Looking Across the Potomac to Take Pictures of Trump: “It’ll be a historic photo”

From a Washington Post story by Andrea Salcedo headlined “To capture Trump golfing as Biden won, photographers clicked away across the Potomac”:

Jabin Botsford peered across the Potomac River through his camera, straining to focus in on the tiny figures nearly a mile away on a golf course. The Washington Post photographer stood on a riverfront footpath in Maryland just before noon Saturday alongside two photojournalists also with the White House press pool, as they pointed their long lenses across the water.

They were all waiting for President Trump to become visible as he rode in a golf cart through his 800-acre private golf club. . . .

“This was definitely stretching the limitations of my equipment and the technology,” said Botsford, 30, who in his five years covering Trump had never before photographed the president golfing. “It was very hard to tell which groups of golf carts were his.”. . .

Saturday’s assignment had suddenly taken on particular significance. Like everyone else in the United States, the photographers had just learned that media organizations had declared Joe Biden the winner of the presidential election.

Their task now was to get the first pictures of Trump in the wake of that news breaking.

“We were shocked that it was in that exact moment that we’re basically looking at him as we’re finding out historic news,” said Al Drago, an independent photojournalist. . . .

On Saturday morning, the race was still undeclared when the photographers learned about Trump’s golf outing.

Pat Semansky, a staff photographer with the Associated Press who has covered the White House during weekends for the past several months, told The Post he predicted where to find the president when he received an email with an updated call time to arrive at the White House. Reporters and photographers who cover the administration receive daily emails from the White House press office with the president’s schedule.

“Generally, as a rule of thumb you have the assumption, it’s kind of a hunch, that if it’s a Saturday or Sunday, there’s good weather and the president is in town, if they put out a guidance, it’s likely that he’s going to go golf at his club in Virginia,” Semansky, 36, told The Post. . . .

Out of the three photographers, Drago was the only one who had previously twice captured the president golfing from that location. This time, Drago and his girlfriend, who joined Semansky shortly after that, came prepared with binoculars. . . .

Botsford hadn’t brought as long a lens as the other two photographers had, which made it difficult for him to spot the president. But with the help of Drago and Semansky, who each had longer lenses, he was able to follow Trump every step of the way.

At 11:45 a.m., the photographers got the first glimpse of the president after he had lost the election. He wore a white “MAGA” hat, a windbreaker and dark pants while playing golf with a small group. . . .

The photographers then tried to track Trump’s every other move on the course. Every time the president moved to a new hole visible from their vantage point, the three photographers jogged with heavy photo equipment on their shoulders. And every time the president stopped at a new hole, they reframed their shots as they dodged the branches and leaves blocking the view.

“It’s so far away that it’s hard to see facial expressions,” said Drago, 27. “So I was looking at his body language and also I was just looking to photograph when he was actually golfing.”

As the three photographers ran up and down the path for more than an hour, joggers and bikers along the trail constantly stopped them to ask what types of birds they were looking for.

“People had various reactions when we told them, ‘No, we’re actually looking for the president golfing,’ ” Semansky said, laughing. . . .

About 1:30 p.m. Saturday, when the president was no longer visible, the photographers returned to their cars to file their photos. Although most of the photos were cropped, grainy and far away, that didn’t matter.

In the end, the moment they documented made the images memorable, Botsford said.

Andrea Salcedo is a reporter on The Washington Post’s Morning Mix team. Before joining The Post in 2020, she covered breaking news and features for the New York Times metro desk.

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