On 3 November 2016, five days before the US presidential election, travel and politics photographer Alan Mozes attended a rally at Florida International University in Miami. President Barack Obama gave an impassioned speech to an audience of thousands of students. Alan was in the crowd to right of the stage. When he saw a cute baby, he positioned himself close by, taking a gamble on what would happen next.
He was relying on Obama moving towards him, seeing the baby, and the crowd not getting in the way — the photographer had the perfect shot of the President and this infant in his head. "I was really rolling the dice," says Alan. The crowd was packed in tightly that he couldn’t change his position if Obama changed direction.
Unfortunately, he didn’t get it. But, Alan admits, with his Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens, he got an even better one. Just as he was about to take the photograph, a woman moved into the frame. "She did me a favour," he says, "because the image of an anonymous baby’s hand and the face of the most powerful man in the world is so much more interesting than anything I thought I was going to get. It keeps the attention squarely on the President and his character – his sincere way of connecting with people in crowds."
IT’S LIKE JUMPING ON A TRAIN RUNNING AT 300 MILES AN HOUR.
How Alan ended up getting this shot goes back to the previous US presidential campaign, in 2012. Before then, Alan was only a recreational photographer. He wanted to pitch in on Obama’s campaign for a second term. He was willing to stuff envelopes, make phone calls – whatever it took. He had a friend in Washington DC who got him on the campaign trail, which was in full swing in Nevada. "It’s like jumping on a train running at 300 miles an hour," Alan says. "I was working with relatively crappy equipment, even then. But in a 48-hour blur – I kid you not – I was credentialed to shoot and thrown in with the national press pool."
By the time Alan joined the campaign trail in 2016, he was equipped with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and a collection of lenses. He was given "total access" to all big names on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, including President Obama. They were long days – often from 5am to midnight. And when a speaker stepped off stage, there was a lot of pushing and shoving in the crowd, forcing Alan to "shoot in a guerrilla warfare kind-of-way." There was no room for a monopod or tripod, and his lens selection was crucial. Alan wanted something that gave him maximum flexibility, but still allowed him to shoot the intimate moments he loves to capture in his photography.
His go-to lens became the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. "It’s got great glass that captures sharp images with minimal distortion. And for this kind of shoot, what I sacrificed in terms of depth of field, I more than made up for in flexibility and the ability to nail the image."
His Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM and Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lenses were for portraits – the latter was used for capturing Elmira Gilbert, the 101-year-old he met at Hillary Clinton’s Palm Beach State College rally in Lake Worth, Florida. He had more access, time and room to compose this shot, so a fixed focal length became an option, meaning he could guarantee a natural perspective, shallow depth of field and sharp central focus to really emphasise the detail in her face.
Alan also used the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens because it’s "really fast, and obviously great for when you either can’t or don’t want to get close, plus it has great image stabilization." He used it when he was farther from the action and there was a less constricting crowd – such as at Hillary Clinton’s rain-soaked speech in Pembroke Pines, Florida. It was good for crowd shots, too: "With a great telephoto such as the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, I could get the shot without the subject necessarily seeing me."
For the intimate black-and-white close-ups of Obama at Florida International University, he used the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens at 1/200 and f/5.6. "These are settings that I felt I could get away with and still get consistent focus," Alan says. The ambient lighting was poor once Obama moved off stage towards the crowd, and he didn't use his Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT. It didn't matter. "The quality of the images from the Canon EOS 5D Mark III at ISO 2000 is amazing," says the photographer on the lack of grain. He did a few tests in advance, guessing where Obama would be, then stuck with those settings throughout – which wasn't long: "I started that sequence of shooting at 11:59am, and wrapped up at 12:02pm."
While shooting at Florida International University, Alan split his photography into two: work for the campaign – colour, wide shots, suitable for social media – and more intimate, personal ones: "Truly candid images that offer something unexpected and revealing... an honest moment that isn’t scripted, or planned." With the shot of Obama and the baby, that's exactly what he got.
To find out more about the latest in the Canon 5D series, visit the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV product page.