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Telling campaign stories, one diptych at a time

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

In this diptych, TOP: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appears on a television monitor while conducting a Google+ "hangout" town hall at the Google Chicago headquarters March 20, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. BOTTOM: During Romney's "hangout," the traveling pool of journalists who follow Romney were sequestered in a meeting room called "Adventures in Babysitting," where handwriting on the wall told people to turn off an Xbox game when finished.

When Getty Images' Chip Somodevilla embarked on a four day assignment photographing the Mitt Romney campaign in northern and central Illinois, he found it a perfect opportunity to explore his new found photographic hobby: Instagram.

He had just started using the iPhone 4G in January and became intrigued with the camera’s instant gratification, its many shortcomings, and the social media network enjoyed by millions of other iPhone photographers (reportedly coming soon to Android).

“Instagram is just pure joy,” said Somodevilla. “Shooting photos for Getty is fun, that’s my job and I love it, but Instagram is a different kind of fun.”

“You have to be so much more careful when taking pictures with your iPhone,” said Somodevilla. “You have to really concentrate on taking the actual picture, and take time to learn the camera’s limitations.”

And the limitations are many, especially compared to the pair of Canon 5D Mark IIs he carries on assignment. According to Somodevilla, working around the limitations is where the fun begins. His editor, Pancho Bernasconi, Senior Director of Photography News & Sports at Getty Images, couldn't agree more.

“A change of format makes a photographer see things differently; it allows them to stay alert.” Bernasconi said. “If it makes them stop and think about the frame, breathe different air, then that’s good.”

As a staff photographer for Getty Images in Washington D.C. speed and accuracy is of the essence. “My number one responsibility is to deliver the best image first, especially when it matters, and that's a job I take very seriously,” said Somodevilla. That’s why you’ll never see him reaching for his iPhone when the picture really matters.

“If I don't post to my Instagram, no big whoop, I won't lose any sleep over that,” said Somodevilla.  “Miss getting the picture I was assigned to shoot, you better believe that I will definitely lose sleep over that.”

BUT, along comes an assignment like following a candidate on the campaign trail…

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

In this diptych, TOP: The empty stage after Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's Illinois GOP primary victory party at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel March 20, 2012 in Schaumburg, Illinois. BOTTOM: European Pressphoto Photographer Tannen Maury (L) and AP photographer Steven Senne file photographs from their laptops on the Romney press bus.

“When you cover a campaign, you go inside the bubble,” said Somodevilla. “You’re thrown in the press bus for hours with TV and newspaper reporters, photographers and bloggers, and you go where the candidate goes.” Days can be long, and there is a lot of waiting. For instance, on one of the four days with Romney, Somodevilla spent ten hours on the bus for two press events.

With this extra time, Somodevilla thought he would develop his own Instagram style. He saw inspiration in the work of New York Times great, Stephen Crowley, and decided to explore the thousand-year-old art form of diptychs. A diptych is a set of images that work as a pair, where their association gives them more meaning than being displayed alone. 

For Somodevilla, they're like little visual columns.

“He is a sophisticated story teller, and these add another layer,” said Bernasconi. “Chip, in a way is acting like his own art director, telling little stories with a point of view."

Somodevilla admits there are no rules when he creates his diptychs, but they all have certain themes. Each diptych shares the same geography or moment in time, and they're usually shot at the same event. Often, a diptych doesn’t mean anything. They’re just a pairing of images that look good together.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

In this diptych, TOP: Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivers an economic speech at the International House at the University of Chicago March 19, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. BOTTOM: Members of the Romney traveling news media pool cover an economic speech from the press riser in the back of the auditorium at the university.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

In this diptych, TOP: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (C) is surrounded by a wall of Secret Service agents during a pancake brunch at American Legion Post 246 March 18, 2012 in Moline, Illinois. BOTTOM: Romney supporters eat free pancakes while waiting for the arrival of the candidate.

"Pancake breakfast with Romney" was one of Somodevilla’s first campaign diptych creations. The inspiration was simple. He was waiting for Romney and so were the members of American Legion Post 246.

“When you’re covering the campaign trail, you're dropped out of the sky in a foreign land and people stare at you like an alien,” said Somodevilla. “You walk around, start talking to people and scour the room looking for real moments.”

It’s what he calls shooting around the frame. If there is an important image to be made, he’ll always reach for his DSLR first, and when he is sure he’s got the frame, then he might take a photo for Instagram.

"We (photojournalists) are a hard group to contain. We're always looking for something real," he said.

On another assignment, he made one of his more intriguing pair of images. "Romney at Google Chicago HQ," according to Somodevilla has been interpreted by his Instagram followers several different ways.

The pair of photographs was taken at Google headquarters in Chicago, while the press was kept in the affectionately named, "Adventures in Baby Sitting" room. The only access to Romney was watching him on a screen participating in a Google "hangout." The sign in the lower half of the diptych refers to the XBox that was in the room to occupy the journalists. Somodevilla states that the pairing has nothing to do with Romney, but everything to do with campaigning as a whole.

"The whole thing was so intangible," Somodevilla said. "And I thought this isn't real. If you want you can turn it on or you can turn it off." 

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

In this diptych, TOP: A television remote control and HBO program guide sit on the shelf of a hotel room March 17, 2012 in Moline, Illinois. BOTTOM: A large, table-top diorama of Moline International Airport includes a tiny scale model of Air Force One, the plane that ferries the president of the United States across the country and around the world.

He doesn’t always know the outcome of his diptychs. Often Somodevilla will shoot one image and find its mate later in the assignment, and that’s why he never uses the Instagram app to shoot his photos.  

To create a diptych, Somodevilla always starts with the iPhone camera. First of all, it’s easier to access when the phone is in standby, and secondly it allows him to edit his images with a little more thoughtfulness.

Second he takes the selected photos into his post production app of choice, snapseed, and adds selective focus and filters.

After the images are selected and the adjustments to the images have been made, he uses framemagic to create the diptych. Only then does he distribute the images on Instagram.

Somodevilla created his Romney campaign diptychs for fun, and had no plans to distribute the images through the Getty wire. The use of filters and effects goes against his definition of traditional news photography, even though Getty has made the images available to clients on their website.

If Somodevilla has any advice for novice mobile phone photographers it would be to take lots of pictures and push every button, “Pushing all the buttons is how we learn.”

Be sure to follow Somodevilla at somophoto on Instagram.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

In this diptych, In this diptych, TOP: A television news producer keeps track of exit poll numbers on a whiteboard during Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's Illinois GOP primary victory party at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel March 20, 2012 in Schaumburg, Illinois. BOTTOM: A Rhythm and Blues band performs for the Romney supporters during the primary night party.