Head for the Hills with Kopernikk
After a series of unfortunate events left him feeling unsure about what to do with his life, Jan Řeháček, better known by his “nom de camera,” Kopernikk, started taking photos. A 2014 mountain getaway inspired him to devote himself to photography, and now this self-taught shooter is working full-time as a photographer—taking on client work and contributing images to Adobe Stock—with his dog, Sitka, always at his side (and often in his photos).
A love of the outdoors is plainly evident in Kopernikk’s photography, and he comes by it naturally, having grown up on a farm near the Czech city of Pardubice, which he still calls home—that is, when he’s not on the road for a photography expedition. In fact, it was a 2014 trip to the Czech Republic’s Giant Mountains that set Kopernikk firmly on a path to making his living as a photographer.
He remembers, “In November 2014, my friend Jirka invited me to Špindlerův Mlýn in our Giant Mountains. The weather was so magical—I was like Alice in Wonderland, and I made hundreds and hundreds of photos on my mobile phone…. This day changed everything, and I knew then what I wanted to do with my life. It’s also the reason I have Sitka, my Czechoslovakian Wolfdog—I’ve always loved wolves, and when I started traveling I decided I wanted to have my own ‘wolf’ as a travel buddy.”
FINDING A PURPOSE IN PHOTOGRAPHY
As a teenager, Kopernikk was an avid skateboarder, and he says that skateboarding was “the best thing” he has ever done. “It connected me with a lot of awesome people who inspire me in what I’m doing now,” he says. “In addition to helping me learn to be myself.”
He studied business and then had a couple of different jobs—with an insurance company and then a clothing retailer—but he says he wasn’t happy: he was having money problems, as well as mental and physical problems, including a diagnosis of cardiac arrhythmia. “My life completely sucked,” he says. “I didn’t know what to do.”
A girlfriend introduced him to photography and Instagram. (“She doesn’t shoot anymore, but she knows how to take a great photo,” he says.) Shortly thereafter, he took that fateful trip to the Giant Mountains. And he has been working on his craft ever since.
GROWING AS A PHOTOGRAPHER
Completely self-taught, Kopernikk learned through trial and error. He describes his photographic work as his way of remembering moments that make him happy—moments that he shares primarily though his Instagram account.
“I think the basis of my photos has stayed the same,” he says. “I use trees to frame shots, catching sun rays and moody foggy scenes…. But the technical side of my photography has changed a little bit, and my product photography has changed, too. And I have many ideas for the coming year—I can’t wait. For one thing, I have started with analog photography…I won’t feel like a real photographer until I have a good collection of analog photos.”
Kopernikk says that he takes inspiration from many photographers, one of his favorites being Ansel Adams, and he finds inspiration online as well, via Instagram and Pinterest. But his biggest inspirations are the locations where he shoots. “I check the weather and I wait for the right time to go shooting,” he says. “I love to shoot incredible moments in nature. It’s the same with commercial projects: I have ideas in my head, and I wait for the right time; then it’s all about creativity and improvisation.”
TAKING A GREAT SHOT
Kopernikk and Sitka go on frequent photography expeditions, sleeping in his car, in cabins, or under the stars. Kopernikk’s hometown of Pardubice is well situated as a home base: “It’s a strategic place for traveling—it takes two to three hours to get to the mountains, no matter where they are in my country…though I can drive for eight hours straight when I know there is a great place.”
He prefers Fujifilm cameras and currently uses an X-T2 model, along with an 18–55mm lens. “I love framing my photos and searching for different compositions from other photographers, especially in ‘mainstream’ places,” Kopernikk says. “And when I’m shooting Sitka, I shoot three times and choose one where he looks better or more like a wolf.”
His postproduction process is important, too: “I think it’s the way to have a signature look in your photos,” he says. To that end, he has been developing a signature combination of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC presets for about three years. “I am still working on them to make them ‘perfect,’” he says. “Post process makes 40 to 50 percent of my photos, but you need a good raw photo…when you don’t shoot it well, post process doesn’t help you.”
Kopernikk has been a full-time photographer for just under a year, having taken that plunge in April 2017. “The first months weren’t easy,” he says. “I love to shoot landscape and nature photography, and these days I have an ongoing collaboration with the region of Broumovsko, making content for their social media. I also work on content for Jameson’s Czech social media presence, as well as many other collaborations…. I love to find creative ways to do product photography, I love to do cinemagraphs, and I’m starting with short videos, though I haven’t published any yet. Maybe this year they will be ready. We’ll see.”
Of the “thousands upon thousands” of photos he shot last year, Kopernikk says he chose about one percent of them to add to the collection he has made available on Adobe Stock. “I am very skeptical of my photos, and when I scroll through them, I have one principle: a good photo needs to stop me and make me and look at it for five seconds. That means it’s likely a good photo.”
He continues, “It’s a little bit different with stock photos. I think they must be clean, soft colors and usable for clients, but I don’t know—my photos are dark and moody and clients want them…so I think it is about the first moment when you see the photo. Either it stops you or you scroll past it.”
As he becomes more successful, Kopernikk says he still doesn’t feel like an artist. “For me, photography and traveling in the mountains is my form of therapy,” he explains. “I make big decisions there, clear my head, and always smile like a little child—no matter what the weather is…. Being in the mountains is always a great time, and I will love it forever.”