While many may understand there are numerous factors that play a role in a presidential election, few would likely consider the impact of photography during presidential elections. However, photography, especially professional, high-quality photography, plays a very important role during the critical stage of campaigning.

There is even an exhibition at the Southampton Arts Center that details exactly how photography and the images it produces play a vital role in the campaigning process. This exhibit examines the visuals taken in the 1960s and looks at the change in those throughout the years as technology evolved. It goes right up to the present day where there is a tremendous focus on social media.

The curators have divided the exhibit into several parts showcasing the initial role played by television in the 1960s and 1970s, the influence of the entertainment industry on the pictorials of the presidential campaign of the 1980s, the prominence of cable news networks of the 1990s and the change of internet campaigning to the tremendous focus on social media today. The exhibit also deals with how an excellent campaign photographer will use their skills to expertly showcase the public image a candidate wants to project.

The Evolution of the White House Photographer

Not only do the most highly trained photographers work to capture the perfect images of the candidates they are promoting, but the ones who eventually become official White House photographers have a very good rapport with the candidate who becomes president.  The importance of photography of presidents to record the many momentous events of their term has been undisputed for almost half a century. For over five decades, presidential photographers have covered the memorable occasions in the lives of each president who has served in the White House. Knowing the photographs they take will be remembered for many years to come, White House photographers must use the most expert techniques to ensure important moments in time, in the history of the United States, are preserved for generations.

Some of the earliest presidents to have photographers didn’t employ them in the official capacity of the White House photographer. For instance, Abbie Rowe started working as F.D.R.’s photographer in 1941 after working as a photographer for the National Park Service though he wasn’t known as an official White House photographer.

President Kennedy later used a photographer who had followed him on the campaign trail. Cecil Stoughton was employed by the Public Information Office of the Army following his coverage of Kennedy’s inauguration. He took one of his most famous photographs after he had been following JFK on that fateful trip to Dallas on November 22, 1963.

As then Vice-President, Lyndon Johnson was flying back to Washington, Stoughton was on the same plane and photographed Johnson being sworn into office aboard the plane. Though Stoughton remarked later that prior to taking the photograph, he had mentioned to Johnson’s staff that while they may have thought it was in poor taste to take the picture, if they wanted him to, he could make sure that the moment was preserved for all time.

President Lyndon Johnson later hired the first official White House photographer, Yoichi Okamoto, the photographer had demands of his own. He wanted not be restricted to photographing Johnson only when Johnson wanted him there. He wanted to be able to record the history as it was being made. Okamoto knew, with his skill and professional judgment, the best way to provide viewers with insight that only an expert photographer can provide.

And providing insight as they follow presidents isn’t always an easy task considering some of the difficult days that a President experiences when facing a crisis situation. For example, George W. Bush’s chief photographer, Eric Draper, remarked that covering the events of 9/11 was one of his most difficult days to be a photographer. Not only did he capture emotion, but he was able to capture the intensity of the day as he photographed President Bush who needed to decide how to gather a nation together to face one of the most tragic days in the history of the United States.

The presidential photographer also has an interesting role in that they need to follow the president and record events as they are happening as well as recording the president’s demeanor and reactions to the events that are occurring. The reactions of a president to various crises and even the passing of important legislation will need to be photographed in such a way as to reveal that character behind the person in the photographs.

While most presidential photographers have access to both the professional and personal side of the presidents, their ability to capture great images is to learn how to maintain a type of invisibility. Though most people don’t want to be ignored while they are doing their job, a great testament to an expert presidential photographer is being able to blend in so that they are ignored. That is the only way they will get the most natural candid shots that will truly give the viewer a look at the person behind the office of president. These candid images will highlight the humanity of the president and can only be achieved by a photographer with the utmost experience and training.

A photographer who has achieved the status of presidential photographer understands that they will be chronicling the defining moments of each president’s legacy. It is critical that their images be of the best quality as they will serve as a reminder of the history and provide memories of important presidential moments, whether they are merely casual or more officious.

Social Media and Photography

While the expertise and skill of a photographer is important to record important and seemingly inconsequential everyday occurrences in the lives of presidents, the importance of a campaign photographer on the journey to the White House is equally — if not more — important. While each candidate may hire their own photographers to follow them and capture their most presidential of moments, the candidates must realize that they are under constant scrutiny by the media and the photojournalists who work for media outlets. With the evolution of social media and instant news, very little of a candidate’s life is not under a microscope.

