The Presidential Portrait Was Taken by a Ten-Year-Old Camera

The Presidential Portrait Was Taken by a Ten-Year-Old Camera

Well, so much for always needing the latest and greatest gear. Even the president's official portrait was shot on a decade-old camera.

What you see below is President Trump's official portrait as it appears on the White House website:

The EXIF data has not been scrubbed from the file, and from it, we can readily see that the portrait was shot on a Canon 1Ds Mark III (a camera released in 2007!), using the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens, shot at 1/320 s, 145mm, f/2.8, ISO 640. I'll admit that this was certainly not the equipment nor the setting I expected to see in a presidential portrait. Trump's portrait appears to have been lit by a single light below him and to camera left. 

For comparison, here's President Obama's second portrait, taken in 2012:

Pete Souza's 2012 portrait of President Obama appears to have been lit by two overhead octaboxes and was taken on a Canon 5D Mark III (released that same year), using the 85mm f/1.2L lens, shot at 1/125 s, f/7.1, ISO 200. 

It's interesting to compare the two portraits, both from a perspective of what they convey and simply on the basis of the equipment they were shot on. What are your thoughts?

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55 Comments

Adrian Pocea's picture

interesting comparison

Most certainly wonderful portraits can be taken with old gear... wish 1) he would have been more relaxed and at ease (after the unfair, mean-spirited TIME cover, Trump prob doesn't trust any photographers), 2) more fill light would have been used (you can't reallysee the man's eyes). I'm sure he's hard to photograph and likely has the patience requiring a 93-second sitting. Not inspiring and I regret stating that b/c I don't mean to be critical of the photographer... it's just... meh. Likewise, Obama's first portrait looks like a happy boy birthday party shoot... Hats off to anyone who photographs a president!!

Sean Berry's picture

No way around it.. its just an awful portrait regardless of the camera.

Agreed. You'd think they'd try a little harder for the official photo of the President.

Patrick Hall's picture

There is clearly a light above him firing down. You can see the shadow under his chin; it's just high enough not to show up as a catchlight in his eyes.

Andrew H. Kim's picture

Was just about to say the same. There might even be a third light to the left judging by the 3 shadows of the nose. Looks like constant lights too by the shutter speed.

jurian kriebel's picture

Definitely 3 light sources for sure. And I think you're right about the constant lights as well. I think this could well be shot with the existing lights and a (really) poorly placed flash.

Alex Cooke's picture

Good catch.

Lane Shurtleff's picture

Look in Trumps right eye. You can see the strobe reflector which is low camera left to fill shadows and create the texture and detail in his skin. These were most likely all studio strobes. The longer exposure is used to balance the projected White House image on the background.

senu hundeyin's picture

I think both Pictures are Top notch..Technically
. Obama is however far better Lit and he is far more relaxed ..
Trump seems unable to smile look relaxed..and maybe
I suspect too that the photographer and Obama seem better connected

The Kit comparison is valid but it is possible to Take a Top Notch Pic with a 70-200 with any Decent Camera and get great results

Assuming Trump's photo was shot on strobes, the photog exceeded the sync speed for the 1Ds III (1/250th), which could account for the exposure drop-off and flag discoloration on the left side of the frame. That is, unless the photog was using high-speed-sync features that one doesn't normally find on studio lighting gear. Generally, shooting past sync speed with studio lighting gear would be regarded as a mistake.

Andrew Richardson's picture

Quite a few studio strobes have HSS these days. Not uncommon at all.

The type of studio strobes likely used by official photog? Still uncommon. Sure, it's in the Pro-10 pack, and a handful of others, but the majority of studio lighting gear (Profoto/Elinchrom/Bron/Dyna/Speedotron) lacks it.

Furthermore, shooting at 1/320 (1/3 stop past sync speed) sure reads like an error, not an intentional move. Shooting at 1/2000th outdoors? Sure. But not one wheel click past the sync speed, when shooting in a controlled environment. That's a mistake.

Andrew Richardson's picture

Yeah totally agree with that, it's clearly not a strobe, more like video lighting. Was just commenting on the HSS aspect of your comment. Profoto and Elinchrom both offer HSS. I had HSS on my old Dynalite strobes.

All that being said, you're right. Based on the image itself and the settings, this was clearly not strobes, but not because HSS isn't readily available on professional lighting.

