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Wednesday, 14 January 2009


It's just my opinion but I don't like that shot. I think of all the pictures of Obama that I have seen - and there are a lot of good ones - this one is bad. The white background looks "off". Sorry I can not put my finger on it, but I don't like it.

I think I see some black spots to the right of the stars in the flag...


Good photo, by the way.

Who says the 5D isn't a "real" pro camera eh.

A sight for sore eyes.

Very, very sore eyes.

From what I can tell, Barack Obama has the toughest skintone to nail under indoor lighting conditions as any person I have ever seen. Most of the shots I saw of him on the campaign trail he looked yellow, even jaundiced. Maybe it's just me, but this Souza guy must be good, because this shot of Barack the best rendition of his skin as I have ever seen. Looking forward to his work, I think this is a fine start.

After the click from my RSS I found myself slightly dissapointed with the photo, to be honest. What's up with the flag in the back? It looks so sad and "un-proud". And the light is rather flat. Also, couldn't the two spots of dust on his jacket be retouched? In general I feel some grandeur is missing. Then again: is my over-the-top-expectancy of BO perhaps not matched by the picture? And might that maybe be a good thing?

There is only one President of the United States, and until noon on January 27, 2009 his name is George W. Bush. It's President-elect Barack Obama until then.

That's a wonderful portrait of Reagan. His face seems to be illuminated primarily by the sunlit paper in his hands. I look forward to Souza's President Obama.

You mean January 20th, 2009, don't you, John?
I'm glad you mentioned it, though.

I hate the blah white background, and the flags look positively sloppy. Kudos for nailing the skin tone.

John Roberts: Indeed, save for, I believe, that it's the 20th, not 27th.

If you can delay the inauguration by 7 days, then I can jump the gun by 7 days. We'll cancel each other out, just like we did on Nov. 4th. [g]

Mike J.

L lens? Zoom or Prime? ;-)

I think Obama's looks like a handheld photograph taken with a 5D at a birthday party. Like, "Uh, okay, stand over there by that white wall and smile a little, okay, hold still, now." Lacks gravitas.

The picture of Reagan looks like a film still -- the density of detail, a powerful overall symmetry, the perfect light, the lack of motion, and air. This must've been after they stuffed him.


Interesting color management tidbit: the jpg image posted at Obama's site (http://change.gov/newsroom/entry/new_official_portrait_released/) has the Adobe RGB profile embedded. Most browsers don't display these images correctly, excluding Firefox 3 and Safari for the Mac. I tried looking at it in Firefox 2 and Safari and the difference in color was amazing.

Interesting, I must say the lighting looks a little... conservative? :-D

I want David LaChapelle Obama with him bathing and partying in a land of milk and honey.

Guys, I agree that this Obama portrait is not going to be mistaken as (the late) Richard Avedon's work. But these portraits are quite formulaic in their composition. They're destined for display (in cheesy low-bid government-standard frames) on the walls of thousands of post offices, federal court houses, and federal offices around the country. I'm sure Pete set the white balance to match the putrid color temperature of the yellow-green decade-old fluorescent lamps so prevalent in these settings.

But I agree that the Reagan shot is a real prize-winner. He just looks so ... presidential (and he's awake).

@John Camp:

This is not a free-form portrait. It's an official portrait that will be displayed in just about every Federal office. Unfortunately, that means that it has to follow a highly stereotyped format. It has to show the President in a standard portrait pose with a background that is uncluttered except for an easily identifiable American flag. That doesn't leave a whole lot of room for creative composition.

The Reagan picture is just that- a picture. It's not a standard format portrait that's going to be mass printed for every office in the country. I'm sure that Mr. Souza will have plenty of chances to produce similarly fine pictures of President Obama (once he is President and not President-elect).

For the question about "new photographic process", that depends a lot on what counts as a new photographic process. If switching from film to digital counts, I'd guess that switching from black and white to color also counts. But how about smaller steps? Would moving from negatives to slides count? How about from one processing chemistry to another (e.g. Kodachrome to E-6)?

Hmmm... I wonder... Since BHO had to give up his Blackberry for security reasons.. Is Mr. Souza required to use Canon's Original Data Security Kit (OSK-E3) for whatever reasons?

Yes as Chris Norris pointed out, it's amazing the difference between the Adobe RGB version and the unprofiled version reproduced here. The colours in general are much more saturated, and Obama's skin tone more reddish. Without having met the man, I'd probably aim for something in between the two.

As to the portrait itself, I note that it's the first photographic presidential portrait since LBJ (at least from the ones on this page: http://www.historyplace.com/specials/portraits/presidents/index.html ) that doesn't show teeth. I approve.

