Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana

By Ian Middleton

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Photographing The Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana

The Dragon Bridge is possibly one of the most famous scenes in Ljubljana to photograph. In fact, you’ll likely see many dragons around the city.

This is because of a famous legend involving Jason and the Argonauts, where the Greek mythological hero Jason stopped in Ljubljana on his voyage to the Adriatic Sea. Back then the Ljubljana basin was home to a fire breathing dragon, who was a fierce protector of the region. In order for Jason and his band of warriors to continue staying here, Jason had to do battle and defeat the protector of Ljubljana.

The dragon now sits atop the Ljubljana Castle on the city’s coat of arms, and in various locations around the city centre.

art nouveau Architecture

One of the greatest memorials to the Ljubljana Dragon is the Dragon Bridge. This is a wonderful example of Art Nouveau architecture, and was built between 1900-1901. On each of the four corners of the bridge sits a huge, quite scary-looking dragon. Along the bridge’s concrete parapets are also 16 small Griffin statues.

The four winged dragons are made from sheet copper, and the bridge itself was the very first reinforced concrete structure in Ljubljana.

The bridge was given its Art Nouveau appearance by the Dalmatian architect Jurij Zaninović, who also included the parapet lamps. The lamps were originally powered by gas.

The Dragon Bridge is now an iconic landmark in Ljubljana, and a great place to photograph.

Legends

Legend says that when a virgin crosses the bridge, the dragons wag their tails. Apparently some locals also call it “Mother in Law Bridge”. Well, no explanation needed there.

How to photograph it

The bridge spans the Ljubljanica River at the eastern side of the town centre, just where the famous Plecnik Marketplace ends. It’s a road bridge and can be very busy, so tricky to photograph from some angles during the day or at sunset. The best view is looking west, so you also get Plecnik’s marketplace and the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas in the frame. Therefore the best time to photograph is at sunrise, or at least very early morning. Firstly the light is at the best angle, and also there is less traffic very early in the morning.

Where to stand

Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
92mm focal length - Dragon Bridge, Cathedral of Saint Nicholas and old lamps

Opposite side of the road

I took this photo on the eastern side of the road on the northern side of the bridge, at the traffic light crossing. It’s the best position I found to get the separation between the dragon, cathedral and lamp but keep them all big in the frame, this was the best and safest spot. By using a focal length of 92mm, I was able to compress the three elements into one frame. As it was still before sunrise, the interior lights were still on in the marketplace. Therefore they provided a nice warm glow to an otherwise quite cold scene.

pATH NEXT TO THE DRAGON

Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

From this side of the road, of course you are right next to the dragon so a wide angle is needed to get it all in. Plus I had to setup my tripod right on the very edge of the path (A bit precarious). I shot the image above at 24mm focal length.

Middle of the road

The best position to get more separation between these elements, or even get the cathedral behind the dragon is in the middle of the road. Of course, this is extremely dangerous and not recommended.

If you are going to try it, be sure to do it early in the morning when there isn’t much traffic. There is a pedestrian crossing at each end of the bridge, so you’ll get a short window to try this. Of course be prepared to run out with your tripod when the lights are red. Be extra prepared to removed yourself quickly when the light turn green. And keep a sharp lookout for any police officers, who may not take what you are doing lightly.

Sunrise or sunset

Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

With the right amount of cloud the dragons shot against a fiery sky can make quite a dramatic shot. In my case when I was there for sunrise, I didn’t quite get a dramatic sky, but did manage to position a shot where the fiery trail of an airplane lit up at sunrise, seemingly went through the dragon’s heart.

From a nearby bridge

Looking over the Ljubljanica river towards the Trznica (market) and the Dragon Bridge from the Butcher's Bridge at sunrise in Ljubljana, Slovenia. All this region was designed by Slovenia's most celebrated architect, Joze Plecnik.

At the right time of year you can also catch the sunrise behind the bridge from the nearby Butcher’s Bridge.

When the sun is up

When the sun is up high in the sky, you can try to get some creative shots with the sun bursting through the dragon’s mouth or other parts.

Sunburst through the mouth of a dragon on the Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Sunburst through the mouth of a dragon on the Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Sunburst through a dragon on the Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Looking Eastwards

As I said earlier, the view eastwards is less interesting. It’s best here to photograph the dragons with the sky in the backdrop. Maybe try some closeups or make the dragon itself the focal point.

Against the clouds with a long exposure

Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Don't forget the griffins

Often mistaken for smaller dragons, the 16 little statues that you’ll find at the foot of the lamp posts are actually griffins. A griffin (or griffon or gryphon) is a mythical creature with the body, back legs and tail of a lion, and the head, beak and wings of an eagle.

Ljubljana Dragon Bridge Griffin with castle, marketplace and cathedral of Saint Nicholas in the background, Slovenia.
Ljubljana Dragon Bridge Griffin with castle, marketplace and cathedral of Saint Nicholas in the background, Slovenia.

Watch my video

In this video blog I show you how I went on my dawn photo shoot of the Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Find this and other great photography locations using Photohound

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Subscribe and receive my regular newsletter to get the latest information about my workshops, new tutorials, videos, new photos and more.

All new subscribers get an exclusive 25% discount code off prints of my photos from my online shop plus a free download of my ebook: A Practical Guide to Photography. Code and download link will be emailed to you upon successful signup

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