In this new instalment of our interview series, we speak to the people in the music industry making the machine work in the background. For our first article, we speak to one of dance music’s most well known photographers, Luke Curtis, on photographing the likes of Carl Cox & David Guetta, his humble beginnings and how hard work triumphs everything.
How did you get into photography?
Back in 2011 I was working for Sony, had never touched a camera but with my daughter due I was advised to get a camera by a colleague of mine; so I could capture her growing up. I bought a camera and its really cliché but that was it I was hooked!!! I started taking pictures of everything I could. Eventually a few years later I had built enough of a portfolio to take the bold move of walking away from Sony and starting a career as a photographer!!!
I earned no money the first few years – but used the skills I had learnt in business I started canvassing opportunities to shoot (these were all opportunities to build a portfolio).
After a couple years of what felt like failure I had sold my car, had to move out of my owned flat to sublet it so I could live in a cheaper place to cover the mortgage… things were looking pretty grim! But I was approached by a local club that was reopening about shooting their events! I did Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and had officially started making money as a tog!
From their I found my love for combing music and photography and with some graft a few years later I have some pretty decent images against my name and some great stories to share 😉
Could you tell us a bit about your setup?
Of course… Set up for any photographer is always really personal, I started with Sony cameras and have stuck with them for years. When I first started owning a Sony was laughable in the professional realms of photography! Over the years they have got so much better and most of the pros doing video use Sony and a lot of pros outside of the music industry use similar kit to me. I currently use the following;
Carl zeiss 12mm
Carl zeiss 85mm
Remote wireless flashes x 2
Bowens 500w XMT – Studio/location flashes) x 2
Range of different light shaping tools
MacBook pro that I tether to which lives nicely in a Peli 1510 case (they sponsor me)
Lowe pro rucksake
Capture one Pro
I don’t use them for all jobs but between all this gear I can shoot pretty much anything…. People might read it and start doing the maths. it’s a huge outlay but the thing to remember is I didn’t start with all this… its built up over the years and is bespoke to my style of shooting. I started with a camera that cost less that £250!!! Anyone getting into should add to their kit of the years as they develop their skills.
You have photographed some of the most notable people in the music industry such as Carl Cox, David Guetta, Hector (Vatos Locos) and many more. How did you get involved in the dance music scene?
As mentioned above I ended up taking pictures at a club called unit17 in Ipswich, I had snapped people like camel phat (before they went global) jack eye jones and shift k3y. I genuinely fell in love with shooting dance events as I grew up in London raving so I was totally at home with the sound and enjoyed being there, it felt like home!
I got really into event photography so started researching other photographers doing the same thing so I could improve my work… I came across Ryan Dinham (photographer for defected and resident tog at Egg) – his work blew me away after seeing it in DJ Mag!! So, I made the decision that this was the direction I wanted to go in and I wanted to be as inspiring as Ryan’s work was to me!
I knew that I wouldn’t progress if I didn’t put myself at the heart of the scene – so I started to approach London events, clubs and artists about shooting for them…. I got my break when ABODE’S Artikal said yes and had me tag along and take some pictures of him playing at studio 338!!!!
The rest has snowballed from that point there!
For photographers that are just starting out in the industry, what advice would you be giving them and why?
Be prepared to graft! When you see DJ’s doing really well and blowing up, the reality is they have put in some serious hours to get to that point…… it’s no different for photographers and videographers – you’ve got to pay your dues. Don’t be heartbroken if you feel you aren’t going anywhere, there is a famous photography quote – ‘Your first 10,000 photos are your worst’ – Henri cartier-Bresson. You’ve got to practice to get better and club photography is so niche the only place you can practice is taking pics at raves so this is the education you need to progress.
Also spend time in the scene, don’t just turn up to take pictures, be involved go to raves, keep up to date with the scene as people want a professional that gets it and you can only do that if you a fully involved – network, network, network as this will help you connect with people – dance music is still very separate from the mainstream so you need to be involved to be involved, if you get me.
I would always encourage any creative to never stop being a fan of others work as this is where you will get your creative inspiration from… you stop being a fan and you go out of style very quickly.
My last bit of advice to anyone and probably the most important part… ‘Don’t let it go to your head’. I’ve been so fortunate to shoot and meet some real legends in the scene, but I’d never think I am too special to work with up and coming artists or turn away work because I think I am above it!
The minute you think you’re greater than the music, you’re finished.”
– Frankie Knuckles –
Do you have any upcoming shoots in the near future that you can tell us about?
I have a couple commissions coming up that are pretty special but I can’t talk too much – I have just shot some new press images for secondcity! This was pretty special to me as at the point I was getting into event photography ‘I wanna feel’ was huge, went to UK number 1! It’s a real feel good tune that played a part in inspiring me to push further into the scene… so to come full circle and be able to shoot Rowan was amazing!
In Jan 2018, I am holding a Masterclass at a huge photo trade show in London called SWPP (The society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers).
This is going to be huge for me and for others in the same field; as event photography is often seen as the lowest denominator amongst photographers, so sometimes doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Its fair to say that there hasn’t been to this date a photographer in the dance music scene holding a talk like this. I really hope it helps to build respect for dance music photographers as I honestly believe it’s the hardest form of photography.
What more can we expect from you in 2018?
I am planning on opening my own studio in East London specifically for shooting Artists promo images and being centred around music a space that will allow artists to launch Eps, shoot press images etc. As we get closer to the season I will also be heading to Ibiza a few times I am sure 😉
Beyond that I am hoping to keep doing what I love – shooting as much as I can and getting the opportunity to work with as many DJ’s as possible. There are a couple DJ’s that I am actively approaching to work with as I am a huge fan and know I can produce some stand out images with.
You can check out all of Luke’s socials and his upcoming shoots at the top of this page!