One of the most luxurious diving magazine in the world, Scuba Life Magazine, honored me again by publishing my underwater portrait photograph on the cover page of March issue along with the interview across ten pages inside the magazine. I am always happy to see that my work inspires other people from scuba diving population, and gladly give interviews for such media.
During his career Predrag Vuckovic photographed over 350 different sporting events in more than 60 countries. His style and approach to modern way of photographing separate him from other photographers, not only in the region but worldwide. If someone is a specialist in photographing extreme sports in Serbia, and beyond, that’s for sure Predrag who is also specialist for underwater photography. Vuckovic is one of the several international photographers of Red Bull, which enables him to photograph some of the most extreme sports competitions. Vuckovic from the majority of the world’s photographers singled out, thanks to his rich experience in extreme sports, knowledge and special skills that
enables him to arrive at places not accessible to ordinary people. His story began as a hobby, which later on has turned into a profession. Simply said, adrenaline and the ability to do something that others can not in the extreme
sports always pulls him forward and pushes the boundaries of photography.
SL: Pedja, although our readers already know you as a top underwater photographer, you probably do “earthly” photography since childhood. Tell us about your beginnings in photography! When you realized that photography will also be a life’s calling?
This is one of the most difficult questions because I do not even know when I started doing photography. It is certainly the beginning was when I was very young – I have always had a camera with me that was part of my life. I was returning home with various photographs because I had a desire to perpetuate some important moments of childhood and so I continued to this day. I always liked to experiment and explore, so that creativity became signature of my photos.
SL: Along with photography, if we understood right, you were intensively involved in the past with many extreme sports, even professionally? Is it still so? What sports are still “in”?
I was a pioneer in many extreme sports in former Yugoslavia which later made it possible for me to observe the world with different eyes. These sports are: BMX as a basis, snowboard, skateboard, and later on many other sports. The skills and knowledge I have gained I still apply today in order to reach unique places for photography. The knowledge of many sports gives me an advantage over some other colleagues because I simply think in a different way than other people who do not understand a particular sport or trick.
SL: How did you begin with scuba diving? Is it a desire for exploration of the unknown or you saw in scuba diving
another opportunity for developing the photographic capacities and ideas?
The first motive, when I was thinking about scuba diving, was to try something different from the sports which I was involved. During my first dives I did not even think about underwater photography because it was 20 or more years ago when the underwater camera’s was a major challenge both for divers and for manufacturers. My underwater photography and passion for it came a bit later.
SL: So, you probably went to the scuba diving course in some bg club and “the rest is history … “. Describe to us shortly your scuba diving and underwater photography experience.
It was something like that long-ago in 1991 when I finished the first diving course PADI OWD in one of the most renowned Belgrade diving clubs. When I finished the course and officially became a scuba diver, I felt like I finished the army, which represented a big problem back then, but I’m very grateful to my diving instructor today.
I continued to dive mainly by Montenegrin coast, ending gradually the courses that came one after the other until the latest when I gained the title of SSI Open Water Instructor.
Regarding the underwater photography, everything comes much later than my diving beginnings, more precisely it starts in 2005. From the first scuba dive with the camera it became unthinkable for me to take any dive and not to photograph. Today, underwater photography is something that holds a special place in my artistic creation because the sea world is another universe and environment in which I feel peaceful and relaxed, where I get a special kind of inspiration.
SL: It would be interesting to hear something about your first professional engagements in underwater photography, what happened in Serbia or abroad? People tend to say that for such tasks a bit of luck is required, was that what happened in your case?
From the very beginning I tried to comprehend underwater photography in a different way and I tried to apply some techniques underwater that I have applied to the land, and vice versa. That was the reason my photos were somehow separated from many others then emerging in the market. Professional commitments started from the moment I wanted them to start – when I included underwater photography in my regular photoshootings.
Special techniques and a unique way of thinking led me to this level of experience and I’d rather describe it more as a special creativity than any kind of luck.
