward, I learned my limits and knew that if I could do that, I could do anything. It gave me the confidence to put myself out there and taught me how to set boundaries.

What's the best advice you could give to an aspiring music photographer?

Most people are looking for a shortcut and the main shortcut in this industry is to be a man and to be born wealthy. I’ve been pursuing touring music photography for twelve years now and I got my first touring photo job three years ago. I struggled a LOT with men being gatekeepers and I still don’t fully understand how I kept my head up and made it through. I guess my main advice would be to save your money, stay strong and persevere, ask for what you want, and don’t be afraid to leave abusive or unhealthy work environments. And develop your own style!

MAHE CHARPENTIER

Instagram: @shotbywozniak

Hometown: Montreal, Canada

Has Worked With: Rezz, Ghastly, What So Not, Nghtmre, Netsky

Her Set Up: Currently shooting on a Canon 1DX mark ii. Lenses: 12-24 f/4 Sigma, 24-70 f/4 Canon, 70-200 f/2.8 Canon, 15 f/2.8 Sigma, 50 f/1.4 Canon, 85 f/1.8 Canon.

How did you first become interested in photography?In 2009, I traveled across Russia and Mongolia with my mom. I was bored one day as my mom was talking with some Polish tourists (she’s Polish), so I took her camera and started fooling around, taking pictures of everything. When she saw them later, she was shocked at how I saw things so differently. Fast forward to Christmas, I received my first camera, which was a Canon Rebel XS. That's when I fell in love with photography.

What was your first gig in dance music?

I started raving six years ago when I lived in Montreal, shooting shows for fun, and met a lot of people in the dubstep scene. When I moved to Paris three years ago, Obey was looking for a photographer to shoot his set at Animalz, a big French dubstep and drum ‘n’ bass party. People from Montreal ended up tagging me on his Facebook post, and he hired me for the show. That was my first “real” booking! The promoters noticed my work and ended up hiring me for their shows.

Best advice you could give to an aspiring photographer?

I can’t stress this enough: if you want people to know about you, you need to reach out to them. I sent so many emails to managers and promoters asking if they needed photos for shows. People will ignore you, so many others will say no, but at one point someone will say yes and things will change. Work hard. Be nice. Go the extra mile. If you really want to get somewhere and you put the work in, you will.

PETER DONAGHY

Instagram: @donslens

Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Has Worked With: Halsey, Alison Wonderland, Slander, Nghtmre

His Set Up: Mainly the 5DMKIV, 15/24/50 primes, 70-200 L, Olympus MJU I.

When did you first become interested in photography?

I have always loved photography. Something about capturing a moment in time always fascinated me. My mom was the camera person in our family, so I was always borrowing her cameras and shooting stuff with them.

How did you get your first gig in dance music?

I used to shoot for a lot of nightclubs in Los Angeles for Drai’s and SBE, so I was shooting all the heavy hitters coming through the clubs at the time like Calvin Harris, Tiësto and Avicii. The artists were amazing, but the people in the clubs were terrible. I started meeting artists and shooting with them outside of the clubs. The first guys to take me on tour were DJ Vice and DJ Politik. I’m still friends with both -- they are legends!

Best advice you could give for an aspiring photographer?

Take a 35mm black and white film class with a good professor at a college or institution of learning. Start expanding your horizons early, study film, practice video also. Don’t limit yourself if you want to be consistently working.

JULIAN BAJSEL

Instagram: @jbajsel

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Has Worked With: Odesza, Zedd, Coachella

His Set Up: I’m currently traveling with: Canon 1DX Mark II, Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 8-15mm f/4.0 Fisheye, Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 Mark III, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Mark II, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS Mark II, Sigma 20mm f/1.4, Sigma 35mm f/1.4, Sigma 50mm f/1.4, Canon 85mm f/1.4 IS, Sigma 135mm f/1.8 and an assortment of flashes and monopods. As much as 90% of my bags is comprised of just camera equipment and accessories. It’s overkill for most shows and I could definitely get away with leaving a good portion of it at home, but part of being a professional includes preparing to handle any situation that gets thrown your way.

How did you get your first gig in dance music?

My first paid gig ever in 2012 was -- of all things -- a mariachi festival in Houston for a local publication, which subsequently booked me to cover a wide range of concerts, including dance music. Over time, that exposure landed me a photography residency at the premier “EDM” venue in town, which I held for several years.

