The Washington Times - January 12, 2009, 04:44PM

There’s little doubt that history shall be made next week when Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. And there’s also little doubt that many of the thousands of people at the Capitol, along the parade route, and the millions expected elsewhere in town will want to try and grab a snapshot of that history.

Thanks to Nikon, photographer John Harrington — an alum of The World & I magazine and a photographer for the Black Star agency who’s also vice president of the White House News Photographers Association — offers some thoughts on what to do and how to do it.

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For a photographer, what makes Inauguration Day particularly special?

 

I’m the Vice-President of the White House News Photographers’ Association, and this day carries not just historic significance for our country, but also it’s a big deal for us for several reasons. We are capturing history in the making, and making sure we are there to serve as the eyes of history is a hefty responsibility, and we feel that. On a lighter note, we had eight years of President Clinton as a subject, and eight years as George Bush as a subject in recent years, so it will be great to see all of the new faces in the White House!

 

 

Are politicians easier or harder to photograph than others?  Why?

 

Politicians are almost always aware of when they are being photographed, and they are cognizant of always “putting their best foot forward.” Capturing a real, un-scripted moment that reveals who a politician really is (and not who they want you to think they are) is a challenge, which takes skill and a studied approach to every situation in order to capture real moments

 

 

What advice would you give the incoming First Family to look good in pictures on this historic day?

 

The First Family has a great group of people in place to ensure they look perfect, and every detail of their wardrobe will be scrutinized, from the dress the First Lady is wearing, to any jewelry or accessories, and the President’s tie will also likely be a topic of discussion, as it was something that was discussed recently when all of the surviving former presidents were in the oval office for a photo-op with President-elect Obama. It may even be that what the Obama children wear (in terms of the designer) is discussed. Further, they have an excellent official photographer in Pete Souza, who may give them a last-minute tip or two, but the President-elect is remarkably aware of how to look good in pictures.

 

 

With record numbers of visitors to Washington, DC, what advice do you have for people trying to capture history with their cameras?

 

If you want a photograph of the scenic photo opportunities in DC at night, be sure to use the “night mode” on your camera, and turn the flash off! If you’re 500 feet away from the Capitol (which is about as close as you can get right now!) your flash on your point-and-shoot just isn’t going to have an impact on the photo, other than, perhaps, to light up the foreground of the photo and distract from the beauty of the architecture and monuments. Instead, find a firm surface nearby, and turn night mode on, the flash off, and use the timer to make a really great photo! 

 

Get to the viewing locations early! I mean, earlier than  early! If you find yourself in the rare position of being in the proximity of the President-elect, don’t hesitate to ask someone that is standing next to you to take your photo with him, but be sure your camera has enough photos, fresh batteries so the flash works, and be sure it’s set on auto-everything, you don’t want to miss that opportunity!

 

What’s the one thing we can learn from Presidents as to how to look good in pictures?

 

One of the things you can learn from Presidents is to pay attention to your backgrounds. The President is almost always in front of a royal blue background, because it exudes authority. Other times, there is the “message of the day” like “Working for Better Jobs”, or “Ensuring a strong Economy”. In other words, backgrounds matter. When you’re making a photo of a family member or friend, be sure the background isn’t distracting, and it’s not too bright (backlit), or too dark. So often, I see nice photos of people with a pitch-black background - again, try the night-mode - this time with flash - in the comfort of your own home to bring up a bit of a background so it’s not pitch-black, and practice practice practice!

 

The q-and-a with Mr. Harrington is part of a web-based series on how to take good digital snaps; you can find it online here.

 

While all this is a bit self-serving on Nikon’s part — they want to sell cameras, after all — it’s nice to have some free online references about good camera skills — next week’s events are truly a once-in-a-lifetime thing!