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Sitting Down with Former Chief White House Photographer Pete Souza


Photographer Pete Souza was the former Chief Official White House photographer for presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. He recently sat down with the camera superstore Adorama for this inspiring 6.5-minute Spotlight feature.

Former Chief Official White House Photographer Pete Souza.

“I think the first time that I watched as my print came up in the Dektol developer tray under those red safelights, I was hooked,” Souza says. “I knew that’s what I wanted to try to do with my life.”

Michael Jackson visits Nancy and Ronald Reagan in the White House; May 14, 1984. Photo by Pete Souza.

Souza shares how he first met Obama after he was elected to the US Senate. He would go onto shoot nearly 2 million photos over two years to document the Obama presidency. Every single photo was saved and is now stored at the National Archives.

Barack Obama first enters in the Oval Office as president of the United States, for his first full day in office, Jan. 21, 2009. Photo by Pete Souza.

There’s also some discussion of equipment: Souza describes how he picked the Canon 5D Mark II and then upgraded to the Mark III. He would generally carry two camera bodies and 35mm, 50mm, 135mm lenses. He would also sometimes use a Canon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 before upgrading to a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II during Obama’s second term.

“I felt that lens was very sharp, and so I ended up using that a lot,” Souza says. “[The camera] is just the tool. It’s not the camera that makes the picture, it’s the photographer.”

6,668 of Souza’s from the Obama presidency can be found in this Flickr account that’s being maintained by the National Archives.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on Operation Neptune’s Spear, a mission against Osama bin Laden, in one of the conference rooms of the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Photo by Pete Souza.

“I approached this job with the intent of creating the best photographic archive of a president that had ever been done,” Souza says. “My hope is that, in generations to come, when people go through these pictures at the National Archives, they’ll get a good sense of not only what he was like as a president but what he was like as a person, as a human being.”