4 Minutes and 20 Seconds with Arne Duncan
When you know a portrait subject is only going to give you a few minutes, pre-visualizing the photos is a necessary part of the process. Fortunately, when photographing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, I had almost an hour to get set up, so I was able to put together a few different lighting setups in his office and make sure they were ready to go when he wrapped up his interview. Short shooting time is a great way to get focused. During these shoots, I’m trying to get a nice visual variety, while staying alert to capture anything interesting or spontaneous that the subject will do. It’s a difficult balance to strike, because you really do need to come away with something that can be used, but you also need to be ready if something great happens.
I had photographed Mr. Duncan once before and remember him being a little tense in front of the camera, so I asked the reporter, Michele McNeil, to stay behind and help me engage him in conversation while I was photographing him. While I can plan the lighting and get everything exactly technically right, what I’m always hoping for in the end is a genuine moment where something honest is revealed. He really opened up as we started talking about our children. He has these great photos of his daughter sitting near the president and vice president, looking very nonchalant about the whole thing. He told us how unflappable she is around famous people.
In the end, he gave me as much as I could hope for in the little time we had. Based on the time stamps on image files, about four minutes elapsed from the first shot to the last. —Stephen Voss