THE EXHIBIT of the 44th annual White House News Photographers Association awards is in place, in the catacombs of the Library of Congress's Jefferson Building. Once again it's a winner.

In the predictably presidential category, the requisite Reagan shots include Reagan throwing a snowball, getting angry at reporters' questions, eating a hot dog at a baseball game and putting in the Oval Office. Such photo opportunities are traditions handed down from one administration to another. But fortunately the photographers don't confine themselves to the White House.

There are the unspoken messages they bring back -- the sad-eyed, pretty Ethiopian girl, wrapped in a blanket. The specks on her, one realizes, are flies. (The photo was taken by National Geographic's Steven L. Raymer.) J. Scott Applewhite of AP, covering Jean-Claude Duvalier's fall in Haiti, planted himself in front of an angry mob attacking a secret policeman. The bleeding policeman is running right at the camera. The photo is shocking, and the viewer is part of it. In the exhibit, continuously running videotapes of winning news shows are similarly involving.

Great photography lies in waiting for that moment -- as when the Glenville (Minnesota) High School football team finally won a game, snapping the longest losing streak in the nation. Or when a waiter from Ridgewell's caterers serving leftovers to the homeless, made a face.

Animal photos were very big this year. People in Washington dressed like monkeys to protest animal-rights violations. The winning photo was "Chimps against Chumps."

Photographer of the Year is The Post's Margaret Thomas; winning firsts in various categories, she immortalized five foxhounds arriving in a bright red truck at the Old Dominion Hunt. And then there's frozen tuna -- photographers can make anything look good. Early in the morning in Tokyo, James Thresher, also of The Post, took a picture of tuna lined up at a fish market for auction, the frosty white mounds steaming mysteriously. Hard to believe it's only sushi.

WHITE HOUSE NEWS PHOTOGRAPHERS ASSOCIATION EXHIBIT -- Through October 25 in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.