Music Photography Blog

by Adam Elmakias

Photographs of DJ Tiësto

I met Brian Buckley in 2007, while I was in high school. At the time he was tour managing Envy On The Coast. Come January of 2008, Brian and I took a road trip to Canada so I could photograph a few bands he was working with. We stayed in touch over the years and would periodically run into each other while traveling with different bands.

Come 2010 Brian landed the job of tour managing Tiësto . He called me one day and said “Elmo I have this DJ, DJ Tiësto you have got to shoot”. I had never heard of Tiësto before, but Brian promised he was a big name. After some simple google style research, I realized that this was indeed a rather established artist to say the least. I am surprised I have never heard of him, I don’t listen to DJ’s much, but regardless he seemed pretty well known! He has a very interesting history, I suggest reading it on his wikipedia page.

I was in the process of planning a shoot with The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus in Jacksonville, Florida at the time. So I just added these dates on to the end of my trip. This was my schedule.

03/23 – San Diego, CA => Orlando, FL
03/24 – Jacksonville, FL
03/25 – Orlando, FL => Miami, FL
03/26 – Miami, FL
03/27 – Miami, FL
03/28 – Miami, FL => San Diego, CA

I stayed at Gage‘s place in Orlando and had to leave the night of the 24th/ morning of the 25th for Miami. I couldn’t really sleep. I was up until about 2:00am making client galleries and sending out e-mails for my shoot I had just wrapped. I had to wake up at 4:00am to catch a cab and make my flight, so that left me with about two hours of sleep. Except I couldn’t sleep, I was exhausted but for some reason my mind was racing. There goes my night of sleep. The cab picked me up right on time and the driver was a middle aged man from Haiti. The ride was at least fifteen minutes so it gave us some time to get to know each other. He explained to me how their person in charge had them kill all of their native pigs and import expensive pigs from out of the country. It was a big deal for his people and I wish I could remember more and not come off as being so ignorant, but I was running on empty. EIther way, nice guy and he got me to the airport safe so I was stoked.

I hopped out of the cab and headed inside. Checked in, took the tram to the terminal and looked for a place to eat. It was 6:00am and nothing was open, except for Quiznos and Burger King. I absolutely will not eat at Quiznos, too many bad experiences. I reluctantly purchased a Burger King breakfast. The food temporarily made me feel full and the coffee kept me awake long enough for me to board my plane. I should have packed something to eat. Oops.

I passed out for the quick one hour plane ride and awoke to humid but beautiful Miami Beach. I had never been here before, only heard stories. I arranged for Joe Perri a fellow photographer and now good friend to pick me up. He swooped me soon after I landed and we headed to the beach. I had about five hours to kill until I could check into my hotel with Brian. We walked along the beach, he showed me around the area, and we ate at Johnny Rockets. By 1 in the afternoon I was going into zombie mode. I barely remember anything. Joe had to peace out and I walked to the hotel and waited in their outside lobby. I think I played some games on my computer or something to kill time, but again, I am not quite sure. I was so close to passing out. Emilio, merch guy and another old friend of mine arrived before Brian and turns out we were all sharing a room. I cruised with him to the room and took a shower.

Brian arrived eventually and after he showered and got ready, we headed out to meet up with some of his friends. I am not sure how I was still functioning, I don’t usually pull forty hour work days. We got some food and went over what I would be doing the next day at the festival. He gave me an idea of what I should wear, how I should act and what I should expect. I headed back to the hotel and crashed early, I couldn’t handle being awake much longer and I wasn’t able to get into any of the clubs due to my age anyway.

The next morning me, Brian, and his friend Chad of Kids At The Bar all caught a cab to the festival grounds. We were going to Ultra Fest. What is Ultra Fest? “The World’s most famous outdoor electronic music event, is held annually in Miami, Florida during March, coinciding with the Winter Music Conference.” Again, I had never heard of this festival, nor had I heard of most of the bands playing it.