He looks kinda like Opie...

Having just made that comment about teeth, I immediately noticed a much toothier (but presumably less official) portrait of the president-elect on the same site (http://change.gov/learn/presidentelect/). So I wonder about the official status of ones I linked to above. Does anyone know where one can view online all the really-and-truly official photographic portraits of the (US) presidents?

"There is only one President of the United States, and until noon on January 27, 2009 his name is George W. Bush. It's President-elect Barack Obama until then."

You forgot to mention that Reagan is no longer president.

What will be really interesting is to do the same set up in 4 years to see how much the office ages Obama. Or do it every 6 months over the next 4 years...

If Obama is half as good as Reagan as President then we will be in good hands for the next 4 years...

There surely is a difference in the appearance of the photo depending on browser colour management, but I don't find it objectionable either way.
I do wish they had ironed the creases out of your flag though...

What I enjoyed most were the excellent series on Souza's web site. Some very moving pictures there, many reminiscent of the heyday of Picture Post photojournalism. Seems like he is a good choice for the job.

That's just not a good photo, politics aside, it looks like a quick snapshot taken with a $129 digicam.

A few official portraits from recent history.

G.H. Bush


Just Horable...Very bad picture... I can not belive someone will take this for begining actor head shot let alone for the president. This is Obamas first bad move...

Pardon my typo on the inauguration date.

Former presidents continue to be referred to as President ________, even after they leave office, or die. Hence, we still refer to President Clinton, or President Franklin Roosevelt. Of course, we all (hopefully) understand that Ronald Reagan is neither still president, nor still alive. Nonetheless, it is still correct to refer to him as President Reagan.

During the campaign, I was often aghast at how bad some of the online news photographs were with Mr. Obama's skin being frequently more yellow than not. So I have to agree that this official portrait seems to capture the skin color quite a bit better.

I remember my own episode this last November at LosCon, where I was doing official masquerade photos. The setting is a small hotel function room. I have about 30 seconds to take a few shots of a masquerade entrant before the next one, so there isn't much time fussing around. Since an entry may have just one person or a large group of people, I put the softbox at about 60 degrees to the right and a umbrella light about 45 degrees to the left. This generally works well for just about anything.

Anyway, Calvin showed up in a white cloak *smack head*. I was shooting tethered to the laptop and since it is an old laptop, I was only shooting JPG to speed up the display. Once again, I am reminded how good the Olymps E-3 white balance and JPG engine are. The image speaks for itself, the color is spot on. I have taken ~20,000 photos since Feb 2008 with the E-3, and one of the best features is that I hardly have to do any color correction. Well done, Olympus!

For the photo, please see http://rfman.wordpress.com/2009/01/15/the-olympus-colors/

I delayed my comments...

I've now looked at this photo on multiple monitors, in multiple browsers, with different colour backgrounds 9just to be sure).

The conclusion that I can draw is although the original source with colour managed browser is the best, all renditions look good and remarkably similar. With the target dissemination, I think that is a minor triumph.

As to the style, I think it sets just the right tone for an official, display everywhere portrait: measured and dignified. A nice, simple H&S with enough background addition to signify the office. Cliches get that way for a reason, simple is often best.

Very interesting, but I would like to note a mistake: the name of the Japanese(-American?) photographer for Johnson would "Okamoto" not "Okamto."


This is almost an homage to this Alexander Gardner portrait of Lincoln.


And a good example of what current DSLRs are not good at - rendering fine red detail. Look at the flag on his lapel ... even on the full size download, the stripes are distinctly soft.

I believe this is due to the fact that there are significantly fewer pixels recording red compared to blue and green.

Drives me mad at times, as fine red detail appears in my subject matter rather a lot.

Thought it a little ironic that this first digital inauguration pic highlights one of the format's shortcomings.



Oh, forget all of the techy stuff -- I will be nice to see a friendly face on the wall during an IRS audit. A camera is a write-off, right?

