I came across the new Vice President Joe Biden official White House photo yesterday and I started picking it apart and trying to figure out what the photographer was trying to convey with it. The photo was taken by David Lienemann who is VP Biden’s official photographer. You can find David’s work here at his official website: http://davidlienemann.com/#/campaign-2008/001
Now, he’s a far better photographer than me and is regarded as one of the best in the industry, but a couple of things stuck out to me about this portrait.
Firstly, I don’t understand why he composed this photograph like he did. VP Biden is off-center, just slightly, but enough to be noticeable but not enough to satisfy the “Rule of Thirds” that many photographers attempt to live by (me included). You’ll notice that there is space between the American flag and VP Biden’s right arm, but his left arm is in front of the Vice Presidential flag. To me, this unbalances the photo and makes it look more like a snapshot than a portrait.
Something else that grabbed me is that the desk that VP Biden is sitting on isn’t straight in respect to the photo’s edge. In the photo to the right, the red line is perfectly straight with the bottom of the photo, but notice how the desk is crooked in relation to it. I’d have used that line to crop the photo square.
Lastly, I don’t understand why VP Biden is photographed in front of that painting. The artwork itself is beautiful and I’d love to have it hanging in my office, but to my eye it adds unnecessary visual clutter to the photograph and I’d have left it out if I were the photographer.
All that being said, I’ll comment on what I do like about the photograph. The lighting is exceptional. I’d guess that the photograph was shot with largely natural light coming from the (presumably) large windows in the Vice Presiden Biden’s beautiful office. I’d also guess that there was a reflector being used camera left to lighten the shadows on the right side of his face. Ideal lighting for a portrait.
The expression on VP Biden’s face is perfect. It reflects confidence, intelligence, and experience, but at the same time he looks approachable. Like he’d have no problem talking with you over a cup of coffee at your kitchen table. The way he’s leaning/slightly sitting on his desk adds to that appearance of confidence and approachability.
I’d like to know who is tailor is because he nailed it with that pen-stripe suit. It’s the perfect suit to wear to reflect Presidential power and class. I wish I could see more of his wristwatch so I could make a guess as to it’s make, but it doesn’t look like a Rolex or something gaudy like that. It looks classy and simple, but elegant and trustworthy. Good choice by the photographer to have his left arm on top to show that he’s wearing a wristwatch in the first place.
A couple of other things. In the new photo his shoulders are square to the camera and he’s looking directly into the lens. In most other portrait photography the subject is turned slightly like in his old photo and President Bill Clinton’s official White House photo (which is probably one of the classiest White House photos there is). One of my favorite Presidential photos is Ronald Regan’s. It nails it on all levels in my book. Also, notice how much more simple past White House photos are (although I like VP Biden’s new portrait better than the old one).
Now my guesses on the technical details of the photograph. David probably photographed VP Biden with a full-frame digital DSLR camera (based on the dimensions of the photo). I’d guess he used a 50mm lens at f3.5 to make sure VP Biden’s features are sharp, but the background is slightly out of focus.
All said, it’s a gorgeous photo, and most photographers would give their right arm to have a chance to take the official White House portrait of the sitting Vice President. Please feel free to critique my critique of VP Joe Biden’s Official White House photo.