Allen's Blog

Posts tagged ‘politics’:

Celebrate What’s Right With the World

We find ourselves this week at the end of an absolutely brutal political campaign. The phrase “worst election ever” is thrown around by both sides nearly every four years, but this year seems unlikely to be surpassed for decades (or so we hope). According to the Pew Research Center, literally half of either side is ‘afraid’ of the other party. And as many feared, the turmoil has not subsided as the contest ended; indeed, many tempers seem to be worsening as the transfer of power begins.

As we contemplate our role in this new world, I ask you to take another look at some of the precious details you may have forgotten were there all along, being masked by all the noise and vitriol. A moment of Zen is in order, even if only to recharge your batteries in order to better stand up for what you believe in. 


Dewitt Jones, former National Geographic photographer and a collaborator and friend of ours for years, publishes an ongoing project called “Celebrate What’s Right With the World!” Dewitt has a knack for discovering beauty and peace in natural scenes (though he might characterize these as “revelations” rather than “discoveries”). His project has evolved over the years from a film, to a website, to an entire community of like-minded people posting their own celebrations of life for all to enjoy. Most of the action takes place on his Facebook page, but if that’s not your style, you can choose to follow him on Twitter or Instagram, or join his mailing list. Whatever your choice, I hope you’ll spend a few moments at the end of a tumultuous week scrolling through Dewitt’s images, and that they bring you some wonder, joy, inspiration, or peace. 

Live News Stand-Ups in the Age of Internet Memes

Used to be if you were doing a live shot during a local or network news broadcast, all you had to worry about was the ‘Hi Mom’ sign being lifted up behind you during your stand-up. But as NBC’s Katy Tur found out on May 27th in San Diego, it’s gotten a bit more risky.

Fuck Trump sign

Tur has been the principal reporter covering the Trump campaign for Nightly News, and when it’s a single-camera shoot, there’s no way to cut away from an offensive graphic in the crowd. The best you can hope for is to move your correspondent out of the line of fire and pan back to her in a graphically safer setting. Having directed a lot of live TV news, I can easily visualize the scene in the control room during the nine seconds this was on air on the East Coast. Guaranteed there was a cleaner version for all the other time zones.

George McGovern (and Walter Cronkite) at the 1972 Democratic Convention

George McGovern on stage at the 1972 Democratic National Convention So here we are, at the very end of a presidential election campaign which, whatever its outcome, is the most bitter in my memory. And at the same time comes word of the death of George McGovern, the Democratic nominee from the 1972 race. A highly-decorated WWII bomber pilot, and later a U.S. Senator from South Dakota, McGovern’s loss to Richard Nixon in ’72 was by an enormous margin, in part due to their opposing views on the Vietnam War.

George Wallace supporter at 1972 convention I was in Miami for the Democratic Convention. There was a lot of confrontation, both in the streets (over the war) and in the convention center (over various candidates). There was much support for George Wallace, the Alabama governor and segregationist who had survived an assassination attempt earlier that year and addressed the convention from a wheelchair. But in the end it was McGovern and his running-mate, Thomas Eagleton who stood on the podium as the nominees. Eagleton soon left the ticket, after the disclosure of his previous electroshock treatments for depression.

George McGovern, Thomas Eagleton, and their wives at the 1972 DNC

Photojournalists and their state-of-the-art gear at the 1972 Democratic National ConventionThe gear that I and others in the press corps used to cover the convention, along with a great many rolls of Tri-X, is part of ancient photographic history now; I don’t think I had a lens longer than 200mm on my Nikon Fs. But looking through my files for the McGovern images, I came across a few frames that I had never printed before – Walter Cronkite in the CBS News ‘skybox’ from which he anchored the network’s total coverage of the convention. Thought I’d include one for those of you who remember him and the days when the three networks’ coverage were all the video options available.

Walter Cronkite in the CBS News booth at the 1972 DNC

Mister, Please Take My Picture (with the President)

First of all: this is not about politics. That out of the way, one of the interesting moments in last night’s coverage of the second presidential debate at Hofstra University came post-debate, while the candidates were milling about with the invited guests and at least an equal number of Secret Service personnel.

