Inside this issue
We received a short biography of Luka Esenko by Julie Renahan recently and would like to share it with you.
Like so many Slovenes, Luka Esenko was born with the ability to run up mountains effortlessly and with grace. Add to this that he is a talented landscape and nature photographer and you have a winning combination and an impressive portfolio of stunning images.
Born at a time when Slovenia, a tiny gem of a country, was still part of ex-Yugoslavia, Esenko (34) is emerging as one of its most acclaimed professional photographers drawing much of his inspiration from the Balkan region he knows so well, and from the Julian Alps where he feels most at home. Slovenia and the surrounding former Yugoslavian countries have had a chequered past, and borders with neighbouring Austria, Hungary and Italy have constantly been shifting over the years. He comments, only half-jokingly, that his grandmother lived in four different countries and experienced seven different currencies, yet she never moved from her home in Litija, central Slovenia. Just as Slovenia’s boundaries and history have been in constant state of flux since Roman times and earlier, so the country offers a diverse and changing landscape for photography; if you’re energetic enough it’s possible to start the day with a sunrise shoot at 2600 m in the Slovene alps and end the day with a sunset on the beach along the Istrian coast winding your way through the vibrant green and yellow vineyards, passing through medieval villages, the deep reds of the karst region with its many caves, and alongside turquoise glacial lakes en route.
Luka’s photos clearly communicate his love of the outdoors, nature and sense of adventure. His work has featured in National Geographic and The Guardian as well as in international travel related publications. Winner of Picture Slovenia in 2011 and finalist in 2012, Luka has slowly been carving out a career for himself as a professional photographer with a successful photography tour company of his own. “I’d experienced mass tourism at its worst during my time as a guide” he recounts “so now when I bring groups to Slovenia and Croatia, we only travel in small groups and get out into the countryside away from the usual destinations and try to get different perspectives on the better known spots such as the very well photographed Lake Bled. We also support local trades and crafts, use privately owned B & Bs where possible and I like my guests to be able to experience locally sourced and traditionally prepared food from the region.
Luka took to photography in his teens learning the technical aspects mostly through books borrowed from friends and experimenting with his first DSLR, a Nikon D70. “I’d always liked gadgets, so handling and understanding the workings of a digital camera came fairly easily to me. But it was only by getting out and just having a go that I truly understood the craft and began to get a feel for the style of photography I enjoyed the most. It was always going to be landscape and travel photography for me as I’m not and never will be a city person at heart. Landscape photography gives you headspace, a chance to be outdoors and think. I’ll never forget the first time I spent the night alone on the mountain plateau, Velika Planina to try some star trails and night photography. It was so peaceful and beautiful. Sometimes it’s good to spend time truly alone with nature – we don’t do that enough”
“I used to carry the full 15 kg of kit with me, which was a good workout, but sometimes cumbersome. Nowadays I tend to travel as light as possible to allow me to respond more quickly to my surroundings. Mostly I use my Nikon D800 with a 24 – 70 mm or 70 – 200 mm lens and return time and time again to my 14 – 24 mm lens as wide-angle suits my photography. As for processing, I find myself doing more in Photoshop these days and have started to use Lightroom 5 and Nik software as well. I work mostly in colour as the colours and seasons in the alpine region are so definite and dramatic. Occasionally though I use black and white to convey a certain mood.
Luka’s work is constantly evolving and he is currently experimenting with a series of projects. In the first he aims to represent the traditions of beekeeping in Slovenia by reproducing bee panels from Slovene bee hives using real models, tools and equipment set against stunning agricultural landscapes.
“I will be happy if in some way my pictures can raise the profile of the plight of bee keepers and diminishing bee populations, but I also think this will be a fun way to explore the Slovene countryside with a new focus.”
When asked about the challenges facing his photography tour company, Luka explains “Each year is different and there is no magical formula for filling tour groups consistently. Slovenia is still relatively unknown which means I need to be more persuasive about why it is worth photographing (and I often need to explain where it is), but this can be a great advantage too as its appeal is that it isn’t an over-photographed destination and I get to take my clients to lesser known places. Expectations are always exceeded and many of my clients return and travel with me again to another part of the region, or we go further afield together to Burma, Morocco or Iceland. When I have quieter times, I focus on my photography and where I want to take it next or travel myself and discover new destinations.”
Asked about photographers who have inspired him along the way, Luka cites a number of US photographers, including Steve McCurry and Joel Sartore, but values the work of UK photographer Charlie Waite as influential in his own work. “I love the way Charlie communicates such a sensitivity to light, shape, form and atmosphere in his work. His photos are technically and compositionally superb. I also admire the way he has grown his photo tour company, Light & Land”
When he’s not out with the camera or leading a tour, Luka’s other passion is birding. As vice-president of the Ljubljana Birding Society, he is regularly involved with bird counts that involve observing the habits of Corncrake, Eagle owls and Lapwing to name but a few. “It’s a hobby that fits perfectly with photography. One of my clients recently taught me the term ‘bird nerd’ and I guess I’m happy to have that label. For me it’s yet another way to connect with nature and enjoy outdoor life.”