It was pouring rain out when we got in the cab, and definitely still pouring when we got out. We were stuck outside of the gate backstage for about twenty minutes waiting for our passes, in the pouring rain. I didn’t care about my clothes, shoes, skin etc, I just didn’t want my gear to get wet. I asked one of the security guards for a poncho and he hooked it up. I huddled in a corner by a fence and covered my gear with the poncho. I was drenched, my gear was dry though! We eventually got our credentials and hopped on a golf cart to cruise around the grounds on.

We hung around backstage for a bit, and made ourselves familiar with the area. Venue laying down hay to minimize the mud behind the stage.

Backside of the stage

Emilio needed help counting merch in, so Brian and I golf carted our asses over there. The doors didn’t open for awhile and everyone was still setting up. The main stage was massive. After I shot this, security got a little sketched out with me and asked me to put my camera away. I took this as “be more sneaky”… so I did, until I picked up my pass.

After we were done counting in, production showed us to Tij’s RV. This gave me a chance to set my gear down and relax for a little bit.

View from front of RV.

View from back of RV.

Brian Buckley


My wet shoes dyed my feet different colors.

Tijs is Tiësto ‘s real name, pronounced “Tice” I ate some of his candy and headed back outside. For the majority of the day I just walked around and people watched, it was pretty crazy. I am pretty sure the vast majority of the people there were on drugs, pretty rough drugs. Almost everyone was rollin’ on E or Molly. Which meant very friendly strangers. I am sure anyone who wasn’t rolling was on Acid or some other kind of mind boggling drug. Can you tell this scene is new to me? Some people had gas masks on and apparently they put Vick’s Vapor rub inside so that they stay high all day? Feel free to correct me if I am wrong here, but I think that is correct!

While I was walking around with Bucks he told me to stop this long haired guy and ask him for a quick picture. So I said “Hey, can I grab a quick portrait of you?” He responded “Sure”. I said “okay on three, one, two and three. Thanks” . Then he walked away. After I was done shooting, Brian explained to me that that was Steve Aoki. I had no idea who he was. He looks badass though.

Passion Pit

What is the name of this band? I have no idea, girl fronted, I think she was wearing armor.

David Guetta

Time to get to work. Tijs arrived in a Limo with an entourage about an hour or two before his set. He went straight to his RV with his traveling party and hung out. I basically stood ten feet outside the RV door and when someone of notable status would come walking by to hang with him, I would grab them aside for a photo. There was security surrounding the RV and only people who were cleared by TIjs or his management were allowed to come through. I took a picture of Tijs with WIll-I-Am and another with the guys from Passion Pit. Other than that I just hung around and people watched. Lots of tall beautiful women, small business men, and more alcohol than the both of them could consume.

I didn’t realize how massive Tiësto was until the night of the show. Then I started to get it,- he had been around for twenty years, has a huge following, and makes tens of millions a year, this guy was legit. I met him for a total of a few seconds that night. He was pretty busy and the whole point of my trip was to meet him. I don’t really know what I expected to happen, but that short introduction worked for me. I also met three of his managers and his booking agent.

Eventually it was time to go on stage. I left the RV a few minutes before everyone else so I could get on stage and be prepared.

Stage while intro was playing, right before he went on stage

I had my light stand with me so I could mount my camera on it and keep it ten feet in the air. I can’t really release any of the images that he is in except for this one. Hopefully it gives you an idea of how many people were there. It was hard to get a good shot of him like the one below. They had these two huge spotlights shining right at him, and if I didn’t place his body in between the lights and my camera, the image wouldn’t even be useable.

You can see me shooting at 3:40 or so, I am right behind Tijs’ booth.

The show was pretty wild, a huge production. Lots of lights and fire. They even had this tall light up, smoke blowing robot things, they were epic.

While I was shooting in the pit area right in front of the stage, there were four naked, big (fake) breasted women- dancing, well grinding on each other. They were in a restricted area that no one but security and the film crew was supposed to be in. I picked up pretty quickly on why they didn’t kick them out. Well, I don’t see that everyday!

As soon as he finished his set, he was mobbed by people as he left the stage.

