As we enter into the new political season, so does the role of photography. A transition from the Obama to the Trump administration also means a transition from former White House photographer Pete Souza to someone new. However, photographs of the newest administration demonstrate something noteworthy: how we pose and light our subjects has great impact on how they are perceived, but perhaps the choice of camera doesn’t.
When you compare the official portraits of the President Trump and Former President Obama, you can immediately see a difference. The portrait of President Trump is lit from below (though also from above with the giveaway being the shadow under the chin) and casts a shadow on the left side of his face. Combined with the fact that he isn’t smiling gives the portrait a serious tone. With this image reaching millions, it will undoubtedly be perceived differently by many. Where some might read this pose as strength and others might read it as intimidating, perhaps striking a tone consistent with the President’s personality in the political arena.
President Obama’s portrait is brighter and shows him smiling. This combination of lighting, smiling and posture, gives a warmer and more inviting tone to the image. However, this is balanced by the crossing of his arms, reflecting the formal mood and his position. This pose is typical for executives and influential people of high rank. And like Trump, this is consistent with how the president aimed to relate to the public at large.
That aside, it’s interesting and perhaps more than a little surprising to find out this current and new photos of President Trump was shot using a 10 year old digital camera, the Canon 1Ds Mark III that debuted in 2007, and paired with a 70-200mm IS f/2.8. Here’s the EXIF data pulled from the file:
In contrast with that, Obama’s photo which was shot in 2012, although 4 years older was shot with a Canon 5D Mark III, which is 5 years newer than the camera used to shoot Trump. It was paired with the venerable Canon 85mm f/1.2.
Understanding how to control the mood in an image is important for portraits. You don’t always want to strike the same note. When you do, your imagery becomes monotonous. Understanding who your subject is and the image that they wish to communicate is key to keeping your clients happy.