The presidential walk from Marine One to Air Force One is a routine that rarely offers surprises. The helicopter lands. A Marine opens the door for the president, who is greeted by an Air Force officer who escorts him to the presidential plane. The commander in chief salutes, bounds up the stairs and, with a wave, disappears into the cabin.
Reporters dutifully stake out the scene each time, hoping their shouted questions prompt a response and trying to spot which family members or aides are accompanying the president. For news photographers in the White House press pool, there lies the challenge: how to make the routine look fresh and interesting.
Sunday at Morristown Municipal Airport in New Jersey offered an example of their ingenuity. A light rain had left small puddles on the tarmac of the tiny airport where the president's 757 aircraft — the smaller of the two Boeing planes that are used as presidential transportation — was waiting to take President Trump and first lady Melania Trump back to Washington after a weekend at their private Bedminster resort.
Trump travels by helicopter, not motorcade, from Bedminster to the Morristown airport, so the 13-member White House press pool that typically accompanies him was brought to the airport nearly two hours ahead of his departure, giving the photographers time to consider their options for the best shot. Which is where the puddles came in.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais, an Associated Press staff photographer assigned to the White House, appeared to notice them first, setting up a couple of practice shots, playing with the reflection of Air Force One off the surface of the water.
The puddle reflection shot has become an effective way to add drama and flair to presidential photos on a rainy tarmac. As one photographer explained, such a frame is not just creative but also helps in the storytelling and the documentation for posterity — by immediately imparting to viewers that the weather is poor.
Monsivais took some practice shots, and two of his colleagues, Brendan Smialowski of Agence France-Presse and Tom Brenner, a New York Times freelancer, helped by jumping over the puddle to add more perspective. By the time Trump arrived, all three had made the decision to work the puddle into their photos.
It wasn't easy. The president and first lady were joined by son Barron, adding a third important figure to the question of framing. The puddle was fairly far away from the subjects, necessitating an extreme angle, with the camera held low to the water. And a Secret Service agent was walking on a path that would take him directly in front of the cameras, so timing was paramount.
But these are experienced news photographers who have covered the Air Force One routine numerous times. And Smialowski nailed it. He moved two images on the AFP/Getty news wire. Here are the finished products, with the second shot working that Secret Service agent's feet into the frame.
As most everyone knows by now, Trump regularly complains about the “fake news” media, disparaging mainstream outlets as the “enemy of the people” over critical coverage that he does not like. But the president has been known to appreciate photos of himself, and on Friday, while traveling to New Jersey, Trump asked an aide to request a print of a photo of him on the tarmac taken by Brenner on another recent trip.