Favorite photo you’ve ever taken?

This is not an easy one to answer, but I’m going to have to go with an image I made on my first tour. Some backstory: I had just quit my job to go on tour with Odesza and was more than a little nervous about jumping into photography full time. All of a sudden I was the photographer on this huge tour, and had major doubts concerning my ability to handle the responsibility these guys had entrusted me with. One morning in Phoenix, I went location scouting for hours in ridiculously brutal heat, and finally found a spot that worked for our aesthetic. Later that night while editing, I was looking over the image that came out of that session and got a bit emotional. For the first time probably ever, I felt like I had created an actual piece of art I’d be proud to hang up on my wall.

What's the best advice you could give to an aspiring music photographer?

Be passionate. Achieving success in this field is no walk in the park. If you don't love it, you probably won't make it. You're only gonna be good enough if you're out there shooting all the time and constantly improving. Our mindset should be 1,000 tiny victories instead of one huge one. I firmly believe anyone can do it, but you have to put the work in. You never know where your break is going to come from, but when it does you need to make sure you’re ready for it.

Be a team player. Nobody makes it on their own. Surround yourself with creative and trustworthy people you can learn from, but don't be a leech. Respect others, give back and help wherever you can. Karma is real.

GINA JOY

Instagram: @ginajoyphoto

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

Has Worked With: Kaskade, Deadmau5, Electric Forest, Splash House, HARD Summer

Her Set Up: Canon 1DXMII. As far as lenses that I use for festivals and shows, I tend to reach for my 16-35 and 70-200 the most. Being vertically challenged, I also have to use my monopod and intervalometer quite often.

Craziest gig you’ve ever shot?

In 2018, I got asked to do a run of shows for Kaskade during EDC week. My first ever dance music event was EDC 2009 at the LA Coliseum. It was my initial introduction to the dance music world and also where I saw Kaskade for the first time. Listening to him play "Move For Me" at Kinetic Field during sunset was the moment I realized how much I love dance music, and I've been attending EDC every year since. 2018 was my first time getting hired to work EDC after being an attendee all these years. Being back at Kinetic Field this time shooting one of my favorite artists, at my favorite festival, in my hometown, was a crazy full circle moment.

Favorite photo you’ve ever taken?

Major Lazer was the surprise guest to close out one of the nights at The Do Lab at Coachella this year, and it seemed as if everyone from the whole festival was there. The tent was overflowing and there was so much energy. At one point, Walshy Fire hopped off the stage and jumped into the crowd. I rushed through the pit to get a shot of him being held up by the crowd with everyone's hands in the air. You can really feel the crowd interaction in the photo, so it was worth it. It was a pretty remarkable moment. It looked like something you might find on /AccidentalRenaissance on Reddit.

What’s has surprised you about becoming a professional/touring photographer?

The community. When I started freelancing, I was intimidated to introduce myself to other photographers and people in the industry, both because I am naturally a shy person but also because of the fear of being shut out for not being good enough. It took time for me to get the courage to meet new people and network at shows, but that was when great opportunities started coming my way. The photo and music community can be very supportive and helpful if you are a hard worker. I think people who are in an industry for the wrong reasons are extremely easy to spot; you can see right through them. If you are humble and work hard you won't have a hard time getting gigs and meeting some great people along the way.

LOUIS VAN BAAR

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Party and fireworks ❤️

A post shared by Louis van Baar (@louisvanbaar) on

Instagram: @louisvanbaar

Hometown: The Hauge, The Netherlands

Has Worked With: Martin Garrix

His Set Up: A Canon 1DX mark II with a lot of lenses (85MM 1.4, 35MM 1.4, 24-70 2.8, 16-35 F4, 70-200 2.8). For on the go, I have a small Sony A9 which is more low key.

When did you first become interested in photography?

I picked up the camera for the first time at a very young age, I think I was around 8 years old. I started by making stop motion videos with Legos.

How did you get your first gig in dance music?

My first gig was in my hometown The Hague, for a party called “Kruipend Naar Huis.” We went to parties with our friends group and I decided to bring my camera for fun. The organization saw this and asked me to work for their next event.

What's the best advice you could give to an aspiring music photographer? 

Shoot a lot. Don’t think everything will happen by itself. Start small, once you’re comfortable and happy with your work dare to make the next step. Show bigger venues/artists/festivals what you’ve been working on and hopefully they will believe in you too.


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