Behind The Lens: Somewhere Under the Rainbow

by Pete Souza, Chief Official White House Photographer


When people ask me how I do what I do, I often recite the words of Bob Dylan:

“I was just doing what I could with what I had where I was.”

That kind of sums up my approach to my job as the President’s photographer.

Every once in a while, you also just get very lucky. Such was the case last week, when a rainbow came along just as the President’s helicopter was arriving at the airport in Kingston, Jamaica, where he would board Air Force One for the flight to Panama. Fortunately, I was manifested aboard the second helicopter–which always arrives before Marine One–giving me a few minutes to prepare for photographing the rainbow.

In the first photograph, I framed the rainbow above Marine One as the President disembarked the helicopter.

President Obama disembarks Marine One in Kingston, Jamaica, April 9, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In the second photograph, Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller gestures towards the rainbow as she and others bid farewell to the President.

President Obama and Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller in Kingston, Jamaica, April 9, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

My colleague Amanda Lucidon had already positioned herself toward the back of Air Force One to frame the President ascending the stairs with the rainbow overhead.

President Obama boards Air Force One in Kingston, Jamaica, April 9, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)
President Obama boards Air Force One in Kingston, Jamaica, April 9, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Meanwhile, after photographing the departure greets, I ran under the wing of the plane to try and line up where the President would be when he waved goodbye at the top of the stairs.

President Obama waves as he boards Air Force One in Kingston, Jamaica, April 9, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Both Amanda and I did what we could, with what we had, where we were. Now I had to choose the best photograph for our Photo of the Day.

But photography is very subjective — especially when it comes to choosing which photograph is the “best.”

There were three final selects to choose from. I liked Amanda’s photograph of the President ascending the stairs, especially because the President was still lit by the sunlight. I thought my photograph of the President with Prime Minister Simpson-Miller had a more Jamaican feel to it, with the bright colors and dramatic clouds overhead. And I guessed right where the President would land when he waved, with his right hand framed right in the middle of the rainbow. But the sun was no longer illuminating the President, so it was more of a semi-silhouette.

I thought the wave photograph was more graphic and, in the end, the best one. But I wasn’t sure. So I sent the three selects to Press Secretary Josh Earnest for his opinion. He agreed that he thought the wave photograph was the best.

I think that was the right choice, but again — photography is subjective, so I’m curious to see what others think.

What do you think? Leave a comment on Medium or let me know on Twitter, @PeteSouza, which photograph is your favorite. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.


See other posts in the series:

Behind the Lens: Selma, 50 Years Later

Pete Souza takes you inside the President’s visit to Selma for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. See the photos.

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