Ultra Australia has announced that Rukes – often referred to as #1 DJ Photographer in the ‘Greatest Music Photographers Right Now’ by Complex – will be coming to Melbourne & Sydney for the festival.
Rukes’ photos have been published by the likes of Rolling Stone, Spin, Vanity Fair, Q, MTV, LA Times, Forbes, Elektro, DJ Mag, US Weekly and USA Today, just to name a few! His worldwide client list includes artists such as Zedd, Above & Beyond, Excision, Deadmau5, Swedish House Mafia (as well as each member Axwell, Sebastian Ingrosso and Steve Angello), Calvin Harris, Avicii, Skrillex, Hardwell, Tommy Lee, Alesso, Steve Aoki, REZZ, Tiësto and many more! Not to mention shooting for some of the biggest festivals & events in the world such as Ultra Music Festival, Coachella, Red Rocks, Holy Ship, EDC and many more!
We here at Ozclubbers don't often get to chat to the photographers, so when we get to chat with someone who is considered #1 in his field, we naturally were pretty excited!
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce to you, Drew Ressler - aka Rukes!
My name is Drew, but most people know me by Rukes. I’m based in Los Angeles and I have been taking photos of dance music for almost 15 years now. I currently photograph DJs and festivals as a full time job, travelling all over the world.
How did you get your start in photography?
I got a point-and-shoot for my birthday in 2003, and ended up taking it to some club events in New York for fun. When I moved to Los Angeles in 2004, I was a little more interested in photography so I decided to get a basic DSLR setup and see how that worked out.
What was your first camera?
Technically my first one was a Canon PowerShot G3X point-and-shoot, but my first DSLR was a Canon 20D.
You started in the scene doing club photography, do you remember which club was your first gig and when?
Of course, it’s still up on my website! Everything is there! My first actual event I went to photograph was BT at Avalon NY in September 2003, but my first actual paid gig was one of the Avalon LA gigs in 2005, I forgot which.
When I started doing club photography in the early 2000’s, 99% of the galleries I saw online were pictures of clubgoers and hot girls, and maybe one blurry pic of the DJ. Since I was a fan of a lot of the DJs that played, I was wondering why nobody focused on the musicians. Of course club owners generally want to show off beautiful people to entice more people to come, but I wanted to give something to fans of the music by providing good quality photos of the actual DJs.
How much balance do you put into a gig of just a photo of the artist vs photos of the artist and the crowd in the background?
It depends on the DJ really. I generally try to only get 3-5 shots of the DJ up close, unless there is reason otherwise, like they are very active. It’s tough to get unique shots of a person DJing.
What was your “big break” (if you had one)? I.e., what gig were you at and came to a realisation of something like “holy shit, I’ve made it, this is where I want to be in life”?
Probably when I started working with Deadmau5 and he started bringing me on tour. When I ended up doing my first international touring gigs, I was just like “Ok, this is amazing”.
I would have to say first and foremost is Hybrid. They produce my favorite music, and Mike Truman was one of the first people that recognized I had an eye for photography.
Sasha would be another great one. Back in the early 2000’s, his shows were always EXTREMELY dark and he hated anyone using flash. So I had to develop and learn extreme low-light photography, and even get a low-light lens. That helped push my photography very early on.
A third one might be Swedish House Mafia. Usually when I’m taking pics of a DJ, it’s one or at most two people. Having to photograph three distinct personalities is difficult because in every photo of them, you have to make sure all three look good. If one doesn’t, the photo is trashed no matter how good the rest of it looked. So it really helped me develop my timing and looking at how to recognize what people are doing or are going to do, physically.
How often are you asked to take “private” photos by big name artists backstage doing things their promotions team would frown heavily at? Can you share some stories on this (without giving away any details that might hint who the artists are or where it took place)?
I mean there aren’t really any situations where I am asked to take shady photos, it’s more of something that just happens during the course of photography. Usually if it’s extremely bad, the artist will laugh and I’ll just delete the photo immediately. Most of the time they like the pic, but don’t want it public, so I save it in a separate subdirectory and just send the artist the photo themselves. This could be anything from a funny face, to drinking when they shouldn’t be, etc.
What would be the greatest part of your job?
Travelling the world. I’m at the point where I love long flights without having to deal with social media and can just watch movies and play videogames. Then enjoying long layovers in nice airport lounges. Of course then collecting tons of miles and elite status too (I’m actually on track to be top tier in OneWorld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam by the end of the year).
Then arriving in the country to experience the culture and food almost makes my job like a vacation.
And what would you consider the greatest challenge to doing what you do?
Probably improving my craft bit by bit. I must balance a fine line of keeping on doing what I’m comfortable with, and pushing my boundaries a little, while keeping working. Stuff such as refining my photography to end up with less photos that are a higher quality is always a goal. I have gone from hundreds of festival pics a day when I started to maybe around a hundred or so, and I keep tightening it.
At the time, the Canon 20D was considered the better camera body than what Nikon had, and Canon had better low-light lenses. Nowadays Nikon is usually considered to have slightly better bodies, but Canon still has better lenses.
What computer hardware and software do you use for processing your photos?
Right now I have a 2016 MacBook Pro and I edit in Lightroom Classic CC. Since I travel so much, I exclusively must edit my photos on my MacBook Pro and abandoned editing galleries at home, just for conformity sake.
How important do you believe a social media profile (mostly Instagram) is to a photographer’s public profile?
It’s necessary nowadays as it shows a window into the photographer’s life and doubles as a portfolio. At the same time, it’s always difficult dealing with the horrible reach most social media has nowadays, though.
Tokyo is my favorite city in the world by far, I always love going there. The crowd is always fanatical.
Other than that being a personal choice, there are just a lot of cities that have crazy crowds. Ultra Korea last year had one of the craziest crowds I have ever seen at a festival. Mexico, India, Indonesia and more always have active crowds.
Which cities do you believe the electronic music scene is booming?
That’s a tough one since it’s kind of in a holding pattern right now. Most places are set in their popularity and continuing. Places like South America and China which had a huge boom are starting to lessen events due to government pressure. Australia is a good opposite where for years it’s been without major festivals, and now Ultra Australia and Festival X are poised to bring it back, even though the government might not like that too much.
Still, Asia is still where most electronic music is booming. Bangkok, smaller cities in China, Japan are all still growing very well with more and more events.
Our own Sydney has recently been stripped of much of its electronic music culture due to political interests under the visor of safety. In your worldly travels, have you seen this in other cities, how did it impact your gig in those cities?
A few places. China and most of South America are the major places where this has happened. You used to be able to easily do gigs in places like Chile, Argentina and Brazil but it’s a bit difficult. China, especially Beijing, is very difficult. I have done festivals where they only are allowed to sell very few tickets compared to the venue size.
You probably get asked this a lot, but what advice would you give to someone who is in their early stages of photography and are hoping to stand out from the rest?
Always work on photos the way you want to. Only take inspiration from other photographers. Don’t copy them unless it’s learning how they did it. People want unique work and not work they can get from someone else.
Thanks Rukes for taking the time to chat with us today!
You can see more of Rukes' work by visiting http://www.rukes.com/ or see some of his work from Ultra Australia 2018 below.