Photographers' Blog

Michelle Obama’s unscripted moment

Washington, D.C.

By Jason Reed

“Never work with children or animals” is a famous show business adage once attributed to the comedian W. C. Fields. Those words may well have crossed the mind of U.S. first lady Michelle Obama this week during an unscripted moment at the White House.

Hosting the annual unveiling of the White House Holiday decorations, the first lady was the center of attention, as she is any time that she is in public view. At this time of year all of the historical rooms on the ground floor of the White House are decorated with trees, tinsel and a gingerbread house, which all become fodder for the press cameras as we are led on a carefully stage-managed guided tour of the “State Floor” by staff and volunteers. It is something that the regular White House press corps mark on their calendars long in advance so that we don’t miss it and the resulting pictures are usually pretty.

In the last moments of this year’s event, Michelle Obama introduced to the young children of U.S. military service members the Obama family’s new pet Sunny, a female Portuguese Water dog. With the combination of children, animals and a world-recognized public figure now set, it was just a matter of time before an unscripted moment presented itself, a split second where little Ashtyn Gardner, all of two years old, lost her balance over another child’s walker and fell to the floor. Dozens of camera shutters fired at up to 10 frames per second, capturing a moment so far off script that the first lady’s facial expression said it all. To her credit the little girl popped right back up, didn’t shed a tear and carried on.

At the end of the event Michelle Obama and Ashtyn shared a little embrace.

It is the unscripted and unexpected moments that we as independent press photographers not working for the government capture that show our readers and viewers a human element in otherwise carefully stage managed White House events. If those moments make good pictures we put them out without hesitation. They round out our picture file and are often the images which are published most around the world.

Photographers should always be ready

After six long days covering fashion shows in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the best opportunity to produce a nice shot happened on the last day, at the last show: a model tripped over at the beginning of the show.

A model falls down while she presents a creation from Cavalera's collection during Sao Paulo Fashion Week Winter 2011 in Sao Paulo, February 2, 2011. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

During Cavalera’s show at Sao Paulo Fashion Week, models were made to walk through a big puddle of water while artificial rain fell, so the floor was very slippery. When the show began, I concentrated on shooting all the models as there was a big chance that somebody would fall. Indeed, it happened! When the fourth model came towards the end of the soaked catwalk, the poor girl slipped, very close to the photographers pit, but quickly smiled and got back on her feet. The photographers’ reactions was funny because when a model trips they shout and celebrate the fall as an opportunity to make a good picture. The public, on the other hand, applaud in support of the model.

I was using a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with a 70-200mm lens, ISO 500, f4 and shutter speed of 1/320. I shot 24 frames from the beginning until the end of the fall.