Photography in Dance Music: Meet the Photographers Behind DJ Mag, Ded Agency & Visualbass

Richie Hawtin on CNTRL tour, shot by Andrew Rauner
Richie Hawtin on CNTRL tour, shot by Andrew Rauner

One could say that photography and music go hand in hand. Both art forms aim to tell a story, by capturing their audience in a moment of time and evoking authentic emotions. Photography and music bring people together. We can relive a memory through a song or a photograph in a way that’s truly profound. Music festivals provide a remarkable setting for the passionate photographer. The artists, crowds, decor and natural setting are incredible subjects for photography! As admirers of both art forms, we’d like to take this moment to draw your attention towards 4 individuals who expertly capture the magic of music! Andrew Rauner, Tim Sandik, Alex Donnell Luna and Tobias Wang continue to wow us with their powerful images. Just take a look for yourself…

Andrew Rauner
Photographer at DJ Mag
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Andrew Rauner, photographer at DJ Mag

Andrew Rauner, photographer at DJ Mag

What’s been the most difficult electronic music event you’ve captured and why?

For me, the most difficult event was the first ever Mysteryland US (in 2014). For the first (and only) time in my career, I was tasked with staffing and leading the festival’s US photography team.

My usual festival tactic is to wander around, get lost, find what makes the event interesting or special to me, and photograph it. However, while the ML team was very intent on allowing me to peruse my art, it was also my responsibility to hire a team and put together part of the logistics plan for that team. Additionally, festival staff photography comes with a very elaborate shot list on behalf of artists, sponsors, and the event as a whole. I had to ensure that we captured not only the random moments that made Mysteryland amazing, but also the specific shots that had been requested.

Learning to balance instinctive artistic tendencies with the needs of my client and team was a serious challenge. That being said, while I haven’t organized a team since, I think I grew more as a photographer during that event than any other in my career.

Sunburn Festival in Goa, India, photographed by Andrew Rauner

Sunburn Festival in Goa, India, photographed by Andrew Rauner

"Feeding off festival energy from inside the DJ booth is one thing, but the epicenter really occurs among the fans. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a crowd as emotional as the one at Sunburn in India last year. At peak intensity everyone would erupt in an almost singular motion. 

I was definitely an odd-man out at this festival. I had received my cross-planet flight tickets 2 days prior, had no idea where I was staying or how I was getting there, and had even less of an idea of what to expect. One thing is for sure, the people there were not only welcoming of me, but were ecstatic that I was there to photograph alongside them. 

These photographs are the ones that draw my goose bumps. With images like this, I can remember the roar of the crowd, every hand shooting towards the air, and the raw, pure enjoyment echoing across the entire hillside in Goa. I don’t speak a word of the local language, but to me, these photographic reflections convey a shared emotion between myself the visitor, and the local attendees, that extends beyond words."

 
What aspect of electronic events do you enjoy shooting the most (the DJ, the crowd, the dancers, etc.)?

Definitely the DJ and the ambience.

When shooting the DJ, I hope to reveal an intimate or personal side of the performance to the audience. I want fans to feel closer with their favorite artist through my images.

When shooting the ambience, I aim to preserve moments that fans experience during the event. As a fan, one always remembers that instant when the drop hits, when the hairs stand up on the back of one’s neck, or when a hand is forced into the air in celebration. If these memories are recalled through my photos: mission accomplished!

David Guetta performing at Electric Zoo 2013, photographed by Andrew Rauner

David Guetta performing at Electric Zoo 2013, photographed by Andrew Rauner

"This is an image of David Guetta I captured at Electric Zoo in 2013. Electric Zoo is very special to me, not only because it's my local festival, but also because it's full of milestones for me. This is maybe the first 'behind the DJ shot' that I'm truly proud of, and I had been working at it for a little while before producing this image. It was one of those moments when after pushing the shutter, I popped back down to avoid being seen and said to myself: 'Awesome! Nailed it.' I definitely don't feel like that after every shot, but it's one of the best feelings during the hectic rush of shooting a festival."

