If you're an EDM fan or festival lover you've surely seen his photos. He combines a unique shooting style with some of the biggest names in the business. Whether it's epic aerial shots, shooting sea turtles underwater, or taking selfies while paragliding over the Swiss Alps Rutger Geerling is everywhere. He has one of the most eclectic photo portfolios you'll ever see and his work his bold, colorful, and exciting.
Rutger was gracious enough to take some time out of his insane schedule to talk to me about his journey into professional photography, his nearly two decades worth of work in the EDM world, and where he sees the profession going.
One word to describe you?
You said that you almost fell into photography by accident. At what point did you realize - I’m good enough to do this professionally?
Even as a kid I was fascinated by photography and I knew it was something that I’d greatly enjoy. So during my studies (Master in Public Administration) I finally decided to save enough money for a decent camera and I was instantly hooked. By photographing for University magazines and doing tons of free work (architecture, skateboarding, snowboarding) I slowly got better until I figured I liked it so much I wanted to see if I could make a living out of it. This was about 5 years after I started. You have to remember, this was all pre-digital age. The learning curve was considerably slower than now!
By working for a for a publishing house (they had a snowboard and a music magazine) the whole thing got started.
Most important advice for young photographers just getting into the profession?
Realize it is probably going to take some time before you’ll be heading in the direction that you want. Be professional, always (on stage, backstage and off-duty!) and, be respectful of the artists and the people you’re working with. There’s a lot of good comradery among EDM photographers and that’s something to cherish.
Your travel load looks challenging. Give us your worst travel horror story.
A couple of years ago I first flew from Amsterdam to Tokyo and spent two weeks in Japan. Had to return back home (thirteen hour flight), had just enough time to wash my clothes, and was back into the airplane two days later on my way to Thailand (ten hour flight) for a ten-day photo-shoot. Got home on a Sunday and was back at the airport the day after, going west this time to Vancouver for about eleven hours. No need to tell you that my mind was kind of mushy for the next couple of days. Worst jetlag ever!
How has the photography industry changed over your career? Both good and bad.
Digital has obviously been the big game changer and one I had been looking forward to for a few years before I finally switched in 2003. It has been quite a change for the good. Instead of stressing out on my light box and racing to get images scanned and delivered to clients things are now much more relaxing sitting behind a computer with a mug of coffee in your hands. Also, so many people have picked up photography and are more knowledgeable about it that there is much more appreciation for good photography. On the downside, and this is much worse than I had anticipated, the competition has become so fierce that for a large part photography is a dying breed. Only a very few at the top can still make a living, the rest are struggling so hard – I see it everywhere around me. The media has totally given up on quality photography, and is not willing to spend anything in order to preserve whatever profits they still have.
You’ve been photographing EDM for roughly 16 years or more (you can give me exact amount) – did you ever believe it would explode from the niche club scene in Europe to this massive festival circuit we see now?
I’ve been shooting EDM since 1995 – so 18 years now! Ever since I started big festivals were the norm in Europe, Mysteryland started 20 years ago and is still around.
Most memorable club or non major festival venue you shot EDM?
That has got to be Distant Heat in the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan. Such an incredible place for an EDM event (Armin and Markus Schulz all have played there). The setting, a Unesco World Heritage site, is just out of this world with massive red walls of rock surrounding the stage.
How has the explosion of EDM in the United States changed the industry and did you ever imagine it would break through here? Is there a noticeable difference between American & European Fans?
I’ve never understood why it took so long for it to conquer the United States. I mean, it’s the birthplace of it all!
For me it has been a good thing since I’ve gotten much more international recognition for my work and it makes me happy seeing the whole world now enjoying the music that I love most. The United States, particularly, has an amazing crowd,and I always enjoy shooting there. In contrast, the Dutch people are a lot more subdued. Ultra Europe in Croatia….. I was seriously blown away by the crowd. I have rarely seen such an intense and crazy people.
Your music photography tends to focus more on the crowd, the experience, and individual fans as much as the performers. Is that a conscious decision?
