Ultra Music Festival is one of the largest electronic dance music concerts in the world and brought in over 300,000 people last year in Miami. The heavy-hitting festival along with Winter Music Conference and Miami Music Week just wrapped up this past weekend. I reached out to members of the EDM Photographers group that attended Miami's craziest week and asked how their experience was shooting these massive events.
For many of the members in the EDM Photography group, shooting Ultra is definitely an achievement, and many consider that as a highlight of their careers. Photographers come from all over the world to celebrate and document electronic dance music in one monumental week in Miami. Each photographer below has earned their right to shoot this event, whether they're shooting for Ultra itself or for an artist, or a press outlet, they're all there to capture the event in its best light. I will be presenting this series in two separate parts to give each photographer a chance to express their thoughts on achieving this milestone in their careers.
Rutger Geerling one of Ultra Music Festival's official staff photographers had this to say about his experiences shooting the event.
"I kind of get to enjoy Ultra mostly afterwards, when I’m going through my pictures. The festival itself I’m just too absorbed, too deep into my photography to really enjoy it to the max. Of course, there’s always these intense moments when the crowd really goes wild and you feel it in your spine but most of the time it’s just hard work and trying to be creative.
But I guess what I love most is the camaraderie among the photographers in the scene. I think we sometimes forget how important and worthwhile protecting that is. To me it’s one of the major attractions to this work: being able to love other people’s work too and seeing that is mutual among most of us, whatever country you’re from." -Rutger Geerling
Drew Ressler better known as the popular "Rukes" has dominated the scene of EDM photography for a few years now. As another official photographer for Ultra he said this about working the event.
"Ultra is probably the largest event I shoot all year, and although it is very difficult to cover as much as I can (compared to other festivals), I always end up with some good pics in the end!" -Drew "Rukes" Ressler
"This was the 4th time I shot at Ultra Music Festival. This time I was walking around with my brand new Nikon D4s. All three shots I included were taken using the new Nikon flagship camera.
As for shooting Ultra, I'd say this year was equally enjoyable and frustrating. I truly enjoyed the production Ultra puts into their stages and sitting front of house at the main stage is quite a mind-blowing experience, but it was also frustrating seeing a photo pit with close to 50 or more photographers clamoring to get photos of No. 1 DJ in the World, Hardwell. I was quite literally having to climb around just to get back to the sound and lighting boards. While I love seeing a growth in photography, it's hard to be happy when the craft has become a simple and easy way of getting free access to a "great party."
My favorite part of the weekend was probably the moment when Ferry Corsten and Markus Schulz, two of the biggest trance artists in the world, turned and looked at me as I was shooting and smiled. Those types of shots with the artists, the crowds, the production and general happiness and engagement are moments this photographer lives for." -Doug Van Sant
"Shooting Ultra was a humbling experience for me. For someone who only picked up a camera 15 months ago, shooting for an artist at one of the biggest festivals in the world, shows me that drive and determination pays off. I feel like Ultra Music Festival and the Winter Music Conference is like the Mecca for electronic music photographers. It basically was a pilgrimage for me from the start of my trip to the end. I live in the suburbs of New York City and had to travel to DC to work right before Miami. So I started off with about 80% of my gear on my back in my Lowepro Pro Runner 450AW. 39lbs according to the airline. This bag came everywhere with me all week. Basically all the gear I felt I needed on my first run in Miami.
The gear I packed was all for specific use. Two camera bodies; a 5D MarkIII and a Canon 6D on a Black Rapid double strap DR-2 for easy use and not much lens changing in the middle of shooting. I like a wide array of lenses and its a pain with one body to constantly switching lenses. As for my lenses a Canon 70-200mm L 2.8f IS II is a necessity at a major music festival. This is the lens that you use constantly when you do not have access to the stage. It is a photo pit essential. I have a Tamron 24-70mm 2.8f, Canon 16-35mm L 2.8f, a Canon 8-15mm L 4f, and a Canon 50 1.8f.
The 24-70mm and the 50mm are great all around workhorse lenses. The 8-15mm fisheye and the 16-35mm are through and through my favorites for when I have stage access or in a DJ booth. Wide enough to fit everything in the shot when you want to portray the magnitude of the event. Anything where 50-100,000 people can’t fit in the frame. Among the bodies and lenses you would find a 15inch Macbook Pro with Lightroom 5, multiple flashes, chargers, and an assortment of other gear.
