Battle of the Presidential Portraits: Which Photographer Did It Better?

Battle of the Presidential Portraits: Which Photographer Did It Better?

In a showdown of competing presidential (and vice-presidential) photographers, the White House released new official portraits of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday. The two portraits were shot by two different photographers, and it’s evident in the style of each photo. The question is, which photographer did it better?

President Trump’s photo was taken by Official White House Photographer Shealah Craighead, a veteran political photojournalist who was First Lady Laura Bush’s official photographer as well. While Pence’s photo was taken by D. Myles Cullen, a Defense Department photographer.

EXIF data reveals some telling details (you can find the full resolution file of Pence’s photo from the White House here and Trump’s here). Data has been stripped from the President’s photo, but in Pence’s photo you can see that Cullen was using a Canon 5D Mark III and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens set at 123mm. You can also see that the caption information refers to him as “Micheal Pence,” somewhat of an embarrassing spelling mistake to leave in a file directly on the White House site.

Both photos feature an American flag in the background, though Pence is on a blue background while Trump is pictured against what appears to be the wall of the Oval Office (which CNN notes is possibly why the photo was delayed as the Oval Office was being redone).

Trump’s photo also includes the edge of a picture frame, something most basic photography teachers would say detracts from the image, but perhaps it was something that had a specific meaning to the President.

Lighting is also different as well. Pence’s photo appearing to be more of a studio-style portrait while Trump’s appears to be more naturally lit. Although without EXIF data, it’s hard to tell.

Trump is also smiling in this photo, a marked change from the scowl in his first official photo.

Which photographer made the better portrait? Sound off in the comments.

[via CNN]

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Toshi Tazawa's picture

Pence's portrait photographer by a mile. His work is a textbook example. Nice catchlight. Directionally well lit. You can't even see Trump's eyes. Really, this was an official portrait of Trump? You mean to tell me no one even bothered to straighten his tie?

Michael Kormos's picture

Yes, Pence’s Portrait has bokeh and better lighting, but Trump’s Portrait has lower chin and more shoulder. I’d still pick Spence as the better photo.

Anonymous's picture

Pence's is better but not great. There's no natural reason for the VP's face to be so much lighter than the background. The photographer should have increased the background exposure and backed off the flash a bit. The depth of field was sufficiently shallow to provide separation and this would also provide a tiny bit more separation between his coat and the wall. Also, I'm not a fan of two catchlights. I don't have enough time to critique Trump's portrait.

Ben Perrin's picture

I find the upvote/downvote system amusing. Did people really just downvote your comment because you said you voted for Trump? If so, that's a little sad.

Ben Perrin's picture

If you hover over the thumbs down icon with your mouse it lists the people who down voted you.

Stephen Crane's picture

I didn't down vote you, William, however, I'm personally exhausted of political fights being injected into the comments following completely unrelated topics (not necessarily at Fstoppers, but it is hard to avoid). You did nothing wrong by mentioning you voted for Mr. Trump, but the reaction was entirely predictable.

The same thing would have occurred if you stated you didn't vote for him. I find it best to not even bring it up, though the editor who chose this topic had to know it would generate some emotion.

For what it's worth, I like the Trump photo. Nothing wrong with Pence's, but it is too generic. It is shocking to see Trump smile (making the photo interesting) and the softer lighting brings a calmer mood to me vs. the normal tension I feel when I see a Trump photo (not a political statement, love him or hate him, the man creates tension).

Deleted Account's picture

I did. Just now. LOLOL
Happy now?

Anonymous's picture

Perhaps they down-voted him because he said maybe he liked it because he voted for him which would be, after all, a poor reason to like it. :-/

Ben Perrin's picture

Could be true but still not really a reason in my mind to down vote. I suppose people just have different tolerances.

Anonymous's picture

Being angry at people, unless for a really good reason, only hurts you...not the other person. Someone hurts a child, a woman or an animal, I have zero tolerance. William seems like a stand-up guy. He can take it. There'll be a lot better reasons to take a lot more abuse in the near future. It's good practice.

