With the election around the corner, wouldn’t it be fun to rank the top 10 most photogenic U.S. presidents? I thought so, too.
First, to be photogenic, a president had to be photographed a few times. Not only that, but I had to be able to find the photos online and they needed to carry rights to be used in this article.
Finally, I expanded the definition of photogenic to be more than just attraction in photographs. I took into account the president’s presence, mannerism, features, emotive qualities and of course the impression on the viewer.
As you will see, some presidents were chosen for numerous profound reasons, while others were picked for a singular fun quality.
10. Gerald Ford
I have to admit, it was hard to pick number 10. There were a few good candidates, but a lack of quality photos pushed them out of the rankings.
Gerald Ford had photos that showed his personality evolve over the years. In his college days, Ford exuded confidence as a Michigan Wolverines football player. That confidence turned into determination in his visit to Saigon. And while in the White House, photos caught glimpses of his humorous and down-to-earth side.
9. Rutherford B. Hayes
One word: Beard. This beard IS photogenic and captures the grittiness and rawness of the era perfectly. This beard conveys a no-nonsense approach. Hayes once accepted the nomination to run for the House of Representatives, but refused to campaign because his sense of duty as a military officer was so important that he wouldn’t leave his post to be an electioneer.
This beard was also at the center of national controversy. In the 1876 presidential election versus Samuel Tilden, Hayes lost the popular vote, but three states’ electoral votes were contested. Hayes needed every electoral vote from these states to win by one. A 15-member committee was made to rule on the electoral votes. The committee had eight Republicans and seven Democrats. The vote, shockingly, was 8-7 and