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The time I photographed President Obama 

click to enlarge I photographed President Barack Obama during a re-election rally on the campus of Colorado College. To make my images a little different I removed my lens slightly from my camera and tilted it while I took a picture creating a soft-focus look. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • I photographed President Barack Obama during a re-election rally on the campus of Colorado College. To make my images a little different I removed my lens slightly from my camera and tilted it while I took a picture creating a soft-focus look.
Former White House photographer Pete Souza recently published a book of photographs from President Barack Obama’s two terms called Obama: An Intimate Portrait. It’s a lovely collection of images from his eight years as the White House photographer.

I’ve listened to several interviews in which Souza talks about his experience, including this one on NPR’s Fresh Air. From listening to him, it’s clear that being a White House photographer is both incredibly challenging and rewarding. After hearing about the challenges — like photographing the president meeting with families after the Newtown after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting — I’m not sure I could do it.

Previously, the Kennedy years had been the high watermark for presidential photojournalism.  See this wonderful essay on the subject. But my prediction is that Souza’s body of work — he made a million-plus images — will set the standard for future White House photographers.

Souza had the kind of access to a sitting president that was, pardon the pun, unprecedented. In the intro to Souza's book, Obama wrote that Souza spent more time with him than anyone else other than his family during his two terms.

Obama also disliked formal photo shoots but deeply understood the nature of photojournalism. In other words, he preferred to be photographed doing things rather than sitting for a portrait.

Souza's experience also reminds me that most press photographers have to work outside the ropes. I’ve only been to one event with a sitting president in attendance, an election rally in 2012 on the campus of my alma mater Colorado College where President Obama was speaking.

I mostly concentrated on photographing the supporters while they waited. I brought with me one camera and one 50mm lens and made my way through the crowd photographing subjects that I thought were interesting.

During his speech, I photographed the President and his supporters using a tilt-shift technique. I took my lens off my camera ever so slightly and tilted it while taking a picture. It allowed me to find a sweet spot that was in focus while the rest of the image blurred out.

Instead of photographing him the way everyone else did, I tried something different. And I like the results. 
Next time you’re photographing a subject who’s been photographed millions of times before and you’re outside the ropes, challenge yourself and see if you can't come up with something that’s more interesting to look at.

Sean Cayton is a wedding photojournalist of 19 years and operates a successful, award-winning wedding photography studio in Colorado Springs. He's also an award-winning photojournalist. Sean is happily married to the love of his life (also his business partner) and is father to three beautiful children. When he’s not working, Sean can be found outside flying kites with his kids, hitting golf balls or casting a fly rod to hungry trout.


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