Photographer Highlight Series – Nejc Draganjec – Absolutely Stunning!!!

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, Nejc graciously took time from his travels to Easter Island to answer my questions.

Nejc Draganjec snorkel in Nari Nari national park in the Bahamas and poses with an underwater statue.
Just as I was finishing with capturing star trail sequence, the ground shook and nature provided me with one of the most majestic displays I have ever seen. To see an explosive strombolian eruption in person has been my wish for decades. I knew I had the best chance so far during our Japan adventure since Sakurajima is the most active volcano in the world. Nature is so majestic I can’t even begin to describe how I felt watching a whole mountain on fire and sky covered with static lightning.

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.
Jay Pritzker Pavilion, also known as Pritzker Pavilion or Pritzker Music Pavilion, is a bandshell in Millennium Park in Chicago. It is classified as a work of art rather than a building.

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.

A perfect abstract of Japan. Shinkansen, beautiful flower fields and Fuji-san, the icon of Japan looking over it all.
Sometimes all stars align. But you know what they say about luck. It’s on the side of prepared and I would also add patient to that winning formula. It took 5 hours to catch this shot, but I think it was well worth it.

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.

I have been dreaming and planing to take this photo for years, and when the moment came it still took my breath away. Chureito Pagoda is one of those sights where everything has just come together into one perfect scene. It is only very popular with tourists and thus if you choose your timing right, you can have it mostly to yourself. Be advised that tripods are banned though.
After a stormy day when I had to seek shelter in the nearby city a multiple times, I got lucky at the very end and when it count’s the most. They say photography luck is on the side of prepared (also tenacious) and that day a lucky thin brake line on the horizon gave me one of the most spectacular natural light shows I have ever witnessed. At that moment Iceland became my very first travel photography crush and this was my take on this iconic spot.

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.

Does this view remind you of any movie/cartoon scene :)?! There are a lot of elephants in Kruger. Around 17.000. But moments like that, you just can’t get enough of them!
Sunset on an iconic red bridge in front of Hirosaki castle tucked in a pillow of pink cherry flowers
Shanghai is a wonderful blend of tradition with secret authentic alleys and ultra-modern megalomanic skyscrapers. So it has something for any taste. Speaking of taste, part of our adventure was also food tasting and authentic Chinese cuisine is awesome. Much better and colourful than what we are used to and know as Chinese food in the west. In this travel photo, I captured the iconic Shanghai city skyline behind the Wusong River as it is seen from The Bund.

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).

First residents of Cape Town (Kaapstad in Afrikaans) region settled there somewhat 15.000 years ago. Very little is known about the history before first European explorers that reached the region since there are no written records. First one was Bartolomeu Dias who reached the region in 1486 and named it “Cape of Storms” (Cabo das Tormentas). It was only later renamed to “Cape of Good Hope” (Cabo da Boa Esperança). In 1497 Vasco da Gama recorded a sighting of the Cape of Good Hope on his route.
Kyoto is stunning. From thousands of temples to nature getaways and food fit for kings. But what I loved the most were traditional districts with old style wooden buildings, pagodas, tea houses and if you are lucky, geisha. But since in photography we tend to say luck is on the side of prepared, I took one with me just in case :). Let’s just say that I definitely managed to convince Elizabeta why Japan is my all time favourite travel photography destination, and from all those already wonderful experiences, this day was still our highlight.
Elizabeta Benigar is diving under pier in the Bahamas with 2 nurse sharks.

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.

Mossel Bay is the only place where great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) display a unique behaviour of water breaching while hunting for Cape Fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus). ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ For me, this is the stuff that DREAMS are made of! Granted, for some those dreams are a nightmare, but I can’t stress it enough how important Great White Sharks are! When top predators disappear the whole ecosystem comes crumbling down. Each year we kill DOZENS of MILLIONS of sharks for absolutely disgusting reasons. Shark fin soups being one of the main culprits. Undefendable! And if you think it is, would love to hear your reasoning in the comments below! For everybody else, stay awesome and KEEP THE FINS ALIVE!
I think I woke up in the Matrix pod. Capsule hotels are so uniquely Japanese that I was determined to experience them at least once. What is more Japanese than “just” a capsule hotel? Ultra-futuristic a little bit dystopian themed Capsule hotel!

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…

Walking around this icon I couldn’t help but think about our own role in its demise. The fact that it is under too much tourism pressure cannot be denied any more. A rainbow of coats is winding around every single little alley during main visiting hours. If you want to have more pristine experience wait for excursion buses to leave. In the evening this place has a completely different energy. This local Llama (Lama glama) came to us and we all watched the sunset together. Pure magic.
Everywhere you look there is a breathtaking scene that you just have to capture. One of the most popular is an alley ornamented with colourful flower pots. The one in this photo. Besides being a photographers paradise, Chefchaouen is also a perfect introduction to Morocco. Pulse and feel of the place is a mix of stereotypical Moroccan outgoing and hustling approach and also a European more reserved attitude to tourists. If you are searching for the buzz, there is nothing like an old Medinas of Marrakech and Fes. If you want to take your stroll down the alley in peace but still be warmly welcomed when you stop to check the goods, Chefchaouen is your place. We loved it!

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.

At 3.800 m above sea level, adolescent Andean condor (Vulture gryphus), took his flight to adult independence. Those magnificent birds grow up to 3,2 m in wingspan with the one photographed here being not much smaller.
Would you agree that beauty can be dangerous? I would definitely say so in case of Sahara. It is so breathtakingly sublime, it is easy to forget just how unforgiving it can be.
Drogon is searching for the Mother of Dragons. Any GOT fans here? In reality, this is a close-up photo of the green iguana (Iguana iguana) from Aruba. And although large and intimidating looking lizards, they are mostly herbivorous.


What do you think?


Written by Corey Dembeck

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