Posted in Behind the News

Down-to-earth reasons for that heavenly glow

, by Paul Colford

Is that a halo over President Barack Obama?

It sure looks like one, especially to critics of Obama and The Associated Press, who have complained in blogs and on Twitter that AP photographers sometimes give the president a heavenly glow. The criticism was seen and heard repeatedly this week after AP distributed photos showing presidential candidate Ted Cruz with a gun, seen in a wall poster, juxtaposed so that the pistol was pointed at his head.

“The halo issue has been around for over a decade,” said J. David Ake, AP Washington’s assistant chief of bureau for photography. “We received the same complaints when we photographed President George W. Bush with the presidential seal behind him. It’s never been our photographers’ goal to give the president a heavenly glow. The out-of-focus presidential seal is simply a tool to separate the subject from the background so he is not speaking in a sea of black. We’ve heard the concerns, however, and we now make the same picture with greater depth of field or a slightly different angle so it’s clear it’s the seal of office behind the president.”

Ake added: “To eliminate the halo effect, we’ve talked about just shooting the subjects really tight, so nothing is seen around their heads, but that leaves the image with no context or sense of location at all. We do shoot all situations wide and move wide shots to AP’s member news organizations and subscribers as a matter of course, so they have a choice and a sense of the location and setup. But not everyone wants a wide image, especially for mobile use, so to give our customers a choice we also shoot and move tighter images, which is often when the halo issue often arises.”

The halo is sometimes caused by the backlights hung by event organizers. Still photographers often work directly in front of and below the subject in a security area known as the buffer zone. When looking up from that area, so-called rim light, which is caused by the backlights wrapping around the subject, can be particularly difficult for photographers to avoid. So they use it to make the subject pop from the dark background or because it makes for an interesting image.

“The use of rim light to surround the subject is a equal opportunity technique,” Ake said. “If it’s there and it’s all we have to make the image more than just a plain headshot of someone speaking, we’re likely to take advantage of it.”