Business / photography

The woman behind the lens

Photography that captures breathtaking images of people, places, interiors and food 

She’s slowly becoming a brand of her own. Recognised as beautiful, humble, hardworking and approachable amongst media and lifestyle peers, Mateja Vrčković is one of those people that keeps herself busy all the time. Her friends know that she can’t help but capture the moment if her eye seizes the opportunity. She travels far. Teaming-up with fellow photographers for work, they found themselves at exotic locations. In the moments when she needs solitude or time to regroup her thoughts, she will seek it in the streets of New York. Embracing the lifestyle culture of the Croatian Capital, she captures the city’s soul; beautiful people, trendy lifestyle and picturesque restaurant gems. 

The photojournalistic lifestyle has a flair of wildness and freedom with a touch of a bohemian and nomadic lifestyle, and I feel like it fits your personality perfectly. 

Yes! I embraced travelling as a part of my job and I spend around six months a year away from home. It’s an incredible opportunity to visit so many countries and continents. I’m really good with working within different time-zones, managing a full bag of photography equipment wherever I go. 

How would you describe your engagement with one of the leading Croatian political weekly titles, Nacional News Magazine at the time? Any great professional advice you received there?

Right after I graduated from the Trade schools for personal services (Photography) I got the opportunity to start working for the big publishing house. Except for the Nacional, the media brand at the time owned a variety of brands in their portfolio so my work covered everything from fashion shows, football games, portraits of politicians, actors, sportsmen and sportswomen, business people and people from show business. 

My days were long, and my calendar was fully booked. Even though I could get some guidance from the newsroom, the job itself was the biggest ‘training’. 

I learned that behind every successful photographer is a huge experience, unsuccessful shootings and handful of trials and errors. As in any job, you’re not born being a good photographer, you become one. We are moulded through the synergy of experience, carefully studying and watching and analysing previous mistakes. This translates into confidence and allows us to become fully in charge of the situation. 

Rolling Stone Croatia, unfortunately, ceased their operations, but collaboration with them brought something to you that suits your personality. Can you describe what type of energy drove that team?

The first word coming to my mind is enthusiasm. We all knew the brand was the institution of its own, especially when it comes to photography and journalism. It was a big moment in our professional careers. The style of photography was in balance with my own with the accent on the personalities, atmosphere, with unfinished processing and finalisation. The magazine had a fresh approach to topics making our country a part of the global readership. 

What is your favourite magazine cover, ‘signed’ by you?

Probably the one with then young artist Dunja Ercegovic aka Lovely Quinces. She’s one of the most interesting, complex and talented artists I know, and it was a big thing to put a new artist on the cover instead of the big’ industry stars. During our first conversation, we discovered we share the same passion and enthusiasm for our work. To this day, this is my favourite cover that I have ever made. 

Do you prefer working solo or with a team? What is the benefit of working with a group?

My preference is to work alone. I have a sense of control and peace and it’s important that I have a relaxed atmosphere during my sessions. 

Even though it might seem easier to work with a team, it can be very often the cause of misunderstandings or wrong expectations. In that case, communication is crucial and then also understanding and empathy for others needs and requirements.
However, working with a team has its perks, like the feeling of excitement and the group synergy or productivity after we wrap up the successful project. 

Your wedding photography is, of course, stunning. As well as being hard work, being on site from early morning to the end of the big day, changing scenery and settings, knowing who is who in both families, capturing all delicate moments of the ceremony, and so on, wedding photography in itself is a great responsibility. Are weddings getting simpler or more complicated with time?

Weddings are the hardest jobs but also a major part of my portfolio. The sense of pride and fulfilment when you see your work in your client’s homes overcomes all stress, pressure and hard work. The style of covering weddings changed in the last ten years from both sides, photographers and clients.

Nevertheless, dresses, flowers and glamorous locations are quickly forgotten and clients are left with emotions and family. That’s why the expectations of photographers are high, we need to capture those emotions and family stories. Thanks to the rich experiences, new friendships and creative outcomes, wedding photography is one of the most desired careers these days. 

In your interviews, you have mentioned on several occasions that natural light is the biggest ‘helping factor’ of every good photograph. How does that work with photos of interiors?

Even though I do use lighting, natural light will always be my first choice. Maybe it sounds like I am oversimplifying but the natural light challenges me to learn, think and grow while adjusting myself to its changes. 

When it comes to interiors, there are two techniques, the one that embraces the natural light aiming for the ambience warmth and authenticity, and the other supported with additional lighting required for achieving clean and polished photos, usually suited for hotels and luxurious home interiors. Having this in mind, the most important thing is to understand what kind of messages the clients need to pass on to their audience. 

What is your ideal preparation process while working with clients?

After I define a budget and time-frames with a client, the next big thing is briefing in the client’s story. I create a mood board, and in general go through samples of similar projects to define my vision, trying to channel ideas about the venue and styling. 

Everything after that is a process between the photographer and the client. One stubborn cloud in the sky can make the difference between good and average photography. The trust is also a very important element between me and my clients, and the work gets better and better if you have a chance to work on multiple projects together.

Croatian lifestyle is all about food and family. Your series of photos of Croatian Chefs is extraordinary. Can you share some of the things you learned behind the screens that influenced that respect towards Chefs’ work?

I had a great privilege to work with top Croatian chefs, some of them are Michelin awarded. Looking at the real physical work and effort chefs invest in each individual dish, I couldn’t be anything besides stunned. It was inspiring and motivating to work with them, trying to work within their flow of energy, document their creativity, vision and living their calling. Chefs are highly creative individuals and I find them memorable.

As with all visual arts, like design, for example, we could say a particular trend emerges from time to time. Looking through the history of photography, which era was most inspiring for you?

I feel like photography is always reliving its renaissance. Even though I am inspired by contemporary photography I’m very nostalgic about the golden era of the 80s of the last century when each family had a compact camera to document their important moments. Photography was never more in focus and at disposal at the same time, and also available for admiration and criticism at the same time. Sometimes I pack three roles of film and those fifty photos that I get is enough to capture the experience and emotion without a lot of post-production. 

A question about your personal lifestyle, are you conscious about your choices? 

I feel that if you choose to educate yourself about all the options we have, you will learn things that will confront your values and ethics. What I am trying to do is something that I see as the norm today; recycling, buying pre-loved items, avoiding animal tested cosmetics, and supporting local farmers and businesses. If we all start with a few simple steps like this, the world will be a better place for everyone. From there, all our choices can only be better. 

Can you share how your busiest and slowest day looks?

The most hectic day for sure is a wedding day. I start the day early and with a short meditation, it helps me later on with my focus. Brunch on a workday is important for me, since after that usually, the workday lasts for 16 hours. My slowest day might be a Sunday, when I visit our local flea markets, enjoy a good coffee and have a quality time with my family. I tried to avoid sitting in front of the screen or scrolling through social media feeds. 

If someone discovers you overseas and wants to hire you, what’s the best way to do it?

Best to do it via my website, or any of the social networks, and the process is pretty quick! We arrange the budget, logistics, and I am off! 

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