White House moments: A time lapse view

August 24, 2009

What does a typical day at the White House look like?

I set out to capture a sense of everyday life at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, armed with basic knowledge from a course in video editing at the Kalish workshop. Starting with a couple of early experiments of the Marine Guards at the West Wing and a daily press briefing, I was hooked on time-lapse sequences that came to life when they were played at high speed.

I began taking along extra cameras, tripods, clamps and pocket wizard radio remote triggers. This involved slightly more work as I had to start thinking of the best place for a time lapse sequence that may not make a good still image itself, but rather as part of a larger project.

From the East Room, where most official functions are held, to the Rose Garden, the South Lawn and the West Wing, I set the cameras up to fire one picture every 5 to 10 seconds before, during and after the events. Thousands of pictures were shot over the course of those weeks, and I slowly began to put together a narrative that follows what we typically photograph on any given day at the White House.

Shooting “a day in the life” would have been nice, but it was impossible to have cameras in all the locations on one particular day.

All of what you see in this project was made with just two cameras on the time lapse and one hand-held camera — it’s a very basic set up. Shooting handheld, I had to shoot major burst sequences with long lenses, all the while ensuring that I didn’t move the camera around too much. Even slight movements can render an entire sequence unusable. Tripods are too cumbersome to use at the White House and you have to stay mobile to make pictures, so I would innovate by propping myself against a ladder and holding my breath or putting the handheld cameras on the ground — whatever it takes to shoot a short burst without moving the camera at all.

This worked well for the walkout of the Oval Office in the segment where President Obama walks towards us. That’s a 70-200mm lens on the ground, prefocussed and composed with live view switched on, as I hold the camera perfectly still as he walks in and out of the frame.

Making it all come together in one coherent package is done in the edit. The most challenging aspects: Being a newcomer to video editing, seeing a project in terms of a narrative, not just in single moments, and getting my head around the 8,000 images that sat in a folder called “Multimedia” as the weeks wore on. I tried to edit for the project as I went along, so that when it came to putting together the sequence, there would be chunks of loosely finished product ready to drop into the appropriate part of the story.


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Fantastic glimpse into the world of a White House photographer! Well done.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

Thanks for the great job of editing a day in the White House. I have taken some editing courses for digital editing and I have to say you got the hang of it.

Denis Foley

Great stuff, Jason! We want more, and more of Bo too.

Posted by Sandra Maler | Report as abusive

Thanks a lot. Nice work! Wish I were there.

Posted by Peter Bradley | Report as abusive

Jason – watched and watched again – then it came to me Trumpton 1966 – fantastic! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3P5wcCuNZ bY

Posted by Russell | Report as abusive

As a former:
TV camera man, it makes me so happy to see still photogs playing with video editing and final cut pro, so many new things to learn. Listen, shoot seguences.
Great video you made me laugh so hard

This was a fantastic piece of work really i an an ametur photographer/ writer and i loved this piese really inspiring work…a new form hadn’t ben exposed to really terrific… I can’t imagine 8,000 images… your comments really great help in understanding process…

Posted by Melissa | Report as abusive

Jason, Great job. Great edit.

Posted by Stephen Crowley | Report as abusive

Nice work Jason, I really like it

Posted by Darren Whiteside | Report as abusive

Nice idea and great execution, thanks for this! I like the way it stitches together all the various places at the White House that are so familiar by themselves, really engaging.

Fantastic work, this is the kind of thing that wasn’t really possible a few years ago. Love seeing all the behind the scenes stuff to, not just the photo op.

Nice one! This is very cool, well done Jason and thanks for explaining how you did it.

Awesome attention to detail. From the blue and red flashing lights on the town car to the blackberrying in the daily press briefing, the time lapse format translates the chaos and speed of your day-to-day, much better than a video camera. I especially loved the Segways. Bravo!!

Posted by JasonReedFan | Report as abusive

you have got to be kidding me….photos of lots of people getting paid for not doing much..he American people should be out raged!
oh yeah..you photos are nothing more than point and shoot with a high sticker price…very sad

Posted by j | Report as abusive

I hope you post the Memorial Day shot you got today of the Gold Star mother hugging the marine. It was brilliant despite the uncorrected exposure. Some photos are tough to take, and I know that had to be one of them. Those are the ones that stick with us, meaning those of us who must take such photos

Posted by sanfordsports | Report as abusive