Staying Curious & Using Macro Photography as Meditation with Michaela Santbergen

Here at SheSnaps, we’re passionate about highlighting talented female photographers from all walks of life. But it’s not only professional photographers producing amazing work. Michaela Santbergen is an amateur photographer living in Vienna, with a particular passion for macro and wildlife. She also enjoys landscape photography on her travels and is particularly fond of the changeable weather and scenes in Scotland, the Shetland Islands and Iceland.

I spoke to Michaela to find out more about her approach to photography and her beautiful images.

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Photo by Michaela Santbergen

What got you into photography?

I started photography because I got bored of sitting and watching my husband taking photos! He took his camera everywhere and I got fed up waiting for him, so I decided I needed to find a solution to this problem. My husband donated one of his old cameras to me and I started shooting on that. A few months later I got a Nikon DSLR and completely fell in love with macro photography. It will always be my first love!

I purchased the Nikon 105mm macro and spent the summer lying in meadows trying to photograph bees and butterflies. I was really just trying to see what I could do with the camera. We also have a really great zoo in Vienna (Schönbrunn Zoo), so I also got a 70-300mm lens and started trying my hand at animal photography. 

Then I did a lot of workshops – portrait, landscape – I tried everything. I was curious to see what I could do and what I liked and enjoyed. For a long time I was a totally spontaneous photographer, as in I’d see the picture and just take it, which is very helpful with animals. My husband is a keen landscape photographer and I used to tease him for fiddling about with tripods and filters. But then two or three years ago I did a landscape and long exposure workshop, and something clicked. Now I really enjoy shooting landscapes.

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Photo by Michaela Santbergen

Do you have a favourite genre of photography and why? Tell me a bit more about what you shoot.

Macro photography because it’s almost like a form of therapy for me. If I’m stressed, I find there’s nothing better than taking out my camera and lens and photographing insects or flowers. It’s like meditation for me. It was great during Covid as I could just go out on my balcony and shoot there. I would like to do more portraiture, but it can be hard when you’re not a professional photographer. Sometimes I do get to shoot friends and I do portraits for my office’s website and Instagram, but I don’t have masses of opportunities to shoot people. 

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Photo by Michaela Santbergen

What kind of influences do you draw inspiration from?

I love the work of German photographer Sandra Bartocha and Dutch photographer Theo Bosboom. They both shoot nature photography and work a lot with colours and how they can inspire photography. Their work is quite interpretive and that’s what I try to do with my macro photography. I also like a soft macro, where nothing is particularly visible. It’s not so much about the form as the way the colours work together, in a similar style to Impressionist painters. It is similar to ICM as there’s also a lot of blurring, but there’s also a little bit of sharpness. I aim for people seeing different things in my images and letting their minds interpret what they see.

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Photo by Michaela Santbergen

What kit do you shoot with and what’s your favourite bit of kit?

I have a Nikon D850 and I just recently got a Nikon Z7 II, although I haven’t shot with it much as yet. Lens wise I use a 105mm macro, 70-300mm, 24-120mm and a 200-500mm. The 70-300mm is an old lens but I’ve bonded with it! I also use a Velbon tripod. My favourite bit of kit is my 105mm macro. 

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Photo by Michaela Santbergen

What would you say is your goal with your photography?

I want to continue learning new techniques and try out new areas of photography. Architectural photography is top of the list. 

As a female photographer, do you feel that you face any particular challenges? Do you feel that the industry is favourable towards women, or would you like to see any changes?

I always find it interesting that some men will be astonished that you took a good photo. I see this particularly at the critique sessions in workshops – men can be incredulous that I took the photo and they don’t like it if your photo is better than theirs. I do find this astonishing in the 21st Century. 

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Photo by Michaela Santbergen

What advice would you give to budding photographers?

I just want to stay curious and try new things so my advice is to do your own thing, be curious and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. People may say that something won’t work but try it out and if you like it, that’s the important thing!

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Photo by Michaela Santbergen

You can view more of Michaela’s work at her website, which she shares with her husband.

Michaela Santbergen
Photographer Michaela Santbergen
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