Anyone who has used social media knows that everything that a presidential candidate does on the campaign trail is reported instantly via news outlets. Photographs and videos are uploaded to social media by professionals and amateurs alike, sometimes resulting in viewers questioning the integrity of the candidate. More than in any other election, presidential candidates much be aware of their every move and action, knowing that a misstep has the potential to spread via photo to social media possibly costing them votes.

In the beginning of 2016, Time Magazine named the best photographers covering the campaign on Instagram. These photographers, many of whom are freelance photojournalists, have the goal and skill of not only shooting magnetic pictures, but of being able to capture the reactions of candidates and supporters alike. While the photographers of the past may have been able to plan for their shots, today’s photographers with instant news, must take their shots as quickly as possible, upload them and disseminate them to some form of media whether it is an online news journal or social media.

All of the pieces involved in arriving at the finished product which will be seen by millions means that today’s photographer needs to be highly skilled not only in the area of actually photographing the subject, but in also ensuring the images are edited and transmitted as soon as possible. The competition between online media outlets makes it imperative that one of the criteria of being a top-rated online news site is to be the first outlet to air the story. That means in addition to being the first, that news outlet must have the most accurate news and the photographs that evoke the images and feelings of the event.

Because of the ability of social media sites such as Instagram to reach millions of users, many freelance photographers are using Instagram to market their work. This means a professional photographer not only must have the skill to take a great photograph, but they must also have the knowledge about how to make that photograph available to millions in an instant. They can use hashtags to be able to promote that photography. The hashtags can include items such as location where the photo was taken, the type of camera equipment used to take the picture, the type of photography, the branding of the photography business and details of the photo.

Photographers can also tag their clients, make watermarks for their images, share their blog posts and make sure to blog consistently to create the likelihood that people can find them when they are searching for a photographer and may want to use them for their future photography needs. And last, but not least, photographers can use Instagram to advertise sales that they may be having on any particular photography packages.

Photography and the Campaign Trail

 As mentioned, social media has made changes in how photographers can market their work, and the evolution of modern-day technology along with social media has affected the presidential campaign trail as well. If you are wondering how photography impacts presidential races, consider this: Photographer Todd Heisler took a photo of Dan White and his young son looking through a doorway to a Bernie Sanders campaign event in New Hampshire. While the photo was published in the New York Times, White also tagged Heisler in a Facebook post the day after the photo was taken. In his Facebook post, White wrote about other photos that Heisler, a well-known photojournalist, had taken of funerals of Marines who died in Iraq.  Even though Heisler was published in the New York Times, White also promoted Heisler’s photography through the use of Facebook.

White’s use of Heisler’s photography in Facebook reminded Heisler how that this year’s campaign is extremely different from some previous campaigns when it comes to the trending of social media. According to Heisler, “In 2004, there was no social media. I would have moved on to the next city long before anyone would see my work. “

Additionally, for the first time ever in the history of a presidential campaign, candidates are spending hours taking selfies with supporters. Because of the instantaneous nature of social media, often the photos that a photographer posts online are seen by millions before the event has concluded.

While photojournalists are looking to chronicle campaign events, they also understand that each candidate’s lives are technically now under a microscope. To comprehend the role of how photography impacts presidential elections, consider that every eye roll or look of disdain can be captured not only by a journalist, but by anyone with a smart phone. That image can literally go viral within seconds after being captured if the photographer chooses to post it to some form of social media. In the election of 2016 even more so than previous elections, candidates have needed to be cognizant that anything they say or do can be recorded instantly and shown to millions of people almost as quickly.

How Presidents Choose a Campaign Photographer

While photojournalists covering political events have the goal of providing candid shots of the candidates, there is a true difference between those who cover political events and those who are employed to cover a candidate’s campaign. One photojournalist, who has been photographing campaign events since 1979, noted that one of his goals is to get images that are not the same as those which the campaigns want to promote. This philosophy represents the difference from the thoughts of a photojournalist who is merely covering an event and a photographer who is working for a particular campaign and wants to promote their client in a particular light. To be able to understand and photograph in a way that reflects that goals of one’s client is a skill that is finely honed by a professional photographer with years of experience.

