US President Barack Obama arrives for a press conference at the White House. AFP Photo / Saul Loeb
President Barack Obama arrives for a press conference at the White House. AFP Photo / Saul Loeb

Photographers covering the White House have to deal with many
restrictions on when and where we can snap the president. For most
events, we can only work in designated areas which provide little
movement and not much choice in how we can take our photos.
One
of the ways we can supplement these angles and work around these
restrictions is by placing remote cameras in locations where we
ourselves cannot physically be – whether it be a high angle in the room,
a spot behind the president’s podium or somewhere alongside the stage.
For logistical and security reasons, there simply could not be a single
photographer, let alone photographers from all the wire agencies
covering the White House, in these spots.

During a Merkel-Obama press conference this month, a remote
was set up on a small tripod behind the stage to capture a different
angle of a press conference, whereas I was in a position far in front of
the stage. This allowed for two photos of the same moment from very
different vantage points:

Saul Loeb adjusts his remote controlled cameras before a joint Merkel-Obama press conference. Photo / AFP
Saul Loeb adjusts his remote controlled cameras before a joint Merkel-Obama press conference. Photo / AFP
It would look very strange for a photographer to be
standing behind the president on a ladder during a press conference –
not to mention the Secret Service would never allow it. Plus, this
allows one photographer to shoot an event using two very different
angles. The use of remotes is nothing new – sports photographers have
used them for many years to provide viewers with images from behind the
backboard at basketball games, under the water at swimming events and
high overhead at hockey games.

US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hold a joint press conference in the East Room. AFP Photo / Saul Loeb
US President Barack Obama and German
Chancellor Angela Merkel hold a joint press conference in the East Room.
AFP Photo / Saul Loeb
In politics, we follow the same theory – put the viewer in a
position they’d normally not see otherwise. By using a mini tripod and
specially designed clamps, we can place cameras most anywhere. The
camera is then fired using a radio trigger from wherever we are standing
nearby, or in some special circumstances, we can set the camera to take
a photo at a predetermined time.
For instance, for President
Obama’s second swearing-in ceremony during the 2013 inauguration, I
placed a remote camera on the roof of the US Capitol several days before
the actual ceremony with a timer that would begin firing the camera
when the president took his oath. Because of security considerations, a
photographer could not be on the roof during the actual ceremony or in
the 48 hours prior.

Barack Obama takes the oath of office at the US Capitol. AFP Photo / Saul Loeb
Barack Obama takes the oath of office at the US Capitol. AFP Photo / Saul Loeb
Just like doing anything in a highly controlled environment
such as the White House, you sometimes have to negotiate on where best
to place the remotes. Wherever we as photographers may want to put the
remote, White House staff might disagree whether for esthetic reasons
(the remote will appear in a television shot for instance) or because it
is simply too close to where the President might walk.
Anytime
you are dealing with technology, you are bound to occasionally have
failures. Sometimes it might just be that the subjects didn’t walk where
you expected them to walk so the photo you had in your mind never
materialized, or your radio signal never got to the remote trigger to
actually fire the camera. There’s so many different radio signals flying
about that it is easy to have interference. Or you might have just set
the camera up completely incorrectly with the wrong exposure or focus.
You often end up just crossing your fingers and hoping it all works –
until you can get back to the remote, look at your photos and see that
all that practice paid off (or didn’t!)
Using the latest in
technology, we can now use our cellphones to adjust the settings on the
remote camera, see what the camera is seeing and take the photograph,
even though we might not even be in the same room. As
photographers, we are always looking for new and unique angles when we
cover events. Placing remote cameras gives us another tool to do this.
A
remote camera was placed behind the shrubs in the middle of the South
Lawn to get a closer and better angle for a moment of silence to honor
victims of the 9/11 attacks, in a position where it would have been
distracting to physically have a photographer.
Overall view:

Overall view: US President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush hold a moment of silence for victims of the 9/11 attacks on the 2007 anniversary. AFP Photo / Saul Loeb
Overall view: US President George W. Bush
and First Lady Laura Bush hold a moment of silence for victims of the
9/11 attacks on the 2007 anniversary. AFP Photo / Saul Loeb
Remote view:

Remote view: US President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush hold a moment of silence for victims of the 9/11 attacks on the 2007 anniversary. AFP Photo / Saul Loeb
Remote view: US President George W. Bush and
First Lady Laura Bush hold a moment of silence for victims of the 9/11
attacks on the 2007 anniversary. AFP Photo / Saul Loeb
A remote camera was used during a state visit by Indian
Prime Minister Singh to capture their entrance (with other remote
cameras visible along the walkway):


And a remote camera was attached with a clamp to a bar near
the ceiling during an Obama statement to the press to get an overall
view of the room:


– AFP