Adesso Music Session 001
Apr 27, 2022

Beyond The Lens: Baluga Media

For the fourth installment of Beyond The Lens, we’re taking you up close and personal with Tiësto’s photographer, Ben a.k.a. Baluga. Born and raised in a small town outside of Birmingham, UK, Ben’s always had a love for music, and his journey to touring the world with one of dance music’s biggest superstars is inspiring. Read on to learn more about how he got his start, his close work with Joel Corry, adapting during the pandemic, a photographer’s life on tour, his love of nature and so much more!
Ben, thanks so much for joining us. It’s been awesome getting to know you from your work with Tiësto over the past several years. How did you guys first connect and how has your relationship developed over time?
Thank you to you guys for having me! Great to sit down and finally catch up. The story of Tijs & I goes back about three years now, to my first season in Mallorca as the resident photographer at BCM and BH Mallorca. Shooting seven nights and seven days a week, there were huge acts coming through the doors every night. Mid summer, Tiësto was playing, supported by my good pals PBH & Jack. I stayed up all night to edit the images and deliver them to management via the boss & legend Gordon. I woke up the next day with no warning, to… “Tiësto started following you.” I had to refresh five times, then realized I have a DM from Tijs: “Really like your work mate! Could you shoot me at Creamfields & Sweden this summer? You make me look good haha. Love your stuff really!” I ran round the apartment to wake my friends up, then played it super cool on the reply haha. But honestly, fast forward three years and traveling Europe, from shows to just chilling and catching up on family life, I can wholeheartedly say, the guy is so genuine. His persona makes everyone in the room feel comfortable, welcome and seen.
Generally, what’s life like on the road when you’re touring with Tiësto? Specific to your work, what’s your typical schedule like around a weekend of shows with editing content needed once a set is over?
You know, people look at the job sometimes and think… that’s the life, it looks so fun and you do cool sh*t all the time. Which it is haha, don’t get me wrong, but you don’t get to see too much when it’s usually a 24-32 hour turnaround from one country to another. It goes something like: transfer, flight, transfer, hotel, to venue two hours before, shoot the show, back to hotel and I’ll edit to turn images / video content around within four to six hours before I can sleep. Then maybe some hours of sleep and up for the flight. But, I think it’s easy to run on adrenaline when you love what you do and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Another artist you’ve been working with for a while is Joel Corry. Tell us some more about your relationship and work together.
Joel is THE guy. Again, another relationship that goes back years and probably comes with a story that creators looking to get into the game will really value. I had met Joel also out in Mallorca. Upon getting back to the UK, I messaged him on IG along with a few other DJs I’d met that summer. Now, this was before Joel had really charted or signed to a major, about six months before “Sorry” came out and blew up in the UK, Ireland and the resorts. So we’d done a few portraits together, nothing expected on my end, just a chill day, doing something I enjoyed with a genuine guy. Fast forward nearly a year and Joel signs to Atlantic Records, taking me along with him on the ride, through his UK Number 1 “Head & Heart” and countless shows and content pieces later. I’m so “gassed” as Joel would say, that he’s receiving all the recognition and success that he deserves, because no one works harder or more focussed. This summer is going to be huge.
Going back in time for a moment, how did you get your start in photography and videography? How did you then get involved in the world of shooting electronic music artists?
I actually started studying chemistry first off at University of York. Hated every minute and once I realized that, I actually had to do some work and not just go out and run student events. So I started shooting photography for the nightclub promoters, University Colleges & student societies. I was out shooting seven nights a week until 3AM, whilst working 9-5 in labs and two nights a week at the student bar. Just grafting, wanting to meet new people, keep moving, keep working and knowing something good comes from just moving and getting the ball rolling. One night, I met PBH of PBH & Jack, who offered me some work out in Ireland on a show, during Uni time. So I skipped Uni, having never flown out of the country to shoot before. After graduating Uni, I bailed on my teaching job and went to work my first season in BCM Mallorca, from PBH’s recommendation. I continued to graft, talk to everyone, put in 150% and the rest is history.
What effect did the Covid pandemic have on you personally and how did it affect things with Baluga Media?
Initially, I was gutted and worried where my work would come from if I’m honest. 90% of what I did was live music and shows. Tiësto’s tour across Europe had been canceled and venues were closed everywhere. I spent a lot of time with my family, enjoying the summer, spending time camping, hiking and managed to invest some money into properties and got started on YouTube. After some time off, it was the same as most people I think. Trying to find new ways forward. Who did I know, what could I offer, how could I find remote work? Music was still being released, but no live music. So I got in contact with as many record labels as possible, which led to regular retainer work with Defected, Musical Freedom, Ministry of Sound & more. Honestly, coming out the other side of the pandemic, work has been busier than ever, as for a lot of creators. Man are we all buzzing to get back to live music though eh?
