Drew Ressler, who is known by the moniker Rukes, is arguably the most accomplished electronic-dance-music photographer in the game. He’s snapped everyone from Avicii to Zedd, and his work is regularly featured in Rolling Stone, Forbes, Vanity Fair and various other publications. We sat down with the prodigal shutterbug to learn how he captures the perfect shot.
How does a game designer become one of EDM’s most recognized photographers?
I was introduced to the music through gaming actually, and liked listening to it in my spare time. I would offer to shoot for free at Avalon [in Hollywood], because it was basically the only place that had the good DJs, so I pretty much tried to get a photo pass every week. After a while the club started to notice and said, “Hey, we kind of need a photographer; do you want to work for us for real?”
You transitioned early on from shooting the crowd to artists, right?
I was actually shooting both initially when I was at Avalon. I would take pictures of the DJs, but I didn’t know what I was doing. All of my shots were of the back of their heads. Eventually the DJs started asking me to shoot for them, and I started working with [DJ equipment company] Pioneer. I think the first major DJ I shot was Deadmau5 in 2008, and he started hiring me to shoot everywhere from Miami to Coachella, and he even brought me on tour. That was something that no one really ever did before, and other DJs started taking notice and would try to grab me and say, “We want you to do the same thing that you did for Deadmau5 for us.”
How did you meet Deadmau5?
Through Pioneer and Tommy Lee. I was shooting Tentation in Orange County, and Tommy Lee was doing one of his first DJ gigs. Pioneer introduced me to Tommy, and we became friends. Toward the end of 2007 Tommy said, “Hey, my friend Joel is playing his first L.A. gig in December, and he’s playing under the name Deadmau5. Do you want to come by and take pictures, hang out and meet him?” I said, “Why not?” It was at Circus, which held a few thousand people, but there were only 300 people inside. It was like a tiny-ass crowd for him, and everything just grew from there.
How do you get your subjects to let their guard down?
It’s a lot of trust and just building it up over the years with different DJs. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even need to meet a DJ before they trust me, because they knew all their friends trust me. When it comes time to work with them, they also realize how laid-back I am and that I’m not the type of person who wants to party and drink. I’m the person with the camera who stays in the shadows and just takes pictures without getting in the way. I give them space and try to just be a friend, so they’re pretty quick to let their guard down.
What was your role as tour photographer for Swedish House Mafia’s One Last Tour?
They actually used several different photographers to get a variety of shots, but picked me for some of the bigger, more important stops.
How did you land that gig?
I think it was a combination of doing what I do and their preference, but [their manager] Amy Thomson told them they need a good photographer and felt I was the best. I remember the first time I shot for them was Electric Daisy Carnival 2010 in L.A. and then worked with each of them individually.
Do you ever get recognized?
Yes. I mean, usually I wear my work shirt, so it’s easy for people to spot me. But it’s getting to the point where I’ll go to festivals and I’ll get bugged a lot for pictures. So, I’m probably not going to wear it anymore so I can be a little more incognito.
Do you prefer to shoot festivals, club shows or people?
I don’t like shooting people that much, because they get very particular. You can take the best picture of them, and they’ll still be like, “Oh I don’t look good in it, delete it.” And that’s a waste of time. For festivals, it depends. Some festivals like Stereosonic, Ultra and Hard Radio are amazing, very well done and hassle free. Others make me feel like, “OK I’m not doing another festival for a while!”
For a closer to look at more DJs, visit rukes.com.