Silence at the White House

Silence at the White House

Will breakthrough camera technology affect the entire atmosphere of press conferences? This White House photographer for the New York Times predicts big changes coming in just a year or two.

Doug Mills has been a longtime photographer for the New York Times, and for most of that time he has trusted Canon with his employment. Recently, however, Sony released a product that he just couldn’t pass up testing. The Sony a9 mirrorless camera has two monumental features for White House photographers like Mills: a completely silent shutter and continuous shooting up to 20 frames per second. In a recent interview with C-SPAN, he called the camera a “game-changer” for these features.

In the video below, Mills speaks on how the Sony a9 has helped his craft (from 18:08 to 25:26 are the relevant points).

The interview Mills had with C-SPAN spurred an article written by Erik Wemple for the Washington Post titled “Is the Sound of Clicking Cameras at the White House Nearing Extinction?” His observation on the subject of silent shutters was that it could lead to better sound quality of the people actually doing the important talking. It could also lead to more access for photographers, as limitations have been put in place to reduce shutter noise. “I would say that it’s significant to be able to capture images that we’d never been able to before, thanks to the new technology,” Jim Bourg, vice president of the White House News Photographers Association, told Wemple.

Below is a prime example of the disastrous audio quality when a room full of photographers are at work recording history.

Check out Wemple’s full article on the Washington Post website.

What are your thoughts on silent cameras in the White House? Do you see complete change coming as quick as a couple years as Mills believes?

Wemple’s article also suggests there may be some resistance in the fact that if it doesn’t sound like a newsworthy event, with non-stop clacking of camera mirrors, it may not be perceived as one. Former staff photographer for the Post, Lucian Perkins, said, “I suspect that press events might be a bit more boring without the cameras firing away and maybe they will have to add music to increase the drama.”

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14 Comments

Ricky Perrone's picture

Photography website buddy, Foxnews.com is more your speed. On a more relevant note, why are they always shooting high speed continuous?

Alex Cooke's picture

Commenting on the photography aspect, they shoot at that speed because the subject matter is so important and any single microexpression or gesture can be “the shot.”

I've seen countless photos (it could be video stills) of Trump's "fish face".

When shooting people talking and gesturing, you want continuous, high-speed to have the greatest choice of shots. Maybe you want to capture someone looking particularly presidential or maybe you want them to look like a fool. ;-)

I have no use for a mirrorless camera, personally, but I think that, at least, is a good thing. The people make an event important, not the click of cameras.

I love the notion of silent shooting. We all know it will be universal eventually (to make the point, certainly by 2050), and the question is when (I'd harbor a guess of 2025 or so). I think we will someday scratch our heads at how we ever put up with this.

That being said, the shutter click is an iconic sound. I wonder when mobile phones and P&S's will discontinue their option allowing a user to hear their fake shutter sound because no one will want it. Relatedly, I laugh when I listen to one of the NYC AM news stations, which still uses ticker audio in the background, which is completely inconsistent with actual newsrooms of today.

I like the sound of the shutters clicking. It's part of history. I know it will go away, but it will be missed in some measure.

a nice pic of a great president and Obama shaking hands. it always made me smile when you see x amount of photographers shooting like there is no tomorrow and the clicking sound. even funnier when they use flash,. 40 flashes going off how can they even see anything,. i guess soon we can expect a new line on the photographers rule sheet. silent shutter, no clicking sounds guys!!!!,. finaly more pics of the world champion chess games,.

Rex Larsen's picture

Thanks a lot for the great Doug Mills video. I'm curious about Doug liking the Sony. I will say, my Canon 5Dlll in "silent"mode is very quiet, and six frames a second is pretty fast for my needs. Doug saying he respects Sarah Huckabee Sanders is a real head scratcher. I suspect he is laying it on thick to gain access.

Hans Rosemond's picture

I do believe that a shutter sound can be valuable, especially during portrait or fashion shoots where flash isn’t present to cue a change of pose. However, during sensitive events such as press conferences, certain weddings, etc. I could totally see regulations at those events requiring a silent mode in the next few years. If the tech becomes ubiquitous, it’s sensible to expect a pro to use it.

at the same time a click sound is feedback to the subject that the pic has been taken. if you look at these moments you see, even presidents, pose hold the pose and focus on next group of photographers. would almost call it working the room. pose, hold , click, pose , hold , click,. so the click is a feedback subjects are waiting for. i expect a lot of "did you take it? did you take it? are we done?" in hte future,.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Oh absolutely. I can see there being “silent only” times during prepared remarks while sound is allowed during photo opps.

the missing click sound would really confuse me when im on the wrong end of the camera.

I wouldn't be burning up film for a press conference, but I have motor drives on my Canon A-1 and New F-1 and each has their own unique sound when the film advances.