Sunday, January 18, 2009

On Professional Photography Gear and President Barack Obama

The Obama Machine, now the new U.S. Government and President, has just released the “Official Presidential Portrait”. The official portrait can be viewed here at CHANGE.GOV (


The image was taken by the newly announced official White House Photographer, Pete Souza ( Pete Souza is a Freelance Photographer and an Assistant professor of photojournalism at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication.

He has published work in National Geographic, is the National Photographer for the Chicago Tribune, and has worked as an Official White House Photographer for President Reagan. He has released a new book entitled "The Rise of Barack Obama," which was published in July 2008 and includes exclusive photographs of the Senator Obama’s rise to power.

Souza has won numerous awards including several prestigious “Pictures of the Year” in NPPA's Best of Photojournalism Competition (, and the White House News Photographers Association's yearly contest (

This is the lead-in to what I wanted to write about. People often write and ask for my opinion about going “pro” and should they purchase the newest high end cameras available and in more recent months the new Nikon D3 or a new Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III. They ask because they feel that they need these pro cameras to be able to take pro images.

Part of this rational is from how we are brought up or how we have been blasted with consumer propaganda for many years on how “more expensive is always better”. Part of the rational also comes from the Camera Retailer’s propaganda and lastly, we as individuals and photographers always just feel the need to constantly upgrade our equipment foolishly thinking it will make us better photographers.

I state this because here the new Official White House Photographer has taken the Official Presidential Portrait using the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Yes this is a full frame camera but it is considered to be a prosumer camera not a professional camera. Prosummer (the portmanteau formed by contracting the word professional with the word consumer) being in between a low end consumer and a high end professional camera.

And yes, the new 5D Mark II is a new high end 21 Mega Pixel camera but note that it is still half the price of the 1Ds Mark III. Now there are reasons and arguments that can be made for buying a 1Ds Mark III, but for the majority of us, a 50D or a 5D are more than adequate. After all, if Souza can win awards, get into National Geography and be the Official White House photographer with a 5D, it should be good enough for us.

It is also interesting to note that Pete Souza was also concerned about the White House Post. Souza, 54, said he accepted the offer today after talking with Gibbs and reaching an agreement that the primary function of the White House photography office will be to document Obama's presidency for the sake of history. This was a bone of contention as he did not merely want to be a Portrait Photographer or simply a Media Photographer.

On the portrait taken of Obama, Souza told Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira on NBC’s Today Show that he took about four hours with his assistant (freelance photographer Andy Cutraro) to set-up lights and be ready for the shot. Then, the President-elect then gave him about five minutes for the traditional formal sitting on Tuesday.

After the session, Souza said that he and his assistant showed the shots to Obama “on the back of my digital camera.” They narrowed the selection down to a couple of shots that they liked, Souza said, and the photographer made the final choice. Souza said he showed his selection to Obama’s new White House press secretary Robert Gibbs before releasing it.

The EXIF data is intact and can easily be extracted from the image on the site.

Image EXIF

  • Make - Canon EOS 5D Mark II
  • Software - Adobe Photoshop CS3 Macintosh
  • DateTime - 2009:01:13 19:35:18
  • Copyright - © 2008 Pete Souza
  • ExposureTime - 1/125 seconds
  • FNumber - 10.00
  • ExposureProgram - Manual control
  • ISOSpeedRatings - 100
  • DateTimeOriginal - 2009:01:13 17:38:39
  • ExposureBiasValue - 0.00
  • MeteringMode - Multi-segment
  • Flash - Not fired, compulsory flash mode
  • FocalLength - 105.00 mm
  • ColorSpace - Uncalibrated
  • ExifImageWidth - 1916
  • ExifImageHeight - 2608

It is interesting to see that this image was also shot at a 105mm focal length which means it was probably shot with the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens. We will look at this EXIF Data more closely in another blog.

For now, do not think about your gear but rather, think about getting out and taking pictures or about learning new photography skills as this is what will make you a better photographer.

Oh, and Congratulations Mr. Souza on your new Post and Mr. Obama on becoming the President.

© 2009 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.02 - January 2009)

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I value thoughtful comments and suggestions. If you like or dislike this post, please let me know. If you have any ideas or suggestion, comments or corrections (I do make mistakes) please also let me know. Thanks.

- Francois Cleroux