There is a book on my desk that features a portrait of former President Barack Obama.

In fact the book is filled with pictures of the former president, First Lady Michelle, their daughters Malia and Sasha and the dogs Sunny and Bo.

One might think that I was a huge fan of President Obama. Truth is, I am a big fan of the person taking those pictures, Pete Souza.

I now have all three of his books “Obama: An Intimate Portrait,” “Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents” and “Dream Big Dreams.”

In college, as a student of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University, I also took classes in radio and photography.

Yes, I could cue a 45 with the best of them, but, radio was not in my future.

Photography, on the other hand, might be something I could do, I thought at the time.

The hardest part about photography back then was lighting. The first test on f-stops, shutter speeds, ASA and the speed of film was pretty much failed by all of the students in the class.

While the AE-1 had built in automatic light metering, we had to use a handheld light meter.

The graduate teaching assistant teaching the class was Pete Souza.

Here are a few things he taught me.

• Three things make a good picture.

Back then it was lighting, focus and composition. Today’s cameras pretty much handle the lighting and focus automatically.

• Shoot first. Ask questions later.

And maybe don’t argue with the military if you are shooting on post. They will confiscate the film and you will never see it again.

However, when shooting a scene, get in the best position to capture the moment.

• Use the best picture.

It’s not about how difficult it was to get the shot that makes it a good photograph. Use the best one. I once traveled to Florida to take a picture for the cover of a magazine yet ended up using someone else’s photograph.

• Film is cheap.

He would shoot 10 rolls of 30 exposures at a basketball game. One time he didn’t even get an opportunity to view all of pictures before the student newspaper went to press.

I worked at a newspaper that would roll film with just five shots. That changed in a hurry.

In today’s digital world, my Rebel will shoot at 24 megapixels and will hold a thousand shots.

Pete shot so many pictures of President Obama when he was White House photographer, a team of three people sorted through them to pick out the best ones.

• Sometimes break the rules.

There are all kinds of rules in photography: watch the background, rule of thirds, leading lines, a central subject. But sometimes one can break those rules and succeed.

In his college course, we had to print three pictures to be graded.

My family had a picnic at Brown’s Park. I was playing around and shot a picture of a bell in Camp Mary Dell.

With a little bit of dodging and burning, my first grade was an “A.”

“You got lucky,” Pete said. “You won’t repeat it.”

Ah, the gauntlet had been tossed down.

Roll after roll after roll was shot and I didn’t like any of the shots.

That was before digital when you could review the shots before printing them but we photographers had a good idea of which shots we liked before the film hit the developer.

A fellow photography student and I were waiting our turn to use the lab in a classroom with very old desks.

She was sitting in one and acted like she was asleep.

That photo got me yet another “A.”

There was a family in our apartment complex that, I think, was from Pakistan. The patriarch of the family also lived in the small two-bedroom apartment with them.

He often walked the grounds dressed in a white thobe, his head wrapped in a white turban and he made a great subject for a portrait.

My final grade was an A- as Pete said the eyes of my subject were slightly out of focus.

Souza was the official White House photographer for former President Ronald Reagan. He worked for the Chicago Tribune and documented the rise to power of Senator Barack Obama. He was a natural fit to slide back into the White House as official photographer again.

His photography exhibit of “Two Presidents” was at K-State last year. His documentary “The Way I See It” was also shown on MSNBC. I guess you might say I’m Pete’s groupie. I can easily pick out a photo he has taken. His style is that distinctive.


Contact Tim Horan at

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