SL: It is known that you studied your underwater photography techniques at the world famous “workshops” with probably the most known underwater photographer today, Dr Alex Mustard from Great Britain, and you became good friends as well. How top underwater photographers affect one another in terms of progress?
After the first attending to the one of Alex ‘workshops I was able to achieve some of my special ideas related to underwater photography. Alex has become a very good friend and someone who helped me a lot in my journey that is behind me, but as I always like to comment – knowledge is transmitted to a certain level, and after that all remains upon yourselves. This would mean that if that „something“ you don’t carry in you, no one can sell, show or impose it to you. Every journey with Alex represents a new exchange of ideas between him and me and therefore our creativity always prove that such communication is mutually relevant.
SL: Today you are an established world underwater photographer with serious and frequent professional engagement. Which companies or brands are/were your clients and which capaigns you would rate as the most successful in your career?
My main professional engagement is at Red Bull International since 2006 and most of my photoshootings, whether underwater, on the water or on the ground, are my priorities.
In addition to Red Bull, when it comes to scuba diving brands, I worked a lot of advertising photoshootings for Suunto diving computers, for Subal underwater housings and Mares diving equipment.
SL: It would be very interesting to hear how your average year looks like, in professional and scuba diving sense… You would say that you live in Belgrade, but how much are you really there during the year?
Lately some annual average scuba divings in numbers is between 60 and 80. I try to maintain that number in that range no matter that I officially live in Belgrade that does not have a sea. During one year I spend more than eight months abroad, which means it is not easy to have a normal private life, take photographs and dive at the same time.
SL: Is it true that you photographed even at unimaginable places of the globe such as Antarctica and Kamchatka?
Of course that is true. Antarctic expedition is considered to be one of the toughest adventure and photoshootings which are written in my career. Crude conditions at Antarctica is very difficult to describe in words. The bare thought that you must spend 35 days at temperatures of -30 degrees Celsius in an ordinary tent without normal life conditions enough speaks for itself. If we add to that another constant physical activity in very extreme ambient to warm up and maintain your own body temperature, then it goes to a new level of severity. Then you add a 24 hours day without darkness which additionally exhausts you mentally and physically. The sum of all this actually makes only a small fraction of my Antarctic expedition. And where you were and what you were doing 35 days you only understand upon returning to civilization and to normal life conditions. Then everyday and small things become much more important and a lot of them you start to appreciate even more.
When I mention the project in Kamchatka, I realize that many of us dream to be on the place like that and to get such an important task of photoshooting all that. The famous Russian base jumper took a leap into an active volcano Mutnovski at height of 2323 meters. He is one of the best flyers in the world in the discipline of wingsuit flying and the man with a multitude of projects in his career that none but him performed, and this was one of those projects.
Real untouched nature and snowboard riding at the edges of active volcanoes are just a small fraction of this incredible photographic adventure. Pleasure is even bigger when you see your photos on all major agency cover pages and in all major media worldwide.
SL: Our readers will want to know what equipment do you use and what kind of cooperation you have with manufacturers? You noted that third of the earned money you invest exclusively in equipment, do you have any idea how many cameras and lenses you own?
I am officially a Nikon ambassador and for many years now I have a lot of support from them. However, my selection of the brand dates back to the very beginning of my career as a photographer and I sticked to it all these years because it absolutely meets my requirements in the field. Speaking of Subal underwater cases I belong to a special
group – Subal Pro Team, of which I’m very proud. Subal is one of my major sponsors and I have a spectacular cooperation with them. They help me a lot on the level of the development of some unique parts of the camera housing that on the other hand enables me the development of some special shooting techniques on the water and under water. Although, regardless of their support, whoever try Subal underwater housings, will forever remain
The equipment is my major investment and it will always remain because I like to have plenty of opportunities for various photographing. How much money I invested so far no one knows, because I invest all my life and career. I think that every investment always comes back and everyone who has possibilities for modernization of equipment, which is not easy, should always think of it. I stand always behind the attitude that equipment does not make a good photographer, but rather it helps him a lot.
