Taking photos is easy — it’s easy enough to buy a camera, point it at something and take a snapshot. But it’s significantly more difficult to become a truly great photographer. In this series, we’ll highlight different photographers, their background, tips, tricks and stories.
Our first featured photographer is the stunningly talented Nejc Draganjec. His award-winning work has been published internationally, including the photographer’s holy grail—National Geographic. I stumbled across his work through Facebook — seriously, make sure to check out and follow his Facebook page, Instagram account and website, Wandergraphy.com. Nejc graciously took time from his travels to Easter Island to answer my questions.
I’ve gone over the stuff you have on Instagram and Facebook and some of the shots you have are simply amazing. Can you give me a brief history and background on you and your work as a photographer?
I often describe myself as an artist / traveler / biologist and photography is the glue holding it all together. For me, photography was never the end destination on its own, but rather a way of exploring the natural world and sharing it with others. I always went out, and still do, with a purpose to capture something I find fascinating, [those] are more-often-than-not nature and new places with new people/experiences—aka travel photography.
How did you get started in photography?
To segue from the previous question, photography was my way of viewing the world from a young age and I can thank my family for that. I was lucky to grow up in an environment with a lot of appreciation for photography and art in general. One of my fondest childhood memories is hours of sipping through thousands of film slides with my grandfather, Justin Zorko, and “helping” him to choose winners from his travel adventures. I’m not sure who was happier when a return mail came from photography competitions — was it him, because of attached prizes or me, because I got to keep the prints to put them on the wall. Also, my parents really supported me and not only bought my first three cameras when I was still a child, but also financed dozens of shoeboxes full of developed photos, one worse than the other, but that is how we learn.
Often, I’ve found that when I go into shooting something with a plan, more often than not the plan fails, but I usually find something that works better. Do you ever run across this issue and what do you do when you face it?
Of course! Planning is important, but the ability to improvise is crucial. What you often find–in contrast to what many people think–is that the more you plan, the easier it is to also improvise when something inevitably goes wrong. I often hear the dreaded phrase “I don’t need to plan; I will just improvise.” But this is not how photography works, not if you want good results repeatedly and fast. You can’t go pro if you can’t ensure that.
How many shots do you find yourself taking before you get that perfect photo?
I have more than a third of a million of photos in my library and I would say I can count perfect shots on my fingers. Thousands of good and really good ones, but those perfect “once in a lifetime,” kind of photos don’t come easy and often. What I would suggest to anybody starting in photography is to strive for perfection, but never be bothered with it. Those photos will come if you love what you do and you can’t love what you do if you are your own worst critic.
What equipment is a necessity for photographers getting started in the field?
For travel photography, you need camera, passport and love for an adventure. Everything else is a bonus :)!
Do you have a favorite camera, lens, tripod, flash, etc. (pick and choose) that you find yourself always using or favoring?
Sure, all of the above. Currently, my favourite is Canon EOS 6D. Old, but still awesome camera body. My favourite lens is currently Irix 15mm, but I use Tamron 24-70 the most. I use Genesis C5 tripod and I’m really happy with it and the brand in general, top quality equipment with really reasonable prices. When it comes to lightning, I never leave my home without LitraPro video light. It’s everything I ever wished from constant light. I also really like Parrot Anafi drone. In my opinion there is no better travel drone when you consider everything (quality, portability, usability, price).
What was one of your wilder photography trips?
There have been many that stand out to me in their own unique way. Seeing a truly dark night sky in the middle of the Amazon rain forest, swimming in Jellyfish Lake in Palau, downhill the “Death Road” in Bolivia, cage diving with great whites in South Africa, spending the night outside in Western Sahara…all left a lasting mark and I will never forget them. Oh and dodging lava bombs flying left and right while taking one of my most famous photos during Sakurajima volcano eruption.
Is there somewhere on your bucket list you haven’t had the chance to visit, and why?
Yes, I haven’t been “everywhere” but it’s on my list. Kidding aside, even more than usual, I wish to go to Socotra and Galapagos—both for the same biodiversity reasons. And Antarctica has been a dream of mine for years now. Fingers crossed I get to see them all soon.
Do you have any photographers that you idolize?
I don’t idolize, but I’m a big fan and find endless inspiration in the works of many. To name just a few: Elia Locardi, Daniel Kordan, Royce Bair, Gary Arndt, Sean Parker, Marc Adamus, Goran Jovic, Colby Brown, Albert Dros, Andy Mann, Mads Peter Iversen, Max Rive, Paul Nicklen…
Is there a composition tip that you ignore or like to break or play around with?
All of them, but perhaps most noticeable in many of my photos I often break the “empty space in the direction of the sight” rule. It often happens that I constrict subject to the frame on the same side that his/hers/its sight is going instead of letting it breath. I think that this works very well when you have an epic scene and you want some additional drama and/or provoke “unease” in the viewer. It suggests that whatever is going on behind the subject continues way beyond the frame. I think it’s also one of the characteristics of Michael Bay—besides explosions.
Thanks for your time Nejc. We greatly appreciate it.