Behind the Lens: 2016 Year in Photographs

For the eighth and final time, I am presenting my annual Year in Photographs.

All of them were taken either by me or a White House photographer on my staff. For many of the images, I’ve included the backstory behind the image to provide further context or to share why that image was particularly important to me.

As always, the editing for this project is both subjective and personal. Yes, there are some historic moments included but mostly I was looking for behind-the-scenes moments that give people a more personal look at the President and First Lady. And I’ve included a few that I thought were just cool photos.

I hope you enjoy this final Year in Photographs of the Obama administration. It’s been the honor of a lifetime to be a witness to history these past eight years.

— Pete Souza, Chief White House Photographer

Jan. 5, 2016
“With sunlight streaming through a window in the Green Room, President Obama listens to his introduction by Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son Daniel was killed during the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Later, as he made remarks in the East Room, he began to cry as he recalled the day of the shootings; he called it the worst day of his Presidency.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Jan. 7, 2016
“This is how a big presidential speech begins. At least for President Obama. With the deadline quickly approaching for the State of the Union speech, the President summoned Cody Keenan, Director of Speechwriting, and Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, to the Oval Office and essentially dictated the first draft of his speech.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Feb. 16, 2016
“President Obama reacts as his putt falls just short during an impromptu hole of golf with staffers Joe Paulsen, left, and Marvin Nicholson after the U.S.-ASEAN Summit at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, Calif.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Feb. 18, 2016
“President Obama watches the First Lady dance with 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin in the Blue Room of the White House prior to a reception celebrating African American History Month.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Feb. 18, 2016
“I had my eye on this youngster while President Barack Obama spoke during a reception at the White House celebrating African American History Month. When the President starting greeting audience members along the rope line, I bent down in front of the young man and captured this moment of the President touching his face before he too bent down to greet him. Afterwards, I tracked down his name — Clark Reynolds — and had the President sign a copy for him.”
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Feb. 23, 2016
“This photograph evokes the President in deep thought, which is not always an easy mood to convey. He was prepping with his national security staff before a teleconference with European leaders.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Feb. 24, 2016
“The President receives an update in the Oval Office on the situation in Syria from Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. Pictured left to right: Jen Easterly, Senior Director for Counterterrorism; Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff (Ret.), Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL; National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice; McGurk; and Rob Malley, White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
March 10, 2016
“What an honor to watch these girls grow up. Malia, foreground, and Sasha were both invited guests for the State Dinner in honor of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and Mrs. Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau. Following the actual sit-down dinner in the East Room, they made their way down the Great Hall to the State Dining Room for the musical entertainment.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
March 16, 2016
“It just happened spontaneously one afternoon as the President began dancing in the Outer Oval with Personal Aide Ferial Govashiri. As I recall, he was helping her practice for her upcoming wedding.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
March 18, 2016
“I spend a lot of time every year in the Situation Room, which is not my favorite room to work in because it’s so difficult to move around. Here the President convenes a National Security Council meeting.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
March 20, 2016
“‘I love that picture,’ the President said to me when he saw this one hanging on the walls of the West Wing. Truth be told, he says that about every picture that features Malia or Sasha. The President and Malia were sharing a laugh as Malia interpreted in Spanish for a restauranteur in Havana, Cuba.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
March 22, 2016
“During an exhibition baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team in Havana, Cuba, President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba spontaneously joined in ‘the wave’ that others in the crowd had started.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
March 23, 2016
“Two renowned tango dancers–Mora Godoy and Jose Lugone–were the featured entertainers at a state dinner hosted by President Mauricio Macri and Juliana Awada of Argentina in Buenos Aires. The dancers then summoned the President and First Lady to join them for a dance.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
March 28, 2016
“The First Lady watches as President Obama gives a hug to Caprina Harris before the annual Easter Egg Roll. Caprina had burst out in tears when she was told by her family that Obama would no longer be President; the resulting YouTube video went viral and President Obama responded to her on Facebook and said he wasn’t going anywhere. They finally had a chance to meet here.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
April 1, 2016.
“I took advantage of a shaft of sunlight filtering through the backstage area at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. during the Nuclear Security Summit. The President was talking with aides before his press conference.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
April 7, 2016
“We had just landed at dusk at LAX. I always exit from the back of the plane and positioned myself to take advantage of the light. This photograph, moments before the stairwell was driven to the front of the plane worked better than when the President himself disembarked.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
