WHAT IT’S LIKE TO PHOTOGRAPH THE PRESIDENT (HINT: BE QUICK)

When you're the president, every moment of your day is booked. After all, you’re the leader of the free world, you’re guest-editing WIRED, and there’s a ton of copy to read after dinner. That doesn’t leave much time to sit for photos. Christopher Anderson knew he’d have to work fast.

Author: Jenna Garrett | Photography: Samantha Appleton

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You wouldn’t know it looking at the remarkable images in the latest issue of WIRED, which Obama guest-edited. The images present the president while also revealing something about the man holding that title. Anderson wasn’t interested in making another pretty portrait of the commander in chief. “I wanted the photograph to feel more intimate,” he says. “I wanted the viewer to feel like they were being introduced to him in a way they had not seen before.”

The WIRED team making their way into the White House

The Magnum photographer launched his career 20 years ago humanizing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, and Palestine. Today, he focuses on portraiture and has photographed the likes of Al Gore, Lady Gaga, and Michael Bloomberg. Before working with President Obama for the first time, he spent hours studying other portraits of the president to find an approach, and an image, that felt unique.

Photographer Christopher Anderson and his assistants unloading the kit

Anderson brought quite a lot of equipment to the White House, including a Nikon D810 and a Sony A7Rii, six lenses, three reflectors, and four 15-pound sandbags. The Secret Service scrutinized it all before allowing Anderson to photograph Obama in the Old Family Dining Room. As Anderson set up, a Secret Service agent asked Billy Sorrentino, WIRED’s head of creative, “How many clicks with his camera is the photographer going to make?” Before Sorrentino could reply, former White House photographer Samantha Appleton replied, “200!”

WIRED's head of editorial Robert Capps, photographer Christopher Anderson, and WIRED's executive creative director Billy Sorrentino wait to take the kitchen elevator up to the Old Family Dining Room.

Anderson only needed 12.1 Although he prepared for every scenario he could think of, Anderson opted to make the final images using a simple backdrop and natural light streaming through a window. “It was my hope all along [to have natural light] because I wanted it to feel real and authentic,” he says. Despite the tight timeframe, Anderson got his shot for the cover. The president appears purposeful, but also thoughtful. The images feel perfectly suited to his discussion, with Joi Ito of MIT Media Lab and WIRED editor in chief Scott Dadich, about the challenges, and opportunities, of the future. Not bad for two-and-half minutes.

WIRED's editor in chief Scott Dadich, photographer Christopher Anderson, and executive creative director Billy Sorrentino await the arrival of President Barack Obama.

President Obama and photographer Christopher Anderson discuss the shot.

Christopher Anderson photographing the commander in chief.

Christopher Anderson used a simple backdrop and natural light streaming in from the windows for the cover shot.

Anderson's assistant holds a reflector while President Obama and MIT's Joi Ito pose for a photograph.

President Obama, Joi Ito, and Scott Dadich make their way down the Colonnade of the White House

Official White House Photo By Pete Souza

President Obama in the Roosevelt Room.

Scott Dadich, President Obama, and Robert Capps check out WIRED's November issue. "You misspelled my name," the president jokes.

Joi Ito, Scott Dadich, and President Obama shake hands after their interview.