Pieter Batenburg's picture

I didn't downvote you but I can't figure out why someone would vote for Trump. Would he get your vote again, knowing what you know now?

Anyway, I prefer Pence's portrait because Trumps portrait is ugly. It is badly lit and strangely cropped. Why not symmetrically?

Clint K's picture

Yeah I am repulsed at how ignorant a person needs to remain to approve of Trump or to have voted for him. If you read any transcript or interview from him when he does not have access to a teleprompter and isn't just throwing out a sound bite, he is clearly unintelligent. He cannot even form a basic sentence and has absolutely no coherent thoughts.

To me the most anti-American thing you can do is put a retard in power and ignorance is not an excuse. It is pure laziness or knowing you won't like what you will find and just want to piss the other party off at any cost.

Anonymous's picture

I downvoted you too, but only to get you closer to having the most down voted comment in FStoppers history. Good luck!

BTW I may disagree with some of your politics, but you state them articulately and respectfully, and with a positive attitude. Plus you’re a damn fine photographer. Your portrait lighting is pretty powerful.

I’ll “undownvote” you if you see it as disrespectful. Just having a little fun.

Robert Nurse's picture

Honestly, leaving politics out of it, I prefer Pence's portrait. The catch-light in the eyes, the separation from the background and the colors pop more. It would have been better (if possible) to have them photographed in the same place for a better comparison.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

The "Old Masters" background.

Benjamin Thomson's picture

I like how the Trump photo makes him look like Satan in disguise, with that shit-eating smirk.

Anonymous's picture

Give him a break. After all, he is Australian and trying to live down Paul Hogan. ;-)

Benjamin Thomson's picture

Well as a member of planet earth, I'm pretty keen to get someone mentally unstable away from that big red button. Not really being a hater, just wowed by the stupidity of whoever voted for him.

Benjamin Thomson's picture

I'm not left, I'm generally centrist. Hillary Clinton would have been a pretty crappy choice too, but at least she's not a threat to bringing on a nuclear winter.

I'm not going to be polite about Trump, he's a white supremacist sympathiser, sexist, low IQ, impulsive, arrogant and one of the top 3 most dangerous people on the planet.

Benjamin Thomson's picture

If you are this ignorant about politics, just don't vote, instead of voting for an orange facade.

Benjamin Thomson's picture

I appreciate the offer but I'm more of a tumeric latte guy.

rob blanchard's picture

I would choose pence image by far but never like to see two catchlights in the eye.

Alex Cooke's picture

I think the Pence image is lit better, is sharper, and shows a nice use of color, particularly with the background. My only real critique is the flag edge intersecting his head; that bothers me a bit, though I get the intention.

michael andrew's picture

If you zoom in it almost looks like pence was clipped out. I wouldn't understand why but there is a slight shadow across the entirety of him, it is subtle.

Anonymous's picture

You up-voted a comment that said Trump looks like Satan. It's kind of difficult to take anything you write seriously. But yeah...I noticed it too. :-)

michael andrew's picture

Are you the vote Police Sam? Or maybe you are Satan? its anyones guess.

Anonymous's picture

As a matter of fact, I am but in this case, it was a failed attempt at humor. :-)
If you think I could be Satan, you're in for a big surprise! ;-)

Ben Perrin's picture

I think the Trump shot is better but not by much. The Pence shot has a little bit too much contrast, especially on the jacket for my taste. The light on the Trump shot looks more natural. Not a fan of the frame creeping into the background though. Seems I'm in the minority on this.

Anonymous's picture


Georgy K's picture

Pence photo is very usual as thousands of photos of this kind. It cannot be bad, because it was made according to all the photographic rules. Trump's photo has emotion. IT is more catchy, perfect for memes. People will remember it for a long time. And this is the reason why it is good.

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