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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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