April 14, 2016
“The President is always asking staff to bring their babies and young kids by for a visit. Here, during a break between meetings one afternoon, the President crawled around in the Oval Office with Communications Director Jen Psaki’s daughter Vivi.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
April 22, 2016
“I was under strict instructions not to exit the helicopter as Queen Elizabeth approached upon the President and First Lady’s arrival. So I positioned myself near the cockpit to make this photograph. It’s kind of a disjointed composition but I thought it showed what the scene is like to be welcomed by the Queen at Windsor Castle.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
April 22, 2016
“Originally it was unclear whether I would be permitted to photograph the President meeting Prince George. But the night before, our advance team called and said they had gotten word from Kensington Palace that they would allow me access to make candid photographs during their visit. Afterwards, this photograph garnered the most attention but at the time all I could think was how the table at right was hindering my ability to be at the optimum angle for this moment.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
April 28, 2016
“David Lienemann made this remarkable photo of the Vice President boarding a C-17 (serving as Air Force Two) after visiting Baghdad, Iraq.” (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
May 13, 2016
“Lawrence Jackson captured this overview of the formal arrival ceremony at the U.S.-Nordic Leaders Summit, which had been moved indoors at the White House because of inclement weather.” (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
May 13, 2016
“A star at the South Portico entrance is featured as the President and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough walk along the South Lawn driveway.” (Official White House Photo By Chuck Kennedy)
May 13, 2016
“The President and First Lady escort the Nordic leaders and their spouses to the State Dinner.” (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
June 4, 2016
“The Vice President chases children and members of the press with a super soaker during the 2016 Biden Beach Boardwalk Bash held at the Naval Observatory Residence in Washington, D.C.” (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
June 17, 2016
“I am usually manifested on the Marine One or Nighthawk Two helicopter. But for our trip to Yosemite National Park, I was manifested on the third helicopter, which arrived a couple of minutes before One and Two. As soon as we touched down, I ran as fast as I could when I saw Half Dome was lit up by the setting sun, and tried to position myself where I thought One and Two would descend.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
June 21, 2016
“For eight years, President Obama has visited wounded warriors on a regular basis at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Here he participates in an agility drill (top) and box jump with Navy Lt. Cmdr. John “Jae” Terry.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
June 22, 2016
“The great thing about children is you just don’t know what they will do in the presence of the President. So when David Axelrod stopped by the Oval Office with one of his sons’ family, Axe’s granddaughter, Maelin, crawled onto the Vice President’s seat while the President continued his conversation with the adults. Then at one point, Maelin glanced over just as the President was looking back at her.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
June 22, 2016
“A nice moment captured by Amanda Lucidon as the First Lady interacted with, left to right, Emma Belle Gaskins, Jill McCormick, Zoe Abigail Rogers and Avery Parlier during ‘Cosmopolitan Couch Talk’ in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House.” (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)
June 27, 2016
“The beautiful light on the First Lady made this picture above the ordinary. She was participating in a roundtable discussion with Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Freida Pinto and students, in support of the Let Girls Learn initiative, at a high school in Unification Town, Liberia.” (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)
July 9, 2016
“German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacts when she thought they were somehow going to squeeze the entire press corps into a small hallway in Warsaw, Poland, to do a group photo with all of the European leaders. Instead, they were just being lined up in the order that they were supposed to walk into the room where the press was already prepositioned.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
July 12, 2016
“President Obama signs a note for Samantha Thompson, niece of DART Officer Brent Thompson, one of five police officers who was killed in Dallas in July. The President and Mrs. Obama visited with families of the officers and other victims following an interfaith memorial service in Dallas.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
July 21, 2016
“David Lienemann accompanied Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden on her trip to Africa and captured this photograph of her greeting the mother of triplets in the maternity room at the Mary Stopes clinic, a women’s health clinic which receives funding from USAID, in Niamey, Niger.” (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
July 25, 2016
“Armanil Chisholm, 3, reacts as the President greets him in the Cross Hall of the White House. Armanil was with his grandmother, Tameca Brown, after the President had taken a group photo with wounded warriors and their families.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
July 27, 2016
“The President had arrived at Joint Base Andrews just after the sun had set. I was already aboard Air Force One and framed the Presidential seal on the inside door of the plane as he was escorted from the Marine One helicopter. Moments later, we were flying to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Aug. 4, 2016
“With some staff watching in the background, President Obama blows out candles after the Vice President surprised him with some birthday cupcakes.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Aug. 5, 2016
“When Stevie Wonder stopped by for a visit, the President described many of the items in the Oval Office including the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Aug. 17, 2016