After he got back to the RV, everyone hung around for a few hours more before leaving to the after party. His RV is the one in the top right in this picture. While I was waiting for everyone to finish after partying. I talked with the RV owner about his job. He basically rents his RV out to different productions so they can use it as a backstage area. Interesting business, a few days earlier he was working with Jersey Shore and he said it was wild, some crazy dudes. He was really nice, our conversation was eventually interrupted by some guy screaming and his sister crying/ being really drunk. I guess she really wanted to meet TIjs and they wouldn’t let her. No one knew why they were even back stage. Then they had to use force to get them out of there, they resisted, cops were called, big mess- very entertaining.

Eventually the party left and we all cabbed back to the hotel. Once again I was too young to go out, so I just went to sleep. I think Brian almost punched our first cab driver cause he was trying to overcharge us, funny stuff.

The next day we got up and had to return a rental car quick in the AM. After we did that we hopped in a cab with three girls we met on the corner and split the fare. So random, but I am always down to save some cash.

I didn’t have any assignments the second day, so I mostly just walked around and shot anything and everything.

I forget why but I had to cab back and forth from the hotel at one point during the day. On the way back my cab driver was stopped by some guy in a suit, he got in without really asking and just looked at me and asked if he could ride along as well, he was headed to the airport and my stop was on the way. I didn’t care, he said he would pay for the whole thing he just needed a cab. Done deal. I think he was coked out of his mind. He was on the phone with his friend trying to convince him to come party with him at Miami Beach. He bragged about “big titted topless bitches” and his countless parties he attended throughout the night, and that he hadn’t slept yet. Yep, definitely cocaine, the dude was wild. I should have covertly taken a picture of him! But I was too busy trying to not bust out in laughter.

I remember the Bloody Beetroots, they were really good. I was backstage right before they went on, but I couldn’t see the show well so I went around front. I grabbed this image of one of the guys right before he went on stage.

This mushroom thing had fun visuals inside.

The show was sold out, a lot of people could not get in.

I am not sure who this is, but he had a large crowd.

There was this huge dome where everyone was climbing all around and dancing. We climbed up top and I grabbed some images with my light stand.

I liked that no one gave a fuck what you were doing, everyone just hung out and partied.

Outside of the dome

I shot from waist level a lot, so that people wouldn’t really notice me

The booth next to Tiësto ‘s merch had this guy who was painting people’s skin all day. I imagine it felt amazing if you were rolling, but it was quite entertaining to observe.

That night I was supposed to stick around and catch a cab with Emilio but the cab drivers were trying to rip me off, so I got pissed and walked back to the hotel. It was something like six miles and I had my backpack and Brian’s, as he had left it with me. It took me a few hours to get back. I had to walk through Miami beach party central wearing one backpack regularly and the other over my stomach. Some guys called me pregnant and I laughed along, I definitely looked all kinds of silly.

I was exhausted, passed out again and caught a cab in the early am to the airport. My cab driver took it upon herself to crash into a curb and popped two of her tires. Scared the shit out of me. She started crying. I gave her thirty bucks and walked the rest of the way. We were only fifty feet from the terminal, so close, yet so far away.

Almost everyone in the airport had been at Ultra, probably the worse smelling and most hungover airport I have ever been in. I sat next to a young business dude who was still drunk. Up until about the last second of the gate being open, our window seat was open. We were so stoked, this meant more room for the both of us. But of course, right at the end, one more guy scurried on and sat in the empty seat. So cloooseee. Towards the end of the flight we had some of the worst turbulence I had ever experienced on a flight. I think I had a few seconds of air time off my seat at one point, intense.

Not less than a week after this adventure I got a call from
Brian. “Elmo, want to do press images for Tijs in Vegas?”
Me: “Yes that would be rad”
Brian: “Okay it’s in three days”
Me: “Sounds like fun”

My schedule

04/05 – San Diego, CA => Las Vegas, NV
04/06 – Las Vegas, NV
04/07 – Las Vegas, NV
04/08 – Las Vegas, NV => San Diego, CA

They told me I was driving up on the night of the 5th and I would have a hotel room in the Aria booked for me. I had never been to Vegas before so I just sorta went with it. On the 6th I was supposed to scout, and on the 7th we would shoot. Their management had already locked in a location for me so all I had to do was go and shoot around in it.

