Visual Revolutionary on Smash Notes

Episode 97: Christopher Michel / Photographer / Entrepreneur

Visual Revolutionary

On this episode of the podcast we are joined by Christopher Michel to hear about how he went from being a naval flight officer, to working at the Pentagon, to Harvard business school, to creating multiple companies in the tech world, to his current life as a world traveling photographer documenting some of the harshest conditions on the planet and working with everyone from leading publications to research teams along the way.  As we learn on the show, it's hard to pinpoint where Christopher grew up.  He moved around a lot as a kid and, because of that, always felt like an outsider in the new towns he found himself in.  However, it would be that outsider's spirit and the desire to stay on the move that would end up serving him well in his most recent manifestation of work and passion.  He would first find himself moving through multiple careers, finding both success and failure in the high stakes world of tech entrepreneurship, but finally he would decide that his true goal was to continue to travel the world and become a photographer with something to say, and the right tools to say it with.  It's a goal that so many creative people have in life.  To walk away from a career that doesn't bring them fulfillment and chase their passions and their dreams. And on this episode we dive into what that looked like for Christopher.  During our conversion we talk about the steps he took to walk away from what seemed to be a financially rewarding path and go after a passion project instead, the mentors he's had along the way, giving back to the photography world by teaching and speaking, and the advice he gives to others chasing a similar creative dream.   To Learn More About Christopher Michel Visit: And Follow On Instagram At: To Learn More About Visual Revolutionary Visit: And Follow On Instagram At:

Episode notes last updated on August 01, 2019 18:21


In this episode

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Smash Notes summary for this episode

Who is Christopher Michel?

Christopher Michel is a success photographer who had made several career transitions in his life, going from the Navy, to work at Pentagon, to then living the life of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, only to change it all again and to become a photographer, with the goal to make a difference by taking pictures that people would love and remember.

Christopher Michel has been all over the world, taking pictures from Antarctica to the edge of space. He has an open mind, and an approach which has enabled him to make money from photography, while still enjoying the craft, in a time when many photographers are struggling with their future.

Is Christopher Michel making a living with photos?

Fortunately for him, Christopher is not trying to optimize his new career for money at this point, but rather for a good life worth living. As the industry is changing and photos are becoming a commodity, one has to adopt to the current trajectory of social media and digital content, in order to continue getting paid for photos.

What made Christopher Michel join the Navy?

Christopher thought he wanted to be in politics and serving his country was the right thing to do. Also Top Gun, the movie, was very inspiring on him as a young adult.

What life events inspired Christophers life as a photographer?

Christophers Michel's mother and father were divorced by the time Christopher turned one. His mom remarried and the family moved to America, where his second dad took on a lot of different jobs in different places. Moving around a lot, Christopher was often an "outsider nerd kid", spending a lot of time observing.

Where is Christophers Michel the happiest?

Chris is the happiest when he is alone in far away places, capturing stories.

Is Navy Pilot the greatest job in the world?

Many think of the military as a great job for people with only a few options, but Christopher says military service could be an all-together really positive and memorable experience.

Is working in Washington D.C. a great way to become a public official?

It is not. Christopher says that while growing up a lot of people have idealistic views of their potential careers, which turns out to be different in practice. Much the same way, you are better off first succeeding in business, in order to become a politician, instead of starting your career as a public servant.

What revelation did Christopher Michel have about the job of a politician ?

The truth is less important than support of your party, or your own candidacy.

Should you do an MBA?

An MBA could be a great way to realizing your options in life.

Before going to Harvard Business School, Christopher did not know what he wanted to do with his life. His options only consisted of what he knew at the time, which was operations and aviation.

One day in 1997, while at HBS, Christopher heard the inventor of VisiCalc speak to his class, and that's when Christopher realized the life of an entrepreneur was the life he wanted to live.

What was Christopher Michel's first successful startup?

In 1999 Christopher Michel had an idea for as the first social network for military people. The military is a real community, with real needs, and that's why today, 20 years later, the company is still operational.

What happened to ?

When in March of 2000 the bubble burst and the company almost failed, Christopher sold it to

How did Christopher Michel choose the life of an adventure photographer?

In 2008, after selling two companies, Christopher Michel realized he wanted to pursue the life of an adventure photographer as a way to live a good life and to preserve his memories forever.

How do you get validation as a photographer?

When companies start offering to send you on trips for free, you realize that perhaps something is working.

How can you make money as a photographer?

When your life depends on getting something to work, you have no alternative and you need to survive, it's amazing how creative you become to get it done.

Big companies do not innovate, why?

When things become hard in big companies, they just stop doing those things. When things become hard for someone whose life depends on that thing, they work harder, and that's where innovation happens.

What is Christopher Michel's big challenge?

The bar for being a professional photographer is very-very high, so Christopher is set to work hard every day.

What is one of the most fun parts about being a photographer?

Creatives are a close community and most of the time people want to help and to support each other.

Is a photography class worth taking?

Even though he was already pretty good at his craft, Christopher Michel says that taking a photography class from a professional was a transformation experience for him. He studied from an old-fashioned photographer from the analog age and learned a lot about the craft itself. Now that he's a professional, he is teaching workshops to pass it forward and to inspire new photographers.

What is most important for creating a good photograph?

A great camera does not make a photographer.
Forethought and the scene setup is way more important.