“Members of the Biden family cross the highway to a dedication ceremony for a road that was named by the Government of Kosovo in honor of Joseph R. “Beau” Biden, III as a sign of respect and gratitude for Beau’s contributions to Kosovo, outside Camp Bondsteel. Pictured (L to R) are Hunter Biden, Hallie Biden, Natalie Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, the Vice President, Hunter Biden, and Valerie Biden Owens.” (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
Aug. 24, 2016
“President Obama watches a virtual reality film captured during his trip to Yosemite National Park earlier this summer as Personal Aide Ferial Govashiri continues working at her computer.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Aug. 26, 2016
“While visiting service members receiving therapy at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Master Chief Petty Officer David Hall asked the President if he would join him and his family in a yoga therapy session at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence. Master Chief Petty Officer Hall of the SEAL, Naval Air Station Ocean, Va., was injured while deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where he suffered multiple Traumatic Brain Injuries. He has served in the Navy for 26 years and has deployed five times.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Sept. 1, 2011
“President Obama pauses while talking with a writer from National Geographic during his visit to Midway Atoll.”
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Sept. 5, 2016
“President Obama talks with President Vladimir Putin of Russia following their meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Sept. 7, 2016
“The President sips from a coconut during his visit in Luang Prabang, Laos. This was just after it was chopped open, splattering pieces of coconut on his shirt.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Sept. 7, 2016
“More often than not, my access in foreign countries is much more limited than at home. But I’ve learned a few tricks in the past eight years. During the ASEAN gala dinner in Laos, after all the photographers and cameramen were kicked out, I hid in a corner of the room next to a couple of Secret Service agents. And then I only approached the President when he left his seat to talk with other leaders. Here, he has a lighter moment with Prime Minister John Key of New Zealand and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Sept. 11, 2016
“The President had gone for a hike with daughter Malia at Great Falls National Park, Va., and sat down on a rock overlooking the Potomac River.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Sept. 12, 2016
“After a meeting with actor and human rights activist George Clooney, the President invited him and three of his colleagues to shoot hoops on the White House basketball court. This photo garnered a lot of attention when it was hung on the walls of the West Wing.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Sept. 12, 2016
“The First Lady goes shopping at a CVS Pharmacy in preparation for life after the White House during a segment taping for the Ellen DeGeneres Show in Burbank, Calif.” (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
Sept. 14, 2016
“The Obama family tours the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Sept. 24, 2016
“The First Lady hugs former President George W. Bush as she and President Obama take the stage during the opening ceremony of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.” (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
Sept. 24, 2016
“Following the official opening of the African American Museum, the Bonner family wanted to have their picture taken with former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush. President Bush took the Bonner’s family smart phone and looking around for someone to snap the picture tapped President Obama on the shoulder and asked him to do the honors. The Bonner Family are fourth generation descendants of Elijah B. Odom, a young slave who escaped to freedom. The Bushes were instrumental in the creation of the museum, with Laura Bush serving on the board of directors.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Oct. 3, 2016
“The White House was hosting South by South Lawn, an event based on the infamous South by Southwest event in Austin, Texas. Just before lunch that day, the President was checking out the setup from a window in the Oval Office before the gates were opened. ‘Hey Pete,’ he said to me, ‘let’s go take a picture with the LEGO® men.’ And so we did.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Oct. 3, 2016
“I’m a big fan of The Lumineers but had never seen them perform live. So I was excited when I heard they were the headliners during the South by South Lawn (SXSL) event at the White House. Before their performance, I asked them if I could go on the stage so I could line up the White House in the background. What I didn’t expect was guitarist Stelth Ulvang to jump on top of one of the speakers during their set. And though my composition wasn’t perfect, I was able to catch the moment when he leapt off.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Oct. 14, 2016
“My favorite months in the Oval Office are late fall to early winter when occasionally the afternoon light will be at just the right angle to create some interesting backlight if the President is working at the Resolute Desk.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Oct. 14, 2016
“There was almost no light remaining at the end of the day when the President and First Lady walked out to the South Lawn for a ‘Fourth Quarter’ toast to White House staff.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Oct. 18, 2016
“Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden share a laugh with Attorney General Loretta Lynch and husband Stephen Hargrove while riding a trolley to the Italian State Dinner on the South Lawn of the White House.” (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
Oct. 21, 2016
“Bill Murray stopped by the White House to be honored as the recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. When the President opened the door to the Oval Office, he laughed that Bill was in full Chicago Cubs regalia just before the Cubs were to begin the World Series. After the presentation, Murray demonstrated his prowess in putting, ‘sinking’ several putts into a White House drinking glass, all while doing a public service announcement to sign up for the Affordable Care Act.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Oct. 31, 2016
“The President was about to welcome local children for Halloween trick-or-treating when he ran into Superman Walker Earnest, son of Press Secretary Josh Earnest, in the Ground Floor Corridor of the White House. ‘Flex those muscles,’ he said to Walker.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Nov. 1, 2016
