One of the world’s best music photographers

By: Mats Alfredsson | June, 2022

Photo of Foo Fighters Taylor Hawkins by Robert Hellström
Foo Fighters | Taylor Hawkins by Robert Hellström

The place is the Get Away Rock Festival in Gävle, Sweden.


A magical silence has descended over the festival grounds. The thousands of hard-rockers in the public wait with bated breath for the next act.


It is a few, long seconds that bring forth goose-bumps!

Then the first note from the bass from the Gothenburg band At The Gates explodes and the whole festival area is filled with a primal roar!


– One of my most powerful mental kicks, ever! A rush of adrenalin that cannot compare. The power from the stage, from the crowd. And that I was there, right in it, between the public and the band. It was a moment that one hundred percent explains why I enjoy this job so much.

‘Robert’s journey has only just begun, but what a start’

I meet up with Robert Hellström in a small authentic feeling café on Storgatan, in his home town of Herrljunga, the railway nexus that is known to many for having been where the law caught up with the infamous career criminal Clark Olofsson who gave us the “Stockholm Syndrome”.

An event that fades into the mists of time in comparison with what Robert creates these days.

 He’s been honored by being declared as one of the world’s 100 best music photographers and the journey has only started.


I ask him why he has chosen to be a photographer:


– For the same reason that my musician friends play music. To shoot is like breathing.  Something I can’t be without. It is the only time when I can be myself. It is when I’m alive.


But it hasn’t always been so. His road to success has been strewn with depression and anxiety, mainly during the school years. It was then that he discovered that every problem disappeared when he had a camera in his hand.

‘With the camera in my hand, everything boring seizes to exist’

Robert Hellström
Five Finger Death Punch - Chris Kael | Robert Hellström

– I photographed pretty much everything. Nature, portraits, but preferred documentary photography. The camera in combination with the music was like safety net, like stepping into a bubble. Anything boring seizes to exist.


Robert hastily compares when he photographed Iron Maiden during the Sweden Rock Festival in 2018. With more than 60.000 roaring people in the crowd, but when he’s there, placed in the photographers pit he does not hear them.


– Then I just have a band in front of me. Behind me there is nothing…


The story becomes even more astounding when he carefully volunteers the fact that he has only photographed live concerts for six or seven years.


What is it that has brought this demand to arise? That the “big” bands want to work with him?

’I realized that I could transmit the feeling through the images’

Perhaps it was in Gävle under the Get Away Rock Festival it all began?


Robert was there as a member of the public. With a small compact camera in his hand he squeezed himself forward to the stage. Up there were bands such as Motörhead and Megadeath. He saw the photographers in the photographers-pit and he decided that he would stand among them one day.

Foo Fighters | Dave Ghrol II by Robert Hellström

– Afterwards I went through my images and I discovered that I could transmit the feeling in the music through the images. It re-animated the concert again.


And if he could feel that, why wouldn’t others as well.

‘The dream of the photographers-pit’

Like for many there was a pause. Family life and being a toddler’s parent put things on hold.

– But then my wife bought a system camera for me.


A present that changed everything.


Like a glutton, Robert started to consume anything and everything that had to do with photography. Films on YouTube. Courses…

– I dove in head first and became a total nerd. It is usually like that when I become passionate about something, he says with a big laugh. Previously it was juggling with fire. With balls. Now it was photography.


While this was going on Robert’s wife, now his ex-wife, a job in Borås and the moving van journeyed from the small factory town of Karlholmsbruk in northern Uppland down to Herrljunga.

– That’s when it really started. I studied Photography 1, 2 & 3 at Community College.


He started seriously wondering how he would get himself down into the photographers-pit with the professionals. He was going to become one of them.


– Today have have to pinch myself to understand how I have arrived at where I am today! He exclaims. It was a confusing time. I got in touch with a few different bands but I didn’t have anything to show them.


A collaboration with Festivalfoto gave him the opportunity to start building his portfolio.

’A completely shocking experience’

– The first festival, Gothenburg Sound. I was totally naive, had no clue what I was doing. I went from shooting landscapes and wildlife to this! 


A totally different world! 

Headbang by Robert Hellström
Equilibrium | Headbang by Robert Hellström

Robert describes hard-rockers on stage running uncontrollably back and forth on stage. Bad and unpredictable lighting. Bad equipment!


– A completely shocking experience, he says with a big smile. I got to learn the hard way. Like having a bucket of ice-water dumped on you.


But…! Someone liked the images.


– I started getting invitations. That was the start signal. I initiated a process where I networked my ass off. Did a lot of pro-bono work, bult a portfolio and created contacts.


At the same time! Robert had a full-time job in the psychiatric field and life rushed forward.


– I hit the wall like a crash test dummy! My body took over. I would get uncontrollable tremor and auditory hallucinations.


The conversation is extremely inspiring and when he describes how he got out of that misery it ties together his character.

‘Right in the middle of this misery I decided to make my dream come true’

– My lifeline has been that I’m easily able to put a positive spin on things. What makes me feel better? Why, photography! So I decided to put everything else on hold and really make my dream come true.


A year earlier he had created a contact with Rocknytt, one of the industries largest platforms.


– I usually go with my gut feeling, it more often than not will lead me right. Not to mention leading  me to the right place at the right time. Robert is thinking of his contact with the American band Anthrax, one of the biggest trash-metal bands.


– I photographed them at Pustervik and then I got a message from them that they wanted to talk to me.

Airbourne 1990 by Robert Hellström

Anthrax was about to release the album Kings Among Scotland and they wanted Robert’s images in the album.


Then things really got rolling!

An e-mail that wasn’t fake, but with a gilded edge’

– I got an e-mail from one of Europe’s most prestigious photography competitions, Prix de la Photographie. At first I thought it was fake, that someone was taking a piss…


But that wasn’t it! 

Robert was nominated and they wanted him to submit an image. It was one of his absolute favourites. The image from Sweden Rock Festival in 2018 of singer Bruce Dickinson underneath a suspended live sized Spitfire airplane.


The submission resulted in a Gold and a Bronze in the prestigious competition.


That gut feeling gets going in his way of shooting. Often the best images are made with pure instinct but sometimes because he has done his homework.

– Some bands have their thing. Like Airbourne. The singer usually rides on stage on the shoulders of one of the security guards. Then he crushes a beer-can against his head! Very photographic!

’Success breeds success’

– I love the theatrical. The spectacle. One of those bands are Black Label Society.


Success breeds success. Robert is a living example of that.

– A totally bizarre feeling. I mean they are my Household Gods! I freely admit that I got somewhat star-struck. Shook my nerves somewhat but also made me focus harder.


– I was completely exhausted mentally afterwards.


Last question! What drives you?


– To take the next step. Always want to take two steps forward, there is always something new to learn. Like that I’ve started doing music videos! I also want to clear two bands off my bucket-list – Kiss and Slipknot.


Today works half-time with his photography and the goal is to increase that to full-time.


– It will happen, says Robert while we rise from the table in the café and step out onto Storgatan. Left behind are two coffee cups as a reminder of an unforgettable encounter.

Iron Maiden - Aces High by Robert Hellström
Iron Maiden | Aces High by Robert Hellström

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.  Learn more