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News & Insight

What It Is To Be The White House Photographer & What Gear He Uses

By Kishore Sawh on June 14th 2016

The Obama administration has been, to no short degree, subject to scrutiny when it comes to journalistic photography within the walls of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. They have been accused of censoring the images to a high degree and staging shots that get sent to the public.

This is, however, a bit hard to wrap your head around considering the fact Michelle Obama rather dramatically tore up a 40 year old ban on photography within the White House, and the sheer volume of imagery coming out of the White House in Obama’s administration is more than any to come before.

Most of that imagery has come from one man: Official White House Photographer Pete Souza, who, he estimates, will have taken some 2 million images of POTUS during his presidency. In a video put together by BBC Newsnight, Souza gives a little insight into his thought processes behind the images he takes, and which are some of his favorite shots.

Aside from just being interesting to watch, Souza’s words hold a sort of inherent value for the modern photographer. He speaks about the challenges of presenting the President as he is, in all aspects of his life; how he thinks about his shots in terms of framing not just one facet of Obama’s personality, but all the emotions and moments from the gleeful, to the fun, to the sombre, to the intense.

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Of course, being the Official White House Photographer his job is to be a photojournalist, so one of the more interesting aspects to his job as a photographer in the modern day, is that there is very little editing of the images, which is apparent from the work itself, so there’s a lot of focus on understanding a moment, and of course on composition. It’s inspiring, and shows that heavy manipulation does not a good image make, and it’s not necessary for a striking image. His focus on composition and emotion is admirable and perhaps even enviable.

Each year Souza releases a selection of about 100 of his favorite images through the year, and you can follow those image and his thoughts on his Medium posts. It warrants noting that Souza has worked as an Assistant Professor of Photojournalism at Ohio University, a freelancer for National Geographic, the national photographer for the Chicago Tribune based in their Washington bureau, and as Official White House Photographer for President Reagan – he’s well vetted.

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If you’re curious as to what gear Souza is using, well, it’s not hard to find out. Many of the images he uploads to various places have the EXIF data in tact, and what we see is a lot of Canon 5D, and more recently the Sony A7RII with the lovely 55 1.8. Worth noting he has mentioned previously that he mostly chose the Canon because he said it was quieter than the Nikons. Interesting.

[REWIND: How To Create Lifestyle Photos For Instagram]

Check our more of Souza’s work on Medium, his site, and pretty much everywhere else.

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. robert garfinkle

    I wonder why the restrictions on pro-like cameras; it’s a shame. I should be able to take hi-res photos, or is it a case for national security. dunno.

    and now, here comes trouble, me? yes, with the provocative question.

    I see in a post below, the comment, if I am reading it right, which suggests a ban on photography will be enforced? why so?

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  2. robert s

    “& What Gear He Uses”

    canon cameras, but what gear?

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  3. Ralph Hightower

    Some cameras are allowed on tours of the White House. But any camera with a detachable lens is not allowed.

    From the https://www.whitehouse.gov/participate/tours-and-events :
    As of July 1, 2015, Smartphones and compact cameras with a lens no longer than 3 inches (stills only) are permitted on the public tour route as long as their use does not interfere with other guests’ enjoyment of the tour.

    Video cameras including any action camcorders, cameras with detachable lenses, tablets, tripods, monopods and camera sticks are not permitted.

    Flash photography or live stream as well as talking or texting on cellular phones is not permitted while on the tour.

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  4. Paul Wynn

    It has been astonishing to see so many images from the Obama administration, particuarly some of the more critical moments in Obama’s Presidency. The quality, compositions and intimacy of Souza’s images makes you feel connected with the moments, probably we will not see the like of these again in future administrations.

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    • Karen Borter

      you speak the truth. I imagine next year when they vacate that the ban on photography and social media will be put back in place no matter who resides.

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