DPP Home Profiles Pete Souza: Master Of The White house

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pete Souza: Master Of The White house

Pete Souza has been official photographer to two U.S. presidents. His access and an ability to catch intimate moments enable him to create images that illustrate history.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

President Reagan and aides watch the replay of the Challenger shuttle explosion in the private study off the Oval Office in 1986.
DPP: How are you able to get the photos you need without being a distraction to the president?

Souza: I try to have as small a footprint as I can. He's very used to me being around and has become oblivious to me when he's in the middle of meetings. I'm also very selective as to when I shoot. I'm not doing motor-drive bursts. Also, I try not to use a flash ever, unless I'm doing "grip and grins." One of the things I had to decide when I started this job was which cameras to use. I chose the Canon [EOS] 5D Mark II, mostly because I thought it was quieter than the Nikon cameras. To me, that was a big consideration.

DPP: Are you shooting any hybrid video with it? The 5D Mark II is the go-to camera for that.

Souza: I'm not shooting any, mostly because I'm in a lot of top-secret meetings and a lot of economic meetings that are very sensitive. I don't want anyone to think that I'm shooting video with audio capabilities because that would completely change what my access would be. I have top-secret clearance. I'm sworn to uphold what that clearance is.

DPP: That level of clearance was definitely needed in the Situation Room during the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. What was it like in there?

Souza: The minutes felt like hours during that particular operation. It was very intense. I remember I was changing the ISO between 640 and 1600 because I wanted to get some more depth of field for some of the shots.

President Obama talks on the phone with Prime Minister Kan of Japan from the Treaty Room, March 16, 2011.
DPP: What equipment were you working with that day?

Souza: Two camera bodies and four lenses: a 24mm, 35mm, 50mm and 135mm. That's what I carry most of the time. I think these fixed lenses are sharper than the zooms, and if I need to, I can use a 1.4 aperture in a dark room. The 35mm is probably the lens I use the most. It's one of the sharpest lenses I've ever used. Sometimes, for a big public event, I'll bring a 70-200mm, which is actually a sharp lens, as well.

DPP: You also worked with President Reagan. What are the differences between covering Reagan and Obama?

Souza: I wasn't the chief photographer for President Reagan—I was staff—so I didn't have the same access then that I do now. The chief photographer Mike Evans hired the staff, and I was one of them. I had a prior relationship with President Obama that I didn't have with President Reagan. Reagan was close to 50 years older than me when I first worked at the White House, and now, I'm a few years older than President Obama. I've had many life experiences between the two presidents, including having been in war zones, so I'm a more seasoned photographer than I was more than three decades ago.


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