Down-to-earth reasons for that heavenly glow

Is that a halo over President Barack Obama?

It sure looks like one, especially to critics of Obama and The Associated Press, who have complained in blogs and on Twitter that AP photographers sometimes give the president a heavenly glow. The criticism was seen and heard repeatedly this week after AP distributed photos showing presidential candidate Ted Cruz with a gun, seen in a wall poster, juxtaposed so that the pistol was pointed at his head.

The out-of-focus presidential seal looks to some like a halo, as seen here. So AP photographers often shoot with a greater depth of field or a slightly different angle so it is clear the glow around the President Barack Obama's head is the seal of his office. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The out-of-focus presidential seal looks to some like a halo, as seen here. So AP photographers often shoot with a greater depth of field or a slightly different angle so it is clear the glow around the President Barack Obama’s head is the seal of his office. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Concerns have been raised about a glow or halo around the president since George W. Bush held office, as seen in this frame with the presidential seal behind him. The out-of-focus seal is simply a tool to separate the subject from the background so he is not seen speaking in a sea of black. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Concerns have been raised about a glow or halo around the president since George W. Bush held office, as seen in this frame with the presidential seal behind him. The out-of-focus seal is simply a tool to separate the subject from the background so he is not seen speaking in a sea of black. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

“The halo issue has been around for over a decade,” said J. David Ake, AP Washington’s assistant chief of bureau for photography. “We received the same complaints when we photographed President George W. Bush with the presidential seal behind him. It’s never been our photographers’ goal to give the president a heavenly glow. The out-of-focus presidential seal is simply a tool to separate the subject from the background so he is not speaking in a sea of black. We’ve heard the concerns, however, and we now make the same picture with greater depth of field or a slightly different angle so it’s clear it’s the seal of office behind the president.”

Ake added: “To eliminate the halo effect, we’ve talked about just shooting the subjects really tight, so nothing is seen around their heads, but that leaves the image with no context or sense of location at all. We do shoot all situations wide and move wide shots to AP’s member news organizations and subscribers as a matter of course, so they have a choice and a sense of the location and setup. But not everyone wants a wide image, especially for mobile use, so to give our customers a choice we also shoot and move tighter images, which is often when the halo issue often arises.”

The halo is sometimes caused by the backlights hung by event organizers. Still photographers often work directly in front of and below the subject in a security area known as the buffer zone. When looking up from that area, so-called rim light, which is caused by the backlights wrapping around the subject, can be particularly difficult for photographers to avoid. So they use it to make the subject pop from the dark background or because it makes for an interesting image.

“The use of rim light to surround the subject is a equal opportunity technique,” Ake said. “If it’s there and it’s all we have to make the image more than just a plain headshot of someone speaking, we’re likely to take advantage of it.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks at the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Legislative Conference and Presidential Forum in Washington, Tuesday, March 10, 2015. The out-of-focus logo of the organization is used to help give a sense of context. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks at the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Legislative Conference and Presidential Forum in Washington, Tuesday, March 10, 2015. The out-of-focus logo of the organization is used to help give a sense of context. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The backlights set up by event organizers to highlight the subject during a speech are often used by photographers as a tool to make the images interesting. Photographers are often asked to work between the subject and the audience in an area known as a buffer zone. The position can mean the photographers are looking up at the speaker and into the backlights. The so-called rim light caused by the backlights helps them separate the subject from the dark background, as seen in this image of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, speaking to local residents during the Scott County Republican Party's Ronald Reagan Dinner, Monday, Nov. 14, 2011, in Bettendorf, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The backlights set up by event organizers to highlight the subject during a speech are often used by photographers as a tool to make the images interesting. Photographers are often asked to work between the subject and the audience in an area known as a buffer zone. The position can mean the photographers are looking up at the speaker and into the backlights. The so-called rim light caused by the backlights helps them separate the subject from the dark background, as seen in this image of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, speaking to local residents during the Scott County Republican Party’s Ronald Reagan Dinner, Monday, Nov. 14, 2011, in Bettendorf, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)