Two Invaluable Traits We can Learn from Former White House Photographer Pete Souza

pete souza taking a pic

Meet photojournalist Pete Souza. Former Chief Official White House Photographer for two former American presidents: Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. He’s just come out with a book, Obama: An Intimate Portrait, where he shares 300 of the nearly 2 million photographs that he took during President Obama’s two terms in office. With that kind of CV we photographers need to pay attention to this guy.

Trust

I happened to catch Charlie Rose on CBS This Morning interviewing Souza, and he asked him how he earned complete trust from President Obama. Any photographers out there know that if you’re following someone around documenting them you’re going to be apart of intimate moments.

Souza told Charlie Rose that he actually knew Mr. Obama for 4 years before he became president. They had already built a professional relationship and over time he built on that trust each day.

aladdin-trust-21

 

It’s very important for the photographer to earn trust so that the people getting their photo taken will feel comfortable. The first engagement shoot I ever did was really easy because I was best friends with both the bride and the groom. When I asked them to kiss we all turned deep red for a moment.

Kim and Dex flirty copy

We quickly finished laughing and they let their guard down and I captured the fleeting moment. It helps when you ask them how they met or how he proposed. They’ll quickly get comfortable, forget you’re there and give you plenty of photo opportunities. Which brings me to the 2nd invaluable trait:

Invisibility

invisible

Who hasn’t wished they had the super power of invisibility? Co-anchor Norah O’ Donnell mentioned how President Obama actually forgot that Souza was in the room; that he pretty much became invisible. Wow. I have no problem becoming invisible while shooting birthday parties and weddings . . . but this guy did it in the White House. Color me impressed! I’m sure his previous experience with President Reagan didn’t hurt.

I don’t have any tips on developing your invisibility . . . it pretty much came naturally to me. (I’m short.) Or maybe the camera is actually a cloaking device . . .  people do want to look good and natural in their photos, so they just live in the moment.

sam elliott the ranch

I like the show on Netflix, The Ranch. Sam Elliot’s character has a running line where he says in his deep drawl that he hates everyone, except [fill in the blank]. In one he says, “I hate everyone, except Ronald Reagan.” lol Cracks me up. Check out some awesome photos taken by Souza. Notice the one of Michael Jackson and Ronald Reagan.

By the way, I recommend that you study Pete Souza’s photographs. Pay attention to light, composition, what he chooses to include in/out of the frame, etc.

So how do you build trust with the people you photograph? Do you have any trouble blending in? I’d love to hear any tips you have on building trust and becoming invisible.

 

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