The entire 5 days in Miami included 11 jobs with a few international music artists, a magazine, and a management company, that were very long hours anywhere in the 24 hour day. I basically only got about 3-4 hours of sleep a night, and was on my feet with my camera bag on my back for the majority of the time. It was long hours, rough on my legs and back, for not nearly the amount of money I deserve. However I will be back next year, without a doubt, because it was an experience of a lifetime with the portfolio to prove it.” -Christopher Lazzaro
"This was my second time shooting Ultra 2014, and yes it's so worth it to come all the way from Holland. In Holland we get a lot of parties and I like them very much, but to be honest I prefer the crowd from the USA. They are so exited, they turn Ultra into sheer madness! I saw so many happy people there it just gives Ultra an extra blast. The line up was also great and the people love the big line up of Ultra! Almost all the biggest DJs from around the world show up and I heard a lot of great sets.
The highlight for me was that I had the honor to capture this festival. I didn't have enough time to get all the pictures I wanted or to stay at an area because there were too many good things going on this weekend. I am back at work right now and my thoughts are still at Ultra. I truly loved it!" -Heidie Duteweert
"This was my first chance getting to witness the sheer majesty of the Ultra Main Stage. Full of fireworks, pyro, cryo, lasers, LEDs, confetti, and streamers, there are an infinite number of spectacular combinations making it an absolute joy to photograph. The size of this superstructure, which dwarfs almost any other stage out there, makes the task of capturing it all challenging. But when you can get all of the elements working together in a single shot, you get some exciting results!
It was the first time in over two years that I was shooting an event with basic press credentials and not as a production photographer, so I was a little out of my comfort zone only spending the first 15 minutes of each set in the pit and not having a staging area to store my equipment. I slimmed down to my essential gear - Canon 5D mkIII, 8-15 f/4L, 16-35 II f/2.8L, 24-70 II f/2.8L, 70-200 II f/2.8L, monopod, and remote trigger all in a single Lowepro Flipside backpack, and tried to make the best of it.
However, my credentials improved Saturday night photographing for Above & Beyond, something I had been looking forward to for months. Unfortunately, it started to downpour right as their set began. As I made my way into the pit from behind the main stage, all the other photographers were shuffling out to avoid the deluge. I know I needed to get some front of house shots for A&B though so I tucked my camera under my shirt, bent over to protect it, and hoped things would clear up. But security was getting everyone out of the pit for safety reasons, so I asked for a few more minutes. Hoping that my 5d MkIII's weather sealing was as good as Canon claimed it was, I said screw it and began photographing in the pouring rain without any protective gear.
I ended up getting my favorite shot of the weekend before being forcibly removed a few minutes later. I then noticed that because of the intense rain, A&B had to be moved from the front to the back of the main stage and play from a dimly lit backup deck that forced them to play the rest of the set with their back to the audience. I wasn't able to get that iconic Ultra main stage shot, the DJ overlooking a massive crowd with the looming Miami skyscrapers for a backdrop, but I was able to get some unique shots." Calder Wilson
"I'm Barrie Martelle and I was photographing Ultra Music Festival 2014 for several different entity's this year. For me Ultra Music Festival is unique, It's the kinda uniqueness that can be magical, exciting, disappointing, rewarding and frustrating all in a matter of a few seconds. I also believe It's all those elements combined that help to make my images stand out and keep me moving forward in the EDM photography world. This year's edition of Ultra Music Festival seemed a lot more tamer in regards to the festival goers but I can't say the same for the photography pits. I have never seen so many unprofessional and non professional photographers in my life in one spot.
I would say this was the most frustrating part of the weekend knowing that some of these people have no business standing in front of me or even being here blocking my potentially amazing photo's. Although my experiences were sometimes frustrating my overall Ultra photography experience was rewarding in several way's and my goals were reached on the highest level so I'm happy with my final images. I also got to meet and connect with several people I look up to including Doug Van Sant, Rukes, Rutger which is something I just needed to do in my life time. If you're wondering what gear I used it's nothing really crazy but I had two body's a Nikon D7000 and a Nikon D600. The lenses I used were 70-200 f2.8, 50mm f1.8, 15mm 2.8, 16-28mm f2.8." Barrie Martelle
In the next few days I will be posting part two of the series, so stayed tuned. Featured image by: Barrie Martell