For what it's worth, here's the EXIF information for the photograph (thanks for the link to the official site, Chris Norris):

File name: officialportrait.jpg
File size: 803500 bytes (1916x2608, 1.3bpp, 19x)
EXIF Summary: 1/125s f/10.0 ISO100 105mm

Camera-Specific Properties:

Equipment Make: Canon
Camera Model: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Camera Software: Adobe Photoshop CS3 Macintosh
Photographer: Pete Souza

Image-Specific Properties:

Image Orientation: Top, Left-Hand
Horizontal Resolution: 300 dpi
Vertical Resolution: 300 dpi
Image Created: 2009:01:13 19:35:18
White Point Chromaticity: 0.3
Exposure Time: 1/125 sec
F-Number: f/10.0
Exposure Program: Manual
ISO Speed Rating: 100
Exposure Bias: 0 EV
Metering Mode: Pattern
Flash: No Flash, Compulsory
Focal Length: 105.00 mm
Color Space Information: Uncalibrated
Image Width: 1916
Image Height: 2608

Other Properties:

Resolution Unit: i
Chromaticities of Primary Colors: 0.6
Exif IFD Pointer: 464
Compression Scheme: JPEG Compression (Thumbnail)
Horizontal Resolution: 72 dpi
Vertical Resolution: 72 dpi
Resolution Unit: i
Offset to JPEG SOI: 862
Bytes of JPEG Data: 5838
Exif Version: 2.21
Image Generated: 2009:01:13 17:38:39
Image Digitized: 2009:01:13 17:38:39
Meaning of Each Comp: Unknown
DateTime Second Fraction: 04

Personally, I'm surprised the presidential portraits aren't shot on medium format... film or digital.

I wonder if the flag lapel pin was photoshopped in?


Colin: red and blue have an equal number of sensor sites, green has twice as many, on the most common filter arrangement (described as "RGBG").

Browser color management: Firefox supports it, but it's turned off by default for performance reasons. See http://kb.mozillazine.org/Gfx.color_management.enabled

Thanks kfarren, The Reagan and Clinton portraits are both really nice shots. The GH Bush portrait is almost as bad as the Obama shot. Thanks for the compare - it really shows the Obama shot is sub-par.

It just find it amazing that the 5D MkII could take such a poor shot... :)

OK, you guys had me opening the official JPEG in almost every app. Seemed like a good opportunity to try and understand color management a little better. btw, Chrome is subtly warmer than IE (neither do color management) on Vista, while Firefox and PSE way warmer. On the other hand, Chrome's rendition of the image on TOP agrees closely with the official file in PSE. Eh?

PC color management only seems to get more complex the more I learn about it. And it's a bummer to be reminded that neither Picasa nor Chrome do it. I'm migrating to Lightroom already, for a number of reasons, but now I'm also considering going back to Firefox as my main browser.

What jumped out at me though was the harsh aliasing (and maybe even sharpening?) in IE when there was any scaling. Meanwhile, Chrome was smooth at any size, though at the expense of some detail. Firefox was in between--aliasing there but not too harsh.

Sorry, but I've also thrown a wrench at those who are doing color management experiments, because I switched the pictures late last night--I re-downloaded the portrait and converted it to sRGB.

Sorry if that's misled anybody.

Mike J.

What's obvious from this portrait is that, for better or worse, President Obama's image will be made available in significantly higher resolution than any predecessor's.

I see Souza shoots with a Leica M8.2 as well as the Canon 5DII. I know a lot of Leica shooters who will be absolutely convinced that the shot would have been a mere 5 times better if he had just used the Leica. At least the stripes on his lapel pin would have been sharp for sure.

Dear John,

Sorry, but your pedantry is misplaced.

It is NOT correct to title an ex-President as "President" although it is a common misusage. President is not an honorary title, but a title of office, and saying "President Carter" (for example) would be as incorrect as if you continued to refer to your ex-city councilman as "Councilman Smith" after he left office.

Correct terms for ex-presidents (all elected officials, in fact) are "Mr." or "Ms." It is also proper to refer in third-person to "former-President Bush" for identification purposes, although you'd never say that in direct conversation.

It would be correct to talk about the photo of "then-President Reagan" or "Mr. Reagan when he was President" but "President Reagan" is wrong.

This is pedantry for the sake of pedantry, but, hey, you started it.

This is a very dangerous group to try to pick nits in, in case you haven't yet figured that out [s].

pax / Ctein

Dear folks,

Re: first use of a medium, it's a little tricky to be sure, because presidents typically have more than one "official portrait." That said, Nixon was probably the first president to have a color photograph as an official portrait. (I haven't located a color official picture of LBJ.)

As for a photograph (as opposed to a painting) being the official portrait: definitely Truman, possibly FDR. Definitely not Coolidge.

In all the technical nitpicking that's been going on, there is something that people have missed. Digital on some level was an absolute requirement for getting the skin tones right. I've tested all the professional color portrait films (save for the few that have been released in the last year), and they all do a very bad job on flesh-neutral balance for dark skin tones. Typically they are too magenta, sometimes by 10 CC or more.