Jay Jay's picture

Elinchrom features HSS on their ELB400 line and is easily someone like an official photog would have. Same for the Profoto, which has HSS and is even more portable.

But HSS sync on studio strobes generally only uses the top three power levels, so at ISO 640, the image would have been completely blown out.

Rex Larsen's picture

Regarding the comment that the Time Trump cover is "unfair and mean-spirited," the magazine is not campaign literature. The portrait is not a public relations image. The image was conceived to match the tone of the article that accompanied it and the words and conduct of the subject during his campaign. Mr. Trump displays a stack of the magazine on his desk in his New York office.

Rex - I was referring to the "horns" when noting "mean-spirited." And your comment reminds me of Trump's apparent belief a la Roy Cohn that any publicity, good or bad, is indeed good publicity. Thanks for commenting as I believe I took my feelings regarding the press and applied to the image versus the placement of the horn and, in general, how Time views any non-progressive pol. Thanks again.

Kirk Darling's picture

In the FStoppers article on that cover, it was also noted that Bill Clinton also appears with the "horns." There is no evidence that the cover designers intended to use the logo as "horns" and it's unlikely that the photographer was involved in logo placement decision.

Thanks, Kirk. I'll go check that out. Thought I'd share this point. I used to get Time magazine and actually kept 10-12 issues from "back in the day." I just pulled them out... One is Clinton as Man of the Year - and indeed there are horns. But the portrait is beautifully lit and the image is very flattering and favorable. The horns, in this case, appear almost playful as his smile (as he had a factual track record of "playing" at that point). You look at the image and it's all inescapable - but then you see his style and smile and you think, "yeah, he's a bit of a devil but then he can't help himself as he's charming and commanding and, well, women go after him." Then there is a cover with Newt Gingrich. The coloration is rather sickly. The lighting, contrast and sharpness show EVERY PORE - and the photographer snapped while he was looking at the camera impassive, probably knowing that Time (given that Newt was conservative) was looking for some unflattering image. Go check it out - there's no way Time didn't know what it was doing with Newt. They didn't send an amateur to take a bad photo. It's that principle (that the editorial content deliberately reflects an agenda) that, I think, colors not just my perspective of an image but their deliberate selection.

Jay Jay's picture

If you google the history of Time and the horns debacle, it's explained that there simply isn't much real estate to place a photo on the cover- Obama got them- even the Pope. Quite a lot of people actually.

Ariel Martini's picture

1Ds Mark III - old camera
1/320 s - unnecessarily fast for portrait (and over flash sync, if flash was used)
145mm - a bit too long for portrait (flat face)
f/2.8 - not the sharper spot
ISO 640 - unnecessary noise

Could be continuous light. And he/she try to balance background with foreground this is could explain high iso. And old camera not = bad camera..

The ISO and the shutter speed make little sense to me. It makes me question what kind of set up would require that. It seems like someone was having to adapt on the fly and had little control over the environment.

The lights are a problem because of the strange and unsettling shadows on his face. They also emphasize the wrinkles on his shirt.

Kind of makes me think that someone didn't take the presidential portrait seriously enough to allot time and effort. It could have been the client or the photographer.

Andrew Richardson's picture

I think it was probably a video set and someone with a camera grabbed a shot of POTUS and the VP.

jurian kriebel's picture

What an awful portrait. And that's not the fault of the camera, or the settings. The lighting is just horrible, but most of all the posture and the facial expression of Trump, it's just wrong. A portrait is about the person, so despite the technical aspects of a picture, it could still be a descent portrait. This is just wrong on both sides.

M D's picture

Agreed. It's a terrible portrait mostly because of the attitude and facial expression of the subject. The settings are the least of the problems. Then again if a portrait is about the person and it's an awful portrait, well.... maybe he's an awful person.

Spy Black's picture

"A portrait is about the person..."
You just said it. I think the photographer got the core of the person in the shot. It's actually a very good portrait, spot on.

Kirk Darling's picture

Kind of reminds me--in that regard--of Arnold Newmann's portrait of Alfred Krupp.

Jay Jay's picture

Keep in mind of the subject you're working with- while Obama was more than likely a breeze to work with, you can only imagine what it was like directing Trump (or rather, trying and settling on the look *he* wanted to give you). That's what comes across in that photo.