Readers’ Showcase: Christopher Michel

31 Jan

Readers’ Showcase: Christopher Michel

Sunrise over Bagan, 2012. Photo by Christopher Michel

It’s telling that DPR regular Christopher Michel corresponded with me about this piece while he was en route to Antarctica. He considers freelance photography his third career, one that has taken him to the proverbial ends of the earth and beyond. From a U-2 spy plane to the North Pole, he’s searched all over for stories and images that inspire. See some of his work here and find out more about him in our Q&A.

You can see more of Michel’s work on his website and follow along with his adventures on Twitter. Would you like to be featured in an upcoming Readers’ Showcase? Let us know! Be sure to include your DPR user name and a link to your online portfolio.

Readers’ Showcase: Christopher Michel

Union Glacier Camp, Antarctica, 2013. Photo by Christopher Michel

Tell us about yourself and your history with photography.

I’m on my third career. After college, I flew for the Navy as a Navigator and Mission Commander aboard P-3 Orion Sub-Hunting Aircraft. After a tour in the Pentagon, I went off to grad school and became an entrepreneur. And for the past 8 years, I’ve been a freelance photographer and writer.

Readers’ Showcase: Christopher Michel

Moscow subway, 2014. Photo by Christopher Michel

When did you know you wanted to pursue photography as a career?

In 2008, I took stock of my life and decided that my real passion was telling stories through images and writing. I’d been taking photographs since 1998 and with each click of the shutter, my passion grew. Today, I better understand why I love photography so much. It isn’t about magnesium bodies or polished glass – nor even about great images. It’s all about where my camera takes me – and it has taken me to places I couldn’t have even imagined. Some of those places are physical but many more are emotional – conversations, friendships, and adventure that just wouldn’t have been possible without my camera and a deep commitment to story.

Readers’ Showcase: Christopher Michel

Spacesuit Selfie aboard a U-2 Spyplane at 70,000 feet, 2012. Photo by Christopher Michel

You’ve been to some pretty remote locations. Where have you traveled to photograph, and what have been some of your favorite locations?  

Well, I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a chance to photograph some of Earth’s most extreme locations – from the jungles of Papua New Guinea, to both Poles, and to the edge of space aboard a U-2 spy plane. Antarctica is my favorite place on Earth – I’m actually writing this from Ushuaia, poised to embark on my 5th journey to the Crystal Desert.

Readers’ Showcase: Christopher Michel

Morning Kora in Lhasa, Tibet, 2010Photo by Christopher Michel

What’s been the toughest assignment you’ve taken?

Fortunately, my toughest assignment was also one of my favorites. I was asked to be HH The Dalai Lama’s photographer during a three-day visit to the United States a few years back. It was an incredible opportunity to spend time with someone who has influenced the lives of millions – and he didn’t disappoint. He’s one of the kindest, nicest, and most caring humans I’ve ever met… calm, spiritual, compassionate, and full of love and humor. Everything you might imagine.

Readers’ Showcase: Christopher Michel

The Edge of Space in a U-2 Spy Plane, 2010. Photo by Christopher Michel

(cont.) So, why tough? Well, juxtapose this serene man against a backdrop of super celebrity and hyper-security. Imagine thousands of followers and fans everywhere we went – from street corners to massive venues. Imagine celebrities, motorcades and lots of armed State Department Security people. And then there is me – often finding myself between HH and all the people who want to be close to him. So, it was an almost overwhelming contrast between serenity and pandemonium. Unlike many other shoots, I had access but very little control over where I was or where we went. I tried as hard as I could to both capture the moment and blend in – I succeeded most of the time but not always. 

Readers’ Showcase: Christopher Michel

An emperor penguin jumping out of the water, 2013. Photo by Christopher Michel

Where would you like to go that you haven’t been?  

High level – everywhere. The more I visit a place, the more I feel that I’ve just scratched the surface. But someplace completely new? Well, I’d like to do a piece on the Ocean’s explorers – telling the story of the scientists and submariners who research Earth’s last great frontier. So if any explorers out there want a photographer to come along, I’m game.

Readers’ Showcase: Christopher Michel

A DC-3 in Gould Bay, Antarctica, 2013. Photo by Christopher Michel

What do you shoot with?

I use different cameras for different purposes.  

Walking around:

  • The Leica Q and/or Leica M240 (50MM Noctilux and 35MM f/1.4) 
  • General assignments (Congo, etc)
  • Carrying both Leica Q & Sony A7RII (w/ Sony FE 24-240mm). 

If I’m in more extreme locations, I use the Nikon D4 (foul weather) & D810. I’ve also been shooting the Mamiya 7II – captured some really unique shots with it at the North Pole.

Readers’ Showcase: Christopher Michel

Sunrise at Torres Del Paine National Park, 2013. Photo by Christopher Michel

Do you take on personal projects in addition to assignments? Do you have any you plan to work on in the near future?

Yes. I mostly freelance so have an opportunity to pick stories of interest and then pitch them! I’m just back from a very interesting assignment in the Democratic Republic of Congo for and the American Refugee Committee. Coming up: Antarctica, Indonesia, and Svalbard.

Readers’ Showcase: Christopher Michel

North Pole, 2015. Photo by Christopher Michel

What role has social media played in developing your ‘brand’ and business as a photographer?

Hard to say. I get lots of licensing requests from my work on Flickr. I have 1.8M followers on G+ – not sure it has made much of a difference. So, I think it is helping but it’s hard to quantify.

Readers’ Showcase: Christopher Michel

Democratic Republic of Congo, 2016. Photo by Christopher Michel

What advice would you give an aspiring photojournalist?

Well, I can say what’s worked for me. Tenacity & Love. Tenacity to get the assignment, shot and story. And love for the process and for the people I encounter along the way. I feel like I’m learning every day from the pros in the field.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (

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