The content you create (both photo and video) becomes so paramount for an artist’s identity. How do you see your role in working with an artist and shaping the public’s view of them? How do you see that role changing over the course of the next several years?
Love this question. I think the importance of branding, artist identity, how music is consumed (now more visually than it is streamed) is absolutely mental. The pandemic probably has something to do with that. We’ve been consuming more content than ever over the past couple of years. Labels & artists are starting to realize the importance that good content strategy plays in building an audience and getting music out to that audience. I’d say our role as creators is to lean into the artists strengths and plan the content for the platform. What are they trying to achieve and how will their audience respond to this content? TikTok taking center stage has only accelerated the consumption of content and will continue to do so. We have had to take a back seat and say, oh… we can’t just throw money at songs anymore, because the attention span of the audience has shortened and there's so much new music being released every Friday. You guys know that more than ever keeping up with releases.
Can you highlight two individual shots you’ve taken and what makes them so special to you?
Hands down, one of my first huge publications and proudest to this date. My Tiësto portrait, for the “God Is A Dancer” release with Mabel, on a billboard in central Times Square NYC, as part of the US campaign. It was just a strange feeling thinking, thousands of people are seeing this every hour. Even better, knowing that I actually shot the portrait on a Canon 5D Mark III that I bought off eBay for about £400 haha. Gear isn’t everything!
Second favourite would be the Joel Corry & MNEK portrait for the “Head & Heart” release. After that went UK Number 1, the shot got commissioned worldwide for Billboard, YouTube, Spotify, Apple, Amazon, Capital Radio, and BBC. The most rewarding feeling though was to see it on the Platinum plaque hanging on Joel’s wall. It really was a full circle moment from meeting Joel those years ago and talking about all of his goals and dreams over the years.
For any other creators who are looking to turn their hobby into more of a business, what advice would you give? 
I’d say you see a lot of people trying to sell courses, write rule books, the ten steps to success, and all that trash. It’s easy to write a rulebook after you’ve played the game. But starting out, all I did was sign up for everything to put myself in places where there were opportunities to succeed. Do it for the love of it, because I think there’s a difference between being tired because you’re bored / uninspired and tired because you can’t stop working on what you love. Don’t do something just because you think it’ll come around, offer your skills with good intentions, look to improve and people will recognise you. It all takes time and from taking my first photograph on a trip to America borrowing my granddad’s camera, to making this my life, has taken nearly six years. It feels like I only started yesterday because I LOVE IT. So yeah, without being too guru, you won’t need to force yourself if you genuinely love it, get out and do more and keep improving, seek opportunities, but be patient, just START and learn as you go.
Looking ahead, how are you staying inspired, motivated and creative in the short term?
Looking ahead, I feel I’ve been walking on the flat for a while now, very happy with where I’m at and very grateful. I’ve just come to the foot of a few mountains that all appeal to me, so I’m just figuring out which one I’d like to climb first and how. It’s an exciting time and I feel like I have a clear head creatively for the first time in a while. I’ll only be shooting shows for Tijs & Joel for the foreseeable, leaving some calendar free to work in around the retainer clients and YouTube. In the short term, I love what I do and I wouldn’t stop if I didn’t have to. However, I’ve realized the importance of making sure I remove myself from shooting sometimes, for a social detox and some alone time. Also, removing myself from editing and getting out in my camper conversion, socializing with friends, booking a holiday and feeling the ground under my feet to come back with a clear creative mind.
In the long run, are there any other artists or events that you hope to shoot one day? Any other goals you’ve already set for yourself in the future?
That’s a big question and I’d probably say, shooting with Tiësto has ruined the scene for me because nothing else will top it haha. Honestly, I’d like to work with some bands, as I play music myself and appreciate the rawness of live instruments. I’d also love to work on building the profile to get more brands involved with the company. Also, to continue shooting content that “influences” other creators in an educational sense, putting out a Music Photography & Videography 101 course this year. I think there’s a real niche of creators breaking into our industry and anything I can advise them on or offer help gives me a buzz. There’s nothing I love more than receiving a DM asking advice on how to talk to clients or shooting in tricky situations. The advice I got from friends in the industry when I was starting out really helped me break through and I’d love to offer that to any creators I can.
Connect with Baluga Media: Website | YouTube | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
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