“Backstage at almost every public event is what’s called a ‘signing table’, which contains memorabilia for the President to sign. After a campaign event for Hillary Clinton in Columbus, Ohio, I spotted an overhead position looking almost directly down at the table so ran up the stairs to capture an unusual angle.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Nov. 3, 2016
“Probably the biggest Chicago Cubs fan at the White House–Deputy Chief of Staff Anita Decker Breckenridge–listens in as President Obama talks on the phone aboard Air Force One with Cubs manager Joe Maddon to congratulate him and his team for winning the World Series.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Nov. 4, 2016
“Can’t pass up a good silhouette. President Obama, surrounded by Secret Service agents, walks across the tarmac to greet the crowd upon arrival at North Carolina Air National Guard Base in Charlotte.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Nov. 8, 2016
“The President had just walked in from the dining room and sitting on the floor in the Oval Office was Evelyn ‘Evie’ Cushman, daughter of Chase Cushman, Director of Scheduling and Advance. He immediately dropped down to his hands and knees and began tossing a ball back and forth with her.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Nov. 8, 2016
“Perfect light balance as Chuck Kennedy made this exquisite picture of the North Portico of the White House and fall foliage as the foreground was lit by television lighting.” (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
Nov. 9, 2016
“It was the morning after the election and the President wanted to speak to Press Secretary Josh Earnest about how to characterize his thoughts to the press. When he heard Josh was meeting with his team, the President sent word to bring the team with him, thinking it was just a few others. But it turned out that Josh had the entire communications, speechwriting and research team in his office and they all filtered in to the Oval, some for the first time.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Nov. 10, 2016
“Two days after the election, the President meets with President-elect Donald Trump.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Nov. 10, 2016
“A good respite from the day after the election was the visit of Alex Myteberi. The six-year-old boy from New York had written a letter to President Obama after seeing a heart-breaking photograph of Syrian refugee Omran Daqneesh sitting silently in an ambulance, covered in blood and dust, after an air strike on Aleppo. In his letter, Alex wrote to the President: ‘Can you please go get him and bring him to my home. We’ll be waiting for you guys with flags, flowers, and balloons. We will give him a family and he will be our brother. The President was so touched by the letter that he read excerpts from it at the United Nations in September. Alex and his family were invited to the Oval Office so the President could tell him in person how much the letter had meant to him.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Nov. 11, 2016
“The excitement in his face says it all. Bill Mohr, 108 years old (not a typo), was the second oldest living World War II veteran when he met President Obama after a Veterans Day breakfast at the White House. Bill passed away a couple of weeks ago and his family released a statement including this sentence: ‘Meeting a sitting President was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for our father, who was a true patriot.’” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Nov. 17, 2016
“Following lunch at the U.S. Embassy, the President decided at the last minute to walk instead of motorcade back to his hotel in Berlin, Germany. I was trying to keep the Brandenburg Gate lined up in the background when he walked over to greet local police.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Nov. 18, 2016
“For eight years, the President has called me the Azorean. Both sets of my grandparents were born in the Azores. So when he heard that we were refueling at Lajes Air Base on the Azorean island of Terceira, he said he was disembarking just so he could take a picture with me in the Azores. But a quick picture turned into a 90-minute walk around the base including this scene on the edge of the runway. This may not be one of the best photographs of the year, but I took some personal license to include it.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Nov. 22, 2016
“Bruuuuuce! The President reaches out to shake hands with Bruce Springsteen in the Blue Room of the White House prior to the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony. I’m so happy for Bruce, having been a fan of his for almost 30 years during which I’ve seen at least 35 of his concerts.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Nov. 24, 2016
“President Obama leads a prayer before hosting Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends on the State Floor of the White House.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Dec. 4, 2016
“While they were waiting to be announced into the East Room, I was able to snap this candid frame of the 2016 Kennedy Center Honorees in the Green Room. From left: the rock band the Eagles (Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit and Don Henley), musician James Taylor, gospel and blues singer Mavis Staples, screen and stage actor Al Pacino, and Argentine pianist Martha Argerich.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Dec. 16, 2016
“When I first posted this photograph and told the story about the prank in moving four snowmen so they were peeking into the Oval Office, some took this to mean that I had been the one to execute the prank. But it was not me, and as I previously wrote, the staff that pulled this off will remain nameless, unless Brian decides he wants to come forward with saying who helped him. Whoops.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Dec. 27, 2016
“President Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan toss flowers at the wishing well after laying a wreath at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.”
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)



Archived Medium publication for the Obama administration

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
The Obama White House

The Obama White House

This account will be maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and will serve as an archive of Obama Administration content.