 
How do you help an uncomfortable subject feel more relaxed in front of the camera?

Approaching every situation with humility, patience, and a smile, is definitely the way to go.

I often find myself in unexpected, backstage, or even private scenarios with my clients. In these cases, forwardness about having my camera out, asking if pictures are cool, being conservative with how many photos I take, and just giving off sincere positivity tends to go a long way towards making potentially tense situations more comfortable.

Richie Hawtin at work on CNTRL tour, photo by Andrew Rauner

Richie Hawtin at work on CNTRL tour, photo by Andrew Rauner

"There are two sides to every story, and with superstar DJs, there’s no exception. A few years ago, after an incredible set at the NYC stop of the CNTRL tour, I nervously hopped on the bus to join Richie Hawtin & team for the Canadian leg of the tour. 

I woke sometime before we crossed into Canada, climbed down from my bed, and began making my way towards the front of the bus to relax. Looking back down the aisle of sleeping crewmembers, I noticed Richie, focused and busy with some work, in a rare moment of solitude. 

Moments like these humanize our favorite artists. I had been beyond honored, almost star-struck, to be allowed to join Richie (one of my favorite DJs) on the road, and in this second, I was re-filled with confidence: “I belong here”

The best part; Richie came up front to join me after finishing his work and started shredding fresh ginger to make tea for himself and the crew. Total class act."

 
Besides music events, what else do you like to capture?

I absolutely adore travel photography. I try to use my down time to travel and explore foreign places. I’m fascinated by landscape/cityscape photography and consider that my hobby.

Tim Sandik & Alec Donnell Luna
Photographers at Ded Agency
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Alec Donnell (left) & Tim Sandik (right), photographers at Ded Agency

Alec Donnell (left) & Tim Sandik (right), photographers at Ded Agency

First off, we understand that there have been some shifts taking place over at Ded Agency — tell us about your partnership and what’s going on!

TIM: Absolutely!  Ded Agency has transitioned into the niche market of music photography.  Music is our passion – it’s what we’ve been shooting since the inception of the agency and now, this is how we are presenting ourselves to the world.  In the photography game, we believe it’s important to specialize in a certain discipline and present yourself in that light.  Alec Donnell Luna (CPT. VIBES) has also officially become one half of DED AGENCY alongside myself, DED PIXEL.  Alec is a force in the music photography scene and the only shooter in Toronto who I recognized for his limitless potential and talent, which can elevate the brand.  I’m excited to announce this union and for the ensuing work to come!

What was the most difficult electronic music event you’ve captured and why?

ALEC: For me. it was undoubtedly the SXM Festival in St. Martin. I can’t even describe how special that event was. 5 days, 6 nights (including the closing afterparty with Dubfire at La Shore), of nonstop shooting and editing, delivering photos across the island by 11 am each morning, while running on a few hours of sleep at a time… This is by far the most intense, yet the most exciting event I’ve been a part of. Not only did the closing party fall on my birthday, this was the first “official” festival we shot with Tim as Ded Agency. So, we could technically mark it as the inaugural gig for our company as we know it now. That was when we put our skills, endurance and social prowess to the real test. That was when I saw Tim in full action mode, performing at the highest level day in and day out. I couldn’t wish for a better shooting partner, friend and mentor to take any event by storm than Ded Pixel. I am super proud of our teamwork and final product, which deemed SXM Festival as one of the most beautiful destinations for tempered music lovers. We are ecstatic about our comeback to St.Martin as the official photography team next year with some serious gunmen behind us! Hopefully we get to see some of the beautiful readers of Godzilla Disco dancing on the beach with us!

Lee Burridge & YokoO at SXM Festival 2015, photographed by Ded Agency

Lee Burridge & YokoO at SXM Festival 2015, photographed by Ded Agency

"This shot from the first inaugural SXM Festival last year, that we are now fortunate to be a part of. This shot became a monumental photo representing what became one of the most epic parties of the festival, the Sunrise Party with Lee Burridge and YokoO.  The shot also became an iconic frame summarizing the love and good vibes that seemed to surround the festival as a whole.  It was an honour for me to capture this moment." -- Tim Sandik

 
How does working as a team effect the way you approach shooting events?