The president’s personal photographer, Pete Souza, was doing his job, but people kept giving him their point-and-shoot cameras and asking him to take a picture of them with the president. I’m certain that very few (if any) of them knew Pete’s name or what his job is. I was watching NBC’s post-debate coverage at the time, paused my DVR’s recording and made this image. That’s Pete on the left, handing back one person’s camera, while another waits, camera in hand, to ask the same favor.

Photographer Pete Souza, pressed into service at the second Presidential Debate

Just one of those little bits of behind-the-scenes trivia you might enjoy. Pete Souza, whose official title is Chief Official White House Photographer, was the subject of a PBS/National Geographic special, The President’s Photographer, that is a must-see for photographers.

President Obama Returns to Martha’s Vineyard, and I Check My ‘Priorities’

Two days ago, the President returned to a Martha’s Vineyard golf course very near our home, so I had the chance (away from the rest of the press) to make a new image of Mr. Obama at play. After the expected full inspection by the Secret Service ahead of the President’s arrival, there was  a wait of about 15 minutes while he played the previous hole.

There are things you can control, and particularly with the President of the U.S., even more things you can’t. Instead of playing to the 8th green where I was, the President and his foursome skipped the hole and went straight to the adjacent 9th tee, after driving his cart over to say hello. He was friendly enough in his greeting,  but said he was running late (if you’re the President, I guess you can play the just holes you want).

President Obama driving a golf cart

I had already mounted the latest version of Nikon’s tack-sharp and very fine 70-200mm f/2.8ED on my D300, figuring that would cover his short game and putting. And here comes today’s photo lesson —

What shooting mode to use? First of all, there was plenty of light, even though the subject matter was largely back-lit. I wanted a bit of depth-of-field, but since the picture was all about Mr. Obama, what’s far more important was a fast shutter speed. That dictated going to Aperture-Priority set at f/4. With the VR turned on, I ended up with a shutter speed of 1/640, which guaranteed  a sharp image.

Martha's Vineyard Gazette front page Obama in golf cart

It always makes me crazy that there are so many people who buy a fine camera and great optics, whether an SLR or a point-and-shoot, and then just leave it in AUTO mode. And yet, it’s what I see all the time, even with friends and family — they eagerly seek my advice on what to buy, and then leave in AUTO until they’re ready to buy a new camera. Here’s my point: you definitely will never learn all the options and gimmicks your new camera offers, but please, at least learn how, when, and why to use the various shooting modes.

It was all over in just a few seconds and eight frames (I’m not a fan of high-speed motor drive shooting.) Then, on the 9th tee, he was a good bit farther away, but I took a couple of more shots and caught the President in the midst of the classic Obama fist-bump with one of  his partners. That picture, appearing inside the paper and cropped a bit, was just a bit of pure lucky timing.

Obama fist bumping one of his golf partners

The President leaves the Island this evening, a day early. Now I and the rest of the Gazette staff are turning our full attention to something just as unpredictable as covering Mr. Obama: tracking Hurricane Irene.

Anticipation: Planning a Photo of President Obama Playing Golf

I’m in the office in Connecticut this week, and not at our home on Martha’s Vineyard, where my wife and I spend much of the year, even in the winter. For a number of years, I’ve worked part-time for the Vineyard Gazette, a great paper with a history of more than 160 years. Seeing the coverage, both print and television, of President Obama’s vacation on the Vineyard for the third year in a row, I thought I’d share two images from 2009, his first year in office.

Wherever the President travels, the press follows. Being a Vineyard resident was what made possible this front-page photo of Mr. Obama on one of the island’s golf courses. A good friend’s home adjoins one of the greens, so once I knew which course he was playing, it was an easy matter to be waiting for him to arrive. Of course, his Secret Service detail (with lots of equipment) shadowed his play, and I had to have my pockets searched and all my gear checked out. But in the end, it was my picture alone, and that’s always satisfying.

Barack Obama playing golf on Martha's Vineyard

While the accredited press (myself included) operate from a local site set up by the White House press office, in this case the cafeteria of one of the island’s schools, it’s never known when the President may take a break from his vacation to appear for a formal announcement. That was the case almost exactly two years ago, on August 25th, 2009, when Mr. Obama re-appointed Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Besides all the usual photos of the President and Mr. Bernanke, I particularly liked making this one – the staffer with the task of putting the Presidential Seal on the podium, and making sure, absolutely sure, that it is perfectly positioned. He probably has other duties as well.

Affixing the Presidential Seal to the podium