For this lovely adventure I brought my friend Matt Lingo. He’s my favorite guy to travel with, mostly cause we make fun of each other on a constant basis. He also has a car, and he drives. It’s usually a good idea for me to not drive, cause I will harm others.

We packed up his SUV and drove down to vegas the night of the 5th. We got there at about 8pm and checked into our hotel. Where the heck were we?This place is massive, and new. We were staying at the Aria, a 4,000 room hotel and casino contained within City Center is a 16,797,000 square feet (1,560,500 m2) mixed-use, massive urban complex on 76 acres (31 ha) located on the Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Nevada.”

I didn’t really realize what we were getting ourselves into, this hotel was insane. Matt was pretty shocked as well, he had been to Vegas a lot and had never stayed in a place like this. We were in a section called the Sky Suites, I think we were on floor 37, but I don’t recall exactly. Our room was awesome. I could control the television, both curtains, the lights, room service, temperature,and probably the world if I wanted to, all from my touch screen alarm clock. This hotel room made my house look like the dark ages. I must have opened the curtains and shut them again ten times in a row. It was so much fun. I stood against the glass like a kid peering into a toy store and stared out at the crazy lights Vegas had to offer.

This junk was all weighted, Matt didn’t realize that until after he picked up an item to read it.

photo by Matt Lingo

Brian told us to order room service for the first night. They kept referring to me by Mr. (last name of whoever room was under) when I ordered. They were so nice I felt like an asshole. The food was rad, we put the cart in-between our beds and ate it while we watched Sherlock Holmes. We also each ordered a glass of wine. I felt like a king! Compared to how I usually live, this was spoiling myself. They even gave us little mini ketchups. I don’t like ketchup, but the bottles were the perfect size.

They wanted to do the shoot during sunrise, so we had to get up at 4:00am and scout at sunrise. It was pitch black out and once we got about 20 miles from our hotel we could see the stars pretty well. At first we missed our exit and had to drive another six miles until we could turn around and head back. We found the exit and drove a good mile or so out on this dirt path. The area we were looking for was called “dry lake”- it was literally, a dried out lake. We got to a good area that was far enough from the highway and started shooting around. It was freaking cold out! We were not prepared for this, it was under 30 degrees and we had to set stuff up in short bursts, then head back in the car to warm up. I used my ND filter for most of these shots.

light test
Matt Lingo
more Matt

Oh yea, railroad tracks, best location ever!…

Alien Bee through an octabox shot from above Matt in this image. He held the reflective part of another softbox with his hands to bounce some light back for fill.

After we were done shooting Matt hung out in the room and grabbed some Chipotle while I met with Tijs and Brian at some restaurant in the hotel for a late lunch. We sat down and got some food. They ordered so quick and i had no idea what to get. The cool thing about going out to eat with Tij’s in Vgas is that everything is comped, he’s treated like royalty there. I got a dish that had prawns, it was so good. I took out my laptop and showed Tij’s and Brian the areas I scouted. He is from Amsterdam and his English is pretty good, but when you get into deep conversation with him, it takes him a little bit to process. It was nice having Brian there, because he knew him very well and helped me translate my points. I can never complain when someone else doesn’t know English as well as me, because I don’t know any other language, so they are already so far ahead of me. I explained to him that it would probably be better to shoot at sunset, because sunrise was so cold. He agreed, I was pumped. The only problem he said was that we didn’t have any red rock, he wanted red rock.

After we finished eating I cruised up to TIjs’ room with them so he could show me his outfits. Tijs had the top penthouse suite of the whole hotel. I think it was the highest point in Vegas and half of the rooms walls were glass. Holy shit, this was beautiful, best view ever! I wish I had my camera on me. This suite was massive, larger than most apartments my friends live at. He had all these designers clothes he went out and purchased for the shoot. The more badass the clothes, the easier my job, and he had picked out some really slick and clean looking outfits. I approved of it all and told him to bring as much as we could and we would decide on location what to wear, try it all out.