SL: And now something of a lesser known details. The first thing we want you to describe is your role in the Red Bull Stratos – jump “from the edge of space” with Felix Baumgartner that took place in 2012.
Red Bull Stratos is one of the most significant projects in my career. Felix Baumgartner on October 14th 2012 became the first person that broke the sound barrier and jumped from 39 kilometers in height. I was one of three official photographers. Preparations for this photoshooting lasted for over a year under special conditions and in a specific way. Before the final jump there were two trial jumps from the heights of 21 and 29 kilometers. Historical
event “Red Bull Stratos – Mission To The Edge of Space” is the one I will remember until the end of my life. I am very proud I participated in the writing of a new chapter of human history through my photos. Needless to say that any other photographic challenge was anywhere near this project.
SL: You are also a member of the Red Bull team for whom you’re doing a lot of campaigns. Which ones?
I am one of five official photographerers of Red Bull International team and I work at their best events around the world such as: Red Bull Air Race, Red Bull X-Fighters, Red Bull Crashed Ice …
SL: What is unknown to the general public is that you recently got overwhelmed with love of slightly less popular activity (or sport). What is it about?
An important segment of my photography in the last few years is based on the extreme canyoning.
Canyoning in each case is one of the younger extreme sports that is increasingly becoming more popular in the world
including our region. Canyons can be very easy or extremely difficult and demanding, but emphasis in this sport is usually in aesthetics, entertainment and adventure before the technical difficulty. As in mountain climbing and speleology, and the most extreme sports as well, the level of “extreme” depends on how „far“ the team is reday to go. In fact, one and the same canyon can be extreme to the limit, and also very easy for passage, but all depends on the water levels in it above all, and then the characteristics like access, evacuation path, height difference between entry and exit from the canyon, vertical cliffs… Canyoning is an adventure activity in which canyoners travel through canyons located in the foothills of mountains, through fascinating and untouched nature, by overcoming natural obstacles such as waterfalls, cascades, and natural pools. To accomplish this, various walking skills are used and techniques such as scrambling, climbing, abseiling, walking over outcropping terrain or through watercourses, squeezing through narrow slots, jumping into the water and swimming, and even apnea diving. Many canyons in Montenegro and Serbia are moving me forward in the sense of photography. Scuba diving and canyoning are connected by the water hence the style of photoshooting is similar, but the ambience is different.
All this is easy to connect and convert into one unbreakable thread because in my case photography has no limits and therefore any environment in which I find myself and every sport can be depicted through photography so that every beautiful and most important moment is captured. Therefore, anyone who is not even familiar with some of the sports that I photograph, through my images can enjoy every significant moment.
SL: You are often acompanied at work and in private by your girlfriend Jovana. Does she dive also and does she sometimes take part as a model in realisation of your photo ideas?
She is my biggest support in every sense and so is the case with the work that I do, which in many situations means a lot to me. Very often she travels with me and assist in some photoshootings, serves as a model or is simply there only as motivation for everything that I do.
SL: What is going on at the moment in business and private life, we know you had some interesting engagements recently. Plans?
Just like the beginnings of previous years, this 2015 is quite filled with a multitude of photoshootings around the world. So I already finished the project for Suunto advertising on Maldives, and after that I was in Abu Dhabi as official photographer for the Red Bull Air Race. Some locations and countries are repeating, but there are always some completely new challenges in everything I do. Certainly among them are some diving destinations.
SL: And finally, our readers will with attention listen about world and the Adriatic best diving locations according to your liking, and also what diving location still remained on your “to do” list?
When we talk about the world diving locations I will always, without thinking, mention only one – the Cayman Islands. For the sights you get on this one place only you would have to travel to several different continents to have the same thing. On the other hand, if I have to mention the relationship between price and quality of certain dives, then I would say Egypt – Red Sea. In the Adriatic my favorite diving location is Vis without a doubt and with no explanation neccessary.
When it comes to “to do” list, there is always French Polynesia as a place that probably every diver in the world
at least has a little thoughts.
Text: Goran Butajla
Photo: Predrag Vuckovic personal archive