Any "traditional" negative and darkroom print of Obama would have that problem. You could either get the skin tones correct and have everything else be very green, or get the overall neutral balance correct and make him way too ruddy.

You could fix that with dye transfer printing; not likely to be the medium of choice for thousands of copies of an official portrait! You can also fix in digital post-processing: you can color manage and profile film the same way you do monitors and printers, to correct for all of this.

But a traditional "analog" print of this particular subject? It would have visibly inferior, frankly unacceptable, color.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

OK, how many of you realize that you're trying to nitpick (literally) the fine detail of a JPEG that has only half the resolution of the native file and is compressed 20X, to boot!?

All comments about flag pins are made null and void by the lack of any real data about the original photo.

Jeez, I'm surprised someone hasn't gone off about the terrible boke in the flag...

Reminds me of joke a famous photographer once told me.

Q: How many professional photographers does it take to change a light bulb.

A: 50-- One to change the light bulb and 49 to stand around saying, "I could have done that, and done it so much better, too."

pax / Ctein


I think you are only half correct. I believe you refer to an Ex President as Ex, but address them (meaning in person) as Mr President. At least until we have a female president.

Actually, I thought John was right about addressing the presidents, but Ctein is. I looked it up in the Chicago Manual of Style, which holds that the proper written form for a past president is:

former president Reagan

(lower case, as this is a description, not a title), and

Mr. Reagan

...if you were addressing the man himself prior to his death. Oddly enough, all but a few State governors may be addressed as "Excellency," but that is not a proper way to address the president.

The usage isn't as clear on the following, but I believe that a former president may be called "President Reagan" when you are talking about something he did as president. Thus you would not say "President Lincoln won the debate with Stephen Douglas," and you would not say, "President Carter won the Nobel Prize," but you would say "President Clinton was elected to a second term."

Finally, I believe the above is properly a "presidential portrait" even if the man it portrays is not yet "President Obama."

Mike J.

According to both Wikipedia and Ansel Adams autobiography, the first time the official presidential portrait was a photograph (instead of a painting) was 1979. Ansel shot President Carter using a Polaroid 20x24 camera. Four good exposures were made, with one going to the National Portrait gallery, one to President Carter, one to Polaroid, and Ansel kept the fourth for himself.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ansel_Adams#cite_ref-54
2. Ansel Adams, An Autobiography: pgs 257-259

Of course my previous post and Ctein's post raise the question as to the definition of "the official presidential portrait" or maybe it is "an official presidential portrait". Since Ansel didn't shoot Carter until 79 there must have been portraits of him in post offices already.

It is also interesting to note that the picture embeds exif data: 105mm focal length, f/10, 1/125s.

Robert e mentions that Internet Explorer's scaling of the presidential photograph was "harsh". That rang a bell - Joel Spolsky's explanation is here, together with a server-side fix.


Surprising as it was to find IE unwilling to scale photos smoothly unless asked nicely, it was more surprising to learn the correct way of address former presidents. I'm pretty sure I've seen former presidents (most recently, former president Carter) addressed as Mr President by US TV presenters. It's amazing what you can learn here. :)

I can forgive the blandness due to limitations in subject matter, etc. (although the other presidential portraits posted here really use better lighting), but what I really don't like in this picture is how Obama comes across: as a small, tired, almost weak man. For a portrait that is supposed to be stamped everywhere to remind and inspire people of his presence and role, the body language and expression could sure have been worked better.

YMMV, of course.

I noticed the wrong colour space being used when I opened the image in PS to look at the file info (IPTC etc).

I've emailed Pete to tell him about this problem. He should really convert to sRGB for web use, preferably with the profile embedded. Given the popularity of the President-Elect, thousands of people will doenload this image on to non-colour-aware systems, and sRGB gives the best chance of being near to what the photographer intended.

If he's the official (digital) photographer this sort of elementary mistake shouldn't happen.

Maybe he isn't used to preparing images for the web? His web site gives no technical information about his methods, so I'd guess he shoots jpegs with colour space set to Adobe RGB.

The metadata says the focal length was 105mm so I'm guessing he used the Canon 24-105mm IS zoom.

Thiago Silva wrote
"what I really don't like in this picture is how Obama comes across: as a ... tired, almost weak man."

He probably looks tired and weak because he's suffering from the wrong colour space being used in the photo for web use, which makes him look slightly drained.

If you open the image in a colour-aware application such as PS then he looks less tired, and stronger :-)

Kind Regards,


Just to clarify, Michael Evans was Ronald Regan's one and only Official Presidential Photographer. When he left shortly into the second term his team (Pete included) stayed on, but Evans was not replaced.

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