Back to the red rock. Brian and I drove out to the location, and then about ten miles more to a gas station. We asked them if they knew of any areas with red rock, they said there was a place called the “Valley of Fire”. We drove out there and learned that we needed a permit to shoot there, it was a no go.

We relayed the message to Tijs and told him if we wanted to shoot there we could fly him out next week and do it. It never ended up happening, but it would have been beautiful. On the way back we stopped at the gas station and picked up some fireworks, smoke bombs, roman candles, and a mortar to be exact.

I headed back to the hotel, shoot day the next day, had to get some sleep!

We were supposed to be ready to go by 1:00pm, so Matt and I were up by 9:00am getting some last minute items. We picked up an ice chest, a mirror, and some waters. We also stopped at a Sprint store and I got a holster for my cell phone so I couldn’t lose it as easily. The thing was awesome! Matt made fun of me for it.

We met Brian outside with all the gear and loaded it into their Escalade. Tijs met up with us and loaded his small fortune of clothing into the trunk as well.

We shot in the desert until the sunset. I love shooting in the desert, the ground works as a giant reflector and just bounces the sun right back up. Mass amounts of fill light and minimal shadows!

Our mobile everything

photo by Matt Lingo
Matt towards the end of the day, getting tired!

We wrapped the shoot by lighting off some fireworks. Thank you Paul C Buff for the light stand launchers.

photo by Matt Lingo
photo by Matt Lingo

Unfortunately I can’t release any of the images yet, hopefully in the near future I can, but who knows what will happen with this shoot. They are some of my favorite and most simple images I have shot, so I am hopping I can share them with you eventually.

Once we got back to the hotel, we washed off and met up with the team for a late dinner. For an appetizer I had a these massive shrimp wrapped in something really tasty. For our meal Matt and I each had the cheapest thing on the menu, which was the most expensive thing I have ever eaten. Like I said, I was getting spoiled, this was fake life for me. Tijs loves Jager, so Jager shots for all. After we were done eating there they gave Tijs a $500 chip for the casino and thanked him/ us for eating there. Man, I need to become a multimillionaire DJ, this was fun! Getting paid to eat somewhere? Count me in.

Matt and I hung out in the hotel room, shoot was over! Time to get some sleep.

I forgot to mention, but the whole time we stayed at the Aria, there was this little hang out area at the bottom of our elevators that had free water, soda, juice and depending on what time of the day it was- free chocolate covered strawberries, cheese and crackers, and some other random stuff I forget- it was awesome though. I love food, especially free food!

The next morning we went up to Tijs room and waited around for security to come get us. He was playing the the opening of their Liquid Pool in the back. Security escort all the way there.

Matt and I followed in half confusion half thinking “this is different”. This was fun. The pool was rad, full of fake breasted women and men that ate more spinach then Popeye.

Drink up Buckley
Oh hello Carrot Top
photo by Matt Lingo

Tijs decided he didn’t want anymore pictures taken so he told us to stop and passed us each a glass full of Crystal with a strawberry swimming in it. We hung out next to his booth and drank for a bit. We headed out after an hour so we could get home at a decent time.

What a trip, I took Matt to Jimmy John’s for his first time, I can’t believe he hasn’t had it before! It’s such a gem. Back to San Diego for us. I broke one of Matt’s Nikon lenses when we got home, he still hasn’t fixed it.

A few days after this I got another call from good ol’ Brian.

Brian: “Want to go to Coachella?”
Me: “Sure”
Brian: “Awesome, I will have management e-mail you the details, it’s on the 17th”

I drove out the 2nd day of the festival, the day Tiësto was playing . I left my house relatively early and arrived at the hotel around one. I picked up Brian and some of his friends. We made a brief stop at Tijs’ hotel and continued on to the venue. Brian went in and got me my credentials and we hung around for a bit until Tij’s arrived. Once he got there my job was to follow him with both photos and video for the whole day- document everything he does. Once again I can’t really post many of his, but I can still tell you what I did.

