A Day at the White House - Arrival Ceremony for British Prime Minister Cameron

by Evan Golub

Briefing Room

Briefing Room

The day began at the Northwest gate to the White House. A K-9 unit walked past a lineup of all of our gear (cameras and computers). Then in groups of size no more than four, media were allowed inside the gate to pass through security. When I approached the gate they asked my name, and when it was verified as on the list the gate was unlocked so that I could enter.

Inside I was handed a plastic badge on a chain and direct towards the scanners. As I removed my phone, wallet, etc. to place into the basket, I went to place the badge in it too since the chain was metallic and the agent told me not to and to never remove the badge while at the White House. In fact, I needed to swipe the badge across a scanner to be able to pass through a turnstile to get to the metal detector. After a brief delay (my TabletPC's stylus stored inside the ejection slot seems to have looked suspicious on the X-ray machine) I was allowed through and then directed to walk down a path which lead to the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.

It was there in the Press Briefing Room (which abuts the Press Corps Offices) that most of the journalists waited until final call was announced, and we walked through to the Press Corps Offices and then down a hallway which lead outside to the North Doors of the Palm Room. That was the holding space from which we would then walk through the Palm Room and out past the Rose Garden to go out to the press area on the South Lawn to find a spot and prepare for the arrival ceremony.

Once out on the South Lawn and in the press area, I was lucky enough to spot a space still left on the risers after the video cameras and pre-selected photographers had taken their spaces. I set up with my 55-250mm lens and experimented with settings for the different zones (main area, crowd of to the left and right, central area where the troops would assemble). There were marking on the lawn and on the green carpet that had been placed next to and beneath the podium. I assumed that those marked positions for people so considered line-of-sight for them and whether any were in the shade. While waiting for the arrival ceremony itself I took photos of some groups of children who were among the guests, the troops and color guard as they marched onto the South Lawn, the procession of flag bearers who lined the road and stairs, etc. I tried to watch for unusual scenes. The only one that I noticed was a lady coming out of the Residence to vacuum the red carpet one last time before the ceremony.

The "honored guests" began to come out of the Residence around the 9:00AM start time. They included the Vice President, his wife, the Secretary of State, and a variety of people who I did not recognize (some of whom I know that I really should have). I tried to photograph some of them clearly, but after the first few they came out as a group blocking the view of each other and also obstructed each other in the way they were standing off to the side of the podium. Still, I did get a few good pictures there.

Then the President and First Lady came out and stood outside the Residence along the roadway to welcome the limousine with the Prime Minister and his wife. When it arrived, the view of the Prime Minister and his wife were mostly blocked by the lectern on the podium and the limo but I captured what views were available. After the limousine pulled away there was a nice view of the two couples greeting each other and chatting before the President and Prime Minister walked to the podium as the First Lady and the Prime Minister's wife walked to the side where the other honored guests were positioned.

The President and Prime Minster then stood on the podium for the national anthems. I made sure to photograph that both portrait and landscape orientation. Landscape is more common in print media, but for composition it felt more like a portrait moment. After the anthems were played, the two leaders walked around the South Lawn to review the troops. At first I wasn't going to try to photograph that but then I decided to try to catch views of them both from the front as they passed in gaps and to hold my camera a bit higher (and crop later to fix if needed) to have a better chance at getting something well-composed. I again looked for the "unscripted" moments, and photographed the wives of the leaders talking as their husbands walked around the lawn shaking hands with the other guests.

The President and Prime Minister then each spoke. I looked to capture a combination of individual and joint frames. For the joint frames what I wanted was some sign of conversation between the two. In all of these I was switching between tight and wide shots to have more from which to select in the end. I also had my camera in slow burst mode, something I usually don't do, so that if someone blinked I'd be more likely to have a frame before or after where their eyes were open.

After both men spoke the ceremony appeared to be over. The President and Prime Minster met up with their wives at the edge of the podium and began to walk away, providing no useful photo angles once they started up the stairs to enter the Residence since the view was blocked by flags and shrubbery. However, I then noticed that the band members who were standing at the edge of the balcony with the Presidential Seal were moving off the balcony so I prepared to photograph the four as they walked to the balcony on the way in. The four did not walk right in, but rather lined up facing the audience and waved to us before heading in, so there was one last image to capture.

    Lady Vacuuming Red Carpet

Vice President and others...

Prime Minister Cameron and President Obama Samantha Cameron and Michelle Obama

David Cameron speaking, Barack Obama smiling

Samantha Cameron, Michelle Obama, David Cameron, Barack Obama

David Cameron and Barack Obama coming out of Oval Office

David Cameron and Barack Obama speaking at press conference

David Cameron and Barack Obama speaking at press conference

After the troops marched off the South Lawn, we were allowed to head back to the Press Briefing Room. I began to edit photos while waiting for the press conference which would take place a short while later to have them ready to upload as soon as I returned home after the press conference. My original plan was to go to a wi-fi cafe across the street between the two events, but I decided there wasn't really enough time to do all the edits, leave, do the upload, wait in line for security again, etc. and also wasn't sure whether security would be happy with a leave and return. I think that investing in a mobile hotspot is a must for someone doing this on a regular basis.

Next up for the day was a joint press conference to be held in the Rose Garden. I went out with the pre-set call to get a sense of where things were so that I could pick out a primary position in advance to get to it quickly once we were allowed back in for the actual call. I also wanted to think about secondary positions if it looked like there would be a chance to move around. There was only a small riser with very little room so I looked for a ground-level spot. There were chairs arranged for print media with a rope boundary around them and video and still media were allowed to be outside that boundary. I picked the right-hand rear corner between two video camera locations since I would have a good angle on the two lecterns and also have a change at the two walking out if they came from the oval office as I suspected they would. I decided on settings when two stand-ins took their places behind the lecterns. While I did forget to adjust for the shade when the President and Prime Minister came out of the Oval Office, since I shoot in RAW with my camera and it stores 12-bit data I had enough room to save that frame.

Once the press conference started I took "the usual" types of photos that are desired; each leader, both together, the two shaking hands. Again, for the images with both men in frame I looked for moments when they appeared to be engaging in conversation. Once I had all of those images and felt I was basically done, I walked over to the left-hand rear corner of the roped-off space and found a spot with an angle from which I could take some of "the usual" photos from the reverse angle.

With those done I decided to see if I could walk down the West Colonnade to line up with the two speakers to see if I could capture them both in profile in the same frame. It turned out that this was tough due to where the columns were, and while I did find a way that I was lined up, no good moments really came since I wanted both leaders to seem engaged, and one wasn't really as the other spoke on the rare spots when the one's head wasn't blocking the other's. It also felt a little strange in the position as I felt more like a stalker than a photographer and there were only two other photographers there (they appear to have been in those positions to capture the two men as they walked from the door from the Oval office, across the colonnade towards the lecterns) so I decided not to hover there long to try to get what I had in my head. I did later see that one photographer did manage to capture the idea that I had in my mind, so perhaps I should have stayed there longer to try.

After that it was back to the Press Briefing Room and out the northwest gate and home to process photos, keyword them, and upload with a short description of each event. I also photographed the program and commemorative ticket on a black textured background to add to the set since I thought it might make a good illustration for some story.

Selecting which images to process and upload is always a challenge since very often those looking at your set will judge you by your weakest image there. In all I posted three sets to Demotix Newswire; a set from before the arrival ceremony began, a set of the arrival ceremony, and a set of the press conference. It's always interesting to see which images are selected by Corbis to add to their catalog (they have a partnership with Demotix).


All Text and Images Copyright © Evan Golub 2012