TIM: Alec and I have similar shooting styles, but also agree on many of the basic elements that make photography such an interesting and inspiring medium.  Our differences strengthen our work, simply by creating multiple perspectives for the consumer – quite literally providing two different angles and/or sets of subject matter at any given time, but also figuratively, in our individual creative choices.  We are also able to assign certain plans of attack that play to our individual strengths.  Alec is great at getting the super-wide money stage shots with all the lighting going off and hands flying in the air – capturing and elevating those moments like a neutron bomb just went off.  I like to think my strength lies in shooting real moments of individuals, whether it be DJs or just someone in the crowd really feeling the music – the art of keeping the fourth wall up and giving the consumer a genuine, undisrupted window in time.

Solomon performing at the Blue Parrot at BPM Festival, 2015, photographed by Tim Sandik

Solomun performing at the Blue Parrot at BPM Festival, 2015, photographed by Tim Sandik

"This shot of Solomun at the BPM Festival in Playa del Carmen became my first “calling card”.  Solomun is one of my favourite artists and for me, it was all too fortunate that this was the shot that made me realize the potential of being able to really capture a big DJ completely in their element." -- Tim Sandik

 
Besides music events, what are your favourite things to capture?

TIM: I’d have to say that shooting people in general is my passion.  In the studio, on location somewhere, directed or just capturing real moments – people inspire me to shoot.

ALEC: I started off by taking a lot of landscape photos, so that will always be a part of my photographic identity. I still go out on photo adventures, yet my main passion right now is portraiture. Luckily, on top of our event coverage, we offer creative photoshoot services at Ded Agency, specifically targeted towards music and industry professionals. This allows me to satisfy the craving for a good headshot, whether it’s in the studio or on location.

CODA nightclub in Toronto, photographed by Alec Donnell Luna

CODA nightclub in Toronto, photographed by Alec Donnell Luna

"This photo is especially important to me because it really captures the energy inside one of the best music venues in the world - Coda Nightclub. Coda will always be my home base - that's where I started my career as a music photographer - where I met the most amazing people that became the CODA family, connected with world class artists and took some epic photos in the process. Coda is the mecca of Toronto's underground music and I am very passionate to have been a part of such an establishment that continues to bring people together through music every weekend." -- Alec Donnell Luna

 
Who are some other photographers that you look up to (music or non-music related)?

TIM: My motivation for picking up a camera and improving my game is THE SUPERMANIAK.  She’s highly skilled, has a great eye, and for me has really redefined how a photographer can exist as more than just a photographer, but a brand as well.

Tobias Wang
Photographer at Visualbass
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Tobias Wang, photographer at Visualbass

Tobias Wang, photographer at Visualbass

 
Tell us a bit about Visualbass Photography. What is your involvement there? When did it launch?

Visualbass Photography began in 1999 as my dream of documenting the rave culture in Toronto.  I’m the owner and chief operator of the company.  The name Visualbass derived from my desire to capture drum & bass music (which was the first music genre I fell in love with in the rave scene) with photography.  Since then, I’ve continued to evolve with the scene and my team has grown as well.

What’s been the most difficult electronic music event you’ve captured and why?

I would say the first 5-10 events I’ve ever shot were all equally difficult and strenuous. I was 15 when I began shooting and was only allowed into all ages events.  With no education in photography, I fumbled with my uncle’s manual focus Nike FE film camera, never knowing what the outcome of the photos would be like.  I lived at home in Scarborough at the time (shout out to McCowan and Finch) and would scrounge enough change for TTC and head to the rave by myself, without ever knowing how I would get home at 4 am in the morning… I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world though!  That was pure character building.