There is not one particular manner in which campaigns choose their campaign photographers. However, these photographers generally have some type of previous relationship with the candidates.

  • In 1999, John McCain chose a certain photographer to cover his political campaign. This particular photographer was highly recommended because he had spent many years covering political photography and had also covered conflict across the globe. He employed a technique that was a combination of art and photojournalism. With the use of very expensive equipment, he tried to capture the expressions on the faces of the supporters of the various campaigns as they were listening to the speeches of the candidates. The photographer was very surprised when, after covering campaign events for the various candidates, how similar their events actually were.
  • Hillary Clinton chose her campaign photographer for the 2016 campaign based upon a long history with the photographer. Her photographer has worked for a number of media outlets including USA Today, Reuters, and the Seattle TimesShe also worked for Hillary when her husband, Bill, was president. The advantage that Hillary’s campaign photographer, has, in her own words, is having spent so much time with Hillary over the years, she knows her well enough to have a certain comfort level and knows when she should stay and when she should leave. This allows her to get the best photographs that show the candidate’s moments when she lets down her guard.

Hillary’s current campaign photographer obtained her position by offering Mrs. Clinton her services in both of her presidential campaigns — 2008 and 2016. In 2008, she started filing her photos when each day concluded in much the same manner as a photographer would if using the wire. But with the advent and popularity of Twitter, the photographer is amazed at the number of requests she now receives from people who want to add her to their Twitter accounts. The increased speed in which she posts her photographs has made the profession of photography even more challenging. The speed and prevalence of social media means that photography has a more essential role in the presidential campaign making it an even more competitive profession and one in which the photographer needs to have skills to not only take the photograph but to ensure that the images are posted timely and accurately to include as many social media outlets as possible.

Hillary’s photographer not only has over two decades of photojournalism experience, but she also has a degree in photojournalism and news writing. Both the experience and education are items that together provide her with the education and training to ensure that she will be able to capably perform her duties as a campaign photographer.

The campaign photographer wants to capture images that will show who Hillary is but will also profile her in the best light possible. She is planning to shoot photographs that will document the campaign and may have some value for the future.

Hillary’s campaign photographer will travel with her to all campaign events up to the election. Not only is her task to make sure that the campaign has the photos for social media outlets, but she also needs to be able to capture candid images that may have an historical impact for generations to come.

  • One of the photographers for the Trump campaign was chosen somewhat differently from that of the Clinton campaign. The Veterans for Trump coalition chose a photographer to cover events in the southeast who was asked to cover events by another Trump photographer. The Virginia photographer chosen had never been involved in politics but chose to cover the Trump events because he was a Trump supporter. This particular photographer has been able to follow Trump across the country and has covered at least twenty events for him as he has campaigned throughout the south.

Though not a campaign photographer, the Scottish photographer who has taken more photographs of Donald Trump than any other photographer describes the art of his photography — in particular, a certain photograph he shot of Donald Trump in his limo as he was talking on his car phone, which was a relatively new invention at the time. Trump was talking on the car phone in his limo in a world completely separate from the people on the streets. Trump’s chosen photographer had extensive experience and was a major award winner for his photographs. He had also photographed a variety of well-known people, from the Beatles to every U.S. president from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Obama.

How to Choose a Professional Photographer

If you are in the market for choosing a professional photographer or want to book a commercial photoshoot, how should you go about doing that, and whom should you choose? Mark DeLong has extensive experience as a photographer in a variety of fields including fashion, music, lifestyle, celebrity, and commercial advertising. He has also been working as a photographer for over seventeen years. Mark’s diversity in his experience enables him to take on a variety of projects and work with many clients while incorporating numerous lighting techniques for the highest quality photographs. And while Mark has worked with many large companies, he is also involved in all aspects of the shoot to provide a personal touch from pre-production to compositing and creative retouching of the final image.

Mark’s operations in major cities across the county enable him to provide quality photographic services that his clients need. And Mark’s great attention to detail along with his ability to direct large sets with attention to every technical detail and lighting enable him to exceed his clients’ expectations. Look at Mark DeLong for information on how to book a commercial photoshoot or become a client.