I think I focus a lot on bringing back the experience of the event as a whole and the crowd is just a huge part of it. There are so many angles for photography within the crowd that it never tires me. Also, I thrive on the energy of the people dancing and enjoying themselves so for me it’s natural to have a large focus on it.
Lately I’ve been putting some more emphasis on artist photography and management though – it helps getting exposure and people love seeing shots from the backstage angle. For me that has always been a natural place to work so I never thought anything of it. I never realized how much people enjoy feeling like they’re taken there themselves through my photos.
How did growing up in the Netherlands shape you as a photographer?
This is a nice and peaceful country; safe too – so you can take your camera out in the city and have fun without having to worry too much. And I was lucky of course that ID&T is from the same place.
How did you connect with a company like ID&T, and what kind of avenues does that open up as opposed to be strictly freelance?
Being from the same country and being one of the very few full-time professional EDM photographers back in the day it was only a matter of time that I got working for them. I am a freelancer though so I can fool around and do much more than just their parties. Which is a good thing. I have to say that my work for ID&T opened the doors elsewhere so they always have a special place in my heart.
So many photographers, especially EDM, stick to their niche. You have such an eclectic portfolio. Do you think the multitude of situations makes you a better shooter?
Absolutely, I’d get totally bored doing only artist photography for instance. The challenge for me is to really bring back the event to the person watching the photos. Somebody will probably have a better DJ photo, somebody else a more epic crowd shot but nobody tells a story like I do and I think that sets me apart from the rest and I guess that’s why I fly all over the world to do my thing.
How did you get so involved in winter sport photography?
I grew up skateboarding and snowboarding was the logical step since many of my friends did so too. I loved shooting both, but ever since I stopped skateboarding (I’m too old, my ankles break down too much, hahaha) I haven’t shot it that much anymore.
I’m jealously admiring the amount of aerial helicopter photography you’ve done. Any tips on shooting from a helicopter.
I LOVE helicopters, last year I think I spent more than six hours in total flying in helis at festivals all over the world. Tomorrowland has always been extremely supportive in getting me into the air. After some initial tries at other festivals we put together a plan for some night shoots and that worked out extremely well.
It’s the toughest sort of photography that I master – you really have to concentrate on breathing, muscle control and technical aspects. I’ve done it a handful of times now and I always come back empty in my mind. There’s usually a lot of speed so going for higher shutter times is a must!
Now I have to say Heineken; they’re a huge customer of mine. But have to admit I’m a huge fan of the stronger Belgium small brands out there.
What’s the most underrated piece of camera equipment in your bag?
I love this question! I think it is actually the bag itself, I’m super picky when it comes to choosing one. When my old Burton photo bag was discontinued I went through five different bags in half a year before I found one that I’m totally happy with (Dakine).
Those unreal paragliding shots in the alps and your roller coaster shots. What camera did you use and how was it set up?
Just a regular full-frame DSLR and a 15mm fisheye lens. Usually I set things up manually, turn the camera around and happily start clicking away. In rollercoasters, light changes too much for manual exposure so I go for semi-automatic. Actually, the hardest part is aiming your camera at negative G’s!
What brought you into underwater photography and what unique challenges does that provide?
If there’s one thing that I love most it’s scuba-diving – there’s nothing more relaxing and fascinating in the world. So after getting my license it was only natural for me to pick up photography as well and even though I don’t dive as much as I’d like to (I have a family life as well, time is scarce) I try to dive as regularly as I can.
Compared to established UW-photographers I’m a total noob but I get away with it because I know cameras in and out and I’m good at predicting situations, a thing that has become so natural after shooting winter sports for ages. I like the challenges of not being able to control everything, the fact that you have to be able to quickly adjust. A thing which you can also see in my EDM photography – I’m fast, very fast and that way I capture things that others don’t.
Any type of shooting you haven’t or won’t do?
Canon or Nikon?
Total Canon man, always have been, always will….
By April Maciborka and David Wile.
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