Charles Khabouth, owner of The Guvernment during the club's final event in Toronto 2014, photographed by Tobias Wang

Charles Khabouth, owner of The Guvernment during the club’s final event in Toronto 2014, photographed by Tobias Wang

"‘Charles’ Farewell’ was taken on January 23, 2014, the third night prior to The Guvernement’s very last event.  On that night Armin Van Buuren was playing and the room was more packed than usual because Charles had made the main room slightly bigger by knocking down one of the walls.  People were sentimental and you could feel the sadness in a weird way… it was the end of an era.  This photo was taken at 1:40 am at the height of the night while Armin was on and I was looking for my next subject.  As I maneuvered through the densely packed room, I noticed Charles standing on the staircase, watching.  There was more to his expression and body language than the businessman I knew and revered. In that moment, Charles was simply a fan.  I snuck behind Charles and took this photo, and later I decided that black and white was the best way to tell the story of this moment.  By taking the colours away, the photo became more raw and emotional.  This is a photograph of a man saying goodbye to his greatest love."

 
Describe a highlight moment in your career as a photographer.

I have two major moments in my career. First, meeting my long time friend Richard aka. Mighty Jungle Mouse (co-founder of Torontojungle.com) at my first rave.  He was the guy who started my career as a photographer.  Without him I wouldn’t be here.

Second, working with Steve Angello in 2014 was a dream come true! Shooting at the biggest festivals with the best productions not only made me feel like a kid again, it also allowed me to capture the most breath taking moments so far in my career.

Steve Angello 'Return to Ultra' 2014, photographed by Tobias Wang

Steve Angello ‘Return to Ultra’ 2014, photographed by Tobias Wang

"‘Return To Ultra’ was taken in 2014 at Ultra Music Festival in Miami. I was working with Steve Angello on a few shows that year, but this event was especially important because it was his first time returning to the main stage after the break up of Swedish House Mafia. I felt an extra sense of honor, but also nervousness because one of the biggest DJs in the world brought me to document his return to this enormous and legendary festival and I did not want to fuck up.  I brought every gear I thought MIGHT be needed to document Steve and ended up using my fisheye lens the most.  After his set was done, I felt a high like I never felt before.  Steve wanted to post a picture on his Instagram right away and he picked this shot as I scrolled through my camera but I had forgot to bring a card reader.  I had to run around for 20 minutes backstage to find someone with a compatible usb cord to get the pic off my camera… Next morning, I woke up with over 3000 new Instagram followers." 

 
What aspect of electronic events do you enjoy shooting the most (the DJ, the crowd, the dancers, etc.)? 

I love to capture it all, my purpose is to tell the story of the events and without one element, the others really wouldn’t exist, or at least be as important.

'Hipsters' at C!rca in Toronto 2007, photographed by Tobias Wang

‘Hipsters’ at C!rca in Toronto 2007, photographed by Tobias Wang

"‘Hipsters’ was taken in 2007 at a club named C!rca (2007-2010, 126 John Street, Toronto).  It was a special time for me and the dance music scene, as mash up and electro became popular and inspired a generation of kids to celebrate being different and unique.  It was a time just before smart phone screens lit up our faces in the dark rooms and we still knew what it was like to be bored.  Kids dressed up, down, cross-dressed.  It felt new, felt different, it felt like rave was reborn.  I saw these kids at every party and it was my job to document them.  This picture sums up that short period of time perfectly for me."

 
What is it like to work in photography within Toronto? What are some benefits and obstacles to working in this city? 

I got into the scene relatively early and I stuck with it through thick and thin. For the first 10 years I didn’t make a dime, but my passion was engraved into my soul and some how I made it work.  I would say it is harder now to become a working photographer than ever before because of how easy it is to access a great camera and to learn it.  The margin for error is much smaller.
The benefit of working as a photographer in the scene is that there are always an endless amount of events popping up, especially when it gets colder.  All the biggest artists in the world comes through our city and we have one of the most diverse music scenes in the world, so inspiration is never in short supply!

Getting paid is always the obstacle.  In my experience, the more you get paid, the less exposure you would have and vice versa.


Special thanks to all the photographers who took part in this interview. We look forward to seeing more of your work!