I followed him to some interviews, a photo shoot and to watch his friends on a smaller stage.

My 580ex’s hot shoe was broken, I had dropped it heading back to the hotel in Miami. Bad form! I ghetto rigged it.

Gaff tape to the rescue!
Artist Lounge/backstage area
We were shuttled around in a golf cart all day, speedy little crew.

Then we headed to a signing, back to the stage, and then it was time for dinner. Tijs left for dinner and I stuck around side stage and watched Matt and Kim for a bit with Brian. After standing there for two minutes, an entourage pulled up, three cars, all very very expensive. Out pops a tall, black man, in an army uniform, and 14 other people. Who the hell? I continued watching, and a few seconds later, this army guy was standing next to me. Oh, hello Jay-Z, Alicia Keys and their friends that now surrounded me. I looked at Brian with a wtf? kind of face. This guy literally towered over me, he was so tall, I shuffled away and headed to catering with Brian. Too much authority for me.

After we ate, we headed back over to watch Coheed and Cambria quick. They brought the USC marching band on stage, it was epic.

USC marching band

Then back to the RV. The backstage area for Coachella was awesome, was like a mini community, everyone had a trailer and a white picket fence. Green grass had been laid out and their were palm trees all over.

Most of the people that came to hang out I did not know. But at one point Danny DeVito came and asked for a few beers and hung out. I could recognize him! Two more people from Its Always Sunny also stopped by. I think they are twins? Or Married? One or the other, I haven’t really watched the show before.

I watched MGMT for a bit, they were good. Muse was on right before Tiësto , very good live band. I took some pictures from standing on top of an empty structure of some sort that was about seven feet in the air. Then I attached my camera to my light stand and shot it with a remote.

Try #1 eh
Try #2 eh eh
Try #3 much better
Try #4 woohoo

I headed over to Tijs’ stage while they were still setting up. I grabbed some crowd photos and videos and got ready for him to get on stage.

Set times for mainstage

There were a lot of people standing side stage. Amongst them was Michael Cera, I think he is hilarious. I never really have an opportunity to meet actors, so it was fun to see them around. Once Tijs got on stage the 75k people erupted in excitement. Most intense show I have seen. Being right up there with him was quite an experience.

Here is the one and only image I am able to release.

It was a large crowd. I shot from the stage for the majority of the set. Behind the booth, stage left/right. I also stood out in front of the stage on top of all the speakers stacked in front of it. The more angles, the better! During the last song I hopped off the front of the stage and grabbed some shots from the divider in-between the crowd- you know the open space where security stands and the cables run from the stage to front of house? Not sure what the technical term is for that area, but that is where I was at. It worked out well because confetti masked the sky during the end of his set, it was so beautiful. Glad I could be there to experience it and capture it.

After the set I grabbed some shots of his management team on stage and headed back to the RV. I hung out with a friend I made that night, Scott, he worked for Steel Train. I had actually met Scott a few years back when i had a shoot with Steel Train, but it was very brief. It was fun actually getting to hang out with him. We were in the same boat- we didn’t really know anyone and didn’t want to intrude on their partying. So we kicked it out by the white picket fence. Good hangs, great guy!

Eventually Brian said we were ready to cruise. It was around 1:00 or 2:00am and I was exhausted. Long day! I went and snagged my SUV and pulled it around as close as I could get to the venue. While I was walking back to the RV, I crossed paths with Die Antwoord , of YouTube fame for their “Enter The Ninja” video. As I passed them I said “I like what you guys are doing”. Funny song, the video is actually shot really, really well.

Brian and some of his friends loaded in my car and we headed back to the hotel. Del Taco for a late night snack and I passed out. I got up early so I could get home and still have a full work day at my disposal.

I haven’t seen Tijs since Coachella, but hopefully we get to work together again.