Michaela Urban is an award-winning travel photographer and writer who publishes in major newspapers and magazines all over the world. She loves the great outdoors and the wild and raw beauty of nature. Her camera always at her side, she searches out and captures those magical images only Mother Nature can create, producing powerful photos. Her goal is to inspire others and to stimulate their relationship with nature, while promoting the value and preservation of those dwindling, precious, wild places.
How did you get your start in photography?
I was about six years old when I found an old film camera in a drawer in our house. I quickly made it mine and was thrilled at the possibilities it offered me to document life around me. This childhood passion never left me, and when I took a year off to travel all around Australia before going to university, photography became my preferred way to keep track of the many memorable moments I had back then.
What type of photography are you shooting and what motivated you to focus on that genre?
I have an unquenchable passion for travelling, thus this genre has become my focus of photography. It is an unbelievably varied field, that includes landscapes, people, wildlife, and so much more – which makes it a constant challenge to be prepared for anything. Of the many potential subjects, my absolute favorite is natural beauty. My work is driven by a desire to document, understand and protect the world’s untamed wilderness and the flora and fauna that calls it home. In my photos, I want to show the incredible aesthetics of the natural world around us, which is often under increasing threats by humans. My aim is to make people aware of what we still have, and what we could lose if we don’t take action in protecting it. My favorite shots I turn into fine art prints to decorate homes and offices, because for me, Mother Nature is the greatest artist of all.
Did you experience any challenges as a woman entering into the photography market?
Honestly: no. That being said, I don’t mean that entering this field is easy – for neither women nor men. Today, modern technology and the Internet give almost everyone the potential to shoot quality photos, so it is much more difficult to be recognized and rewarded for your work. I will acknowledge though that unfortunately solo-travel as a woman in general can be intense and sometimes requires a heightened state of awareness, depending on where you go.
What has been your biggest achievement or obstacle along the way?
I think my biggest achievement so far has been getting to where I am without having a professional education in this field. I come from a cultural background, where people question your skills when you haven’t attained some kind of official certificate in that field – a prejudice, that I felt hard to overcome myself in the beginning as well. However, the more I got into photography, the more positive and encouraging feedback I got. Today, my photographs have been published in about 60 publications all over the world, including well known outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, Aston Martin Magazine and Unterwasser. In addition, my photography opened up the chance to enter the writing market, and I now regularly write German-language travel articles as well as guidebooks for destinations off-the-beaten-path.
Of course, there were and still are numerous obstacles/difficulties associated with my growth as a photographer. I for example regularly find companies and individuals stealing my photos off the Web and publishing them on their sites or in their advertising materials without asking for permission or paying for them. Also, gear is always an issue in regards to weight, bulk, and constant technological advancements. And last but not least, there is the constant struggle with time. There just don’t seem to be enough hours in my days to experience a place in depth, capture its beauty in pictures, edit these, share them on social media, plan new projects, secure assignments, etc. But at least I don’t get bored – something I really loath.
Who and/or what inspires you most?
Besides nature in general, I’m inspired by people who have a dream and follow it through, no matter how many obstacles they encounter along the way. These could be entrepreneurs, scientists, environmentalists, etc. I’m lucky to meet many admirable and interesting minds during my travels that show me again and again that you can achieve whatever you want – if you are really passionate about it.
What is your approach? Is there anything in particular you try to achieve during a shoot (for example triggering certain feelings, etc.) or are there any specific techniques you use?
This depends on my subject. When I’m shooting landscapes, I pause for a moment to take in my environment and try to capture what makes the biggest impression on me. When it’s wildlife, I’m always on the alert to capture an animal in a unique move, and try to be prepared with the right camera settings. For people, it’s really important to interact with them, gain their trust and create a relaxed atmosphere before you introduce your camera. In general, whatever I take a photo of, I try to capture it in a way that my audience feels they are right there with me.
I don’t really use any special techniques except for a polarization filter when the light is too harsh. But I do experiment with different equipment to offer different perspectives. This includes a drone, underwater photography equipment and a 360° camera.
Why is accurate color important within your workflow?
Anybody who has ever worked hard on editing a photo so that it looks the way they experienced the scene, and then sees the colors rendered totally differently on a different screen or in print knows how frustrating this can be. I can’t even believe any more how I edited pictures in my early days without a properly calibrated monitor, ICC profiles and soft proofing options. Looking back, I wasted a lot of time. Accurate color is absolutely essential and the basis for any editing, and still, it’s often overlooked.
Any tips or advice for photographers just beginning in their career?
Try to avoid copying other photographers and taking pictures of places/things that have already been photographed “to death“. Get tips and learn from other photographers whenever you can, but develop your own style, and find unique subjects. When you look on Instagram or other platforms, there are way too many pictures that look the same. Make a difference – you won’t be remembered for a picture that has countless duplicates out there. Try to photograph something unique and give it your own touch.