Michael Tullberg On The Dos And Don’ts Of Rave Photography
Richie Hawtin, L.A. 1999
There is a cliché in nightlife that some of its denizens recite with jaded pride: “If you can remember, you weren’t there.” Fortunately we have technology to remember for us. Even more importantly, every subculture includes a handful of tech-friendly souls who function as their movement’s de facto historians.
On December 5, Los Angeles based photojournalist Michael Tullberg launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing of his upcoming book, “Dancefloor Thunderstorm: Land of the Free, Home of the Rave.” Reviewing and shooting festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival and Nocturnal Wonderland for outlets like Urb and Mixer, Tullberg amassed a collection of thoughts and images that chronicle Southern California’s rave scene from 1996-2002, one of its more pivotal eras. DJs featured in the over-300 page book include EDM vanguards and stalwarts Carl Cox, Paul Oakenfold, Paul Van Dyk, Crystal Method, and Moby.
Reflecting on how his role changed with technology and the times, Tullberg says “Film photographers did not have the luxury of being able to correct their work on the fly because they were able to inspect their work while still in the field. Nor did they have the ability to shoot and shoot and shoot until they got something simply because they had a huge memory card. In the film days, 36 exposures was the most you got out of a roll, so most of the time you had to be very economical with your shooting. The limitations of the genre forced you to ingrain the knowledge in your brain.”
Echoing a sentiment common to the scene he covers, Tullberg feels something is lost in the transition from analog to digital. “Modern sensors can produce crispness and clarity only previously available in 8”x10” box cameras. And yet, that hyper-pixelation has done away with some of the organic feel of photography, the same analog warmness one hears when they put on a vinyl record rather than an mp3. You can especially see it in skin tones; there’s still no digital sensor or editing program that can equal the gorgeous chemically induced concoction that was Kodachrome, the classic film born in the 1930s. The amateur photographer may be able to produce fine imagery, but they don’t have the slightest idea about how it’s being done.”
Check out the gallery to preview Tullberg book, and for those inspired by it, his handy list of rave photography Do’s and Don’ts. Follow the links to support his Kickstarter campaign.
THE DO’S & DON’TS OF SHOOTING DJS & PARTIES
Be professional. I cannot stress this strongly enough. You have to wear your dedication like a badge on your sleeve, because people will pick up on that and eventually doors will open for you.
Experiment whenever possible. Once you’ve gotten the shots you know are the good ones in the can, push the outside of the envelope and take advantage of your camera’s technology.
Learn to work quickly and efficiently. Stage managers and security generally don’t like people they don’t know hanging around the DJ booth . . . so it’s a very good thing to learn to compose, shoot and get out of there.
Develop relationships with promoters, artists, management and PR people. Like most folks, they like working with people that they like.
Learn to read a crowd, and listen to what the DJ is doing. If you can sense when a high point in the music is coming (when everybody goes bonkers), you can position yourself to capture the maximum effect when the place explodes.
Develop your own visual style. Photo technology has advanced to the point where practically anyone can take a good quality picture, even under adverse conditions. What’s going to separate your pictures from the pack is your distinct photographic approach, and the soul you pour into your pictures.
Be an obnoxious boor. Your professional reputation follows you around, more than ever in today’s social media world. It takes forever sometimes to establish good professional relationships, and they can all go up in smoke instantly if you fuck things up.
Count on your camera’s technology or Photoshop to do your job for you. Learn the craft.
Try to be smarmy and kiss-ass with the artists, especially if you’re meeting them for the first time. Just do your job and be respectful.
Stalk artists, or people on the dance floor. If people want to be photographed, they’ll let you know. If they don’t, leave them alone. The last thing you want to do is destroy the very atmosphere you’re trying to capture.
Get caught with not enough memory cards or batteries.
Expect to get quality results when you’re fucked up. No camera technology is going to save you when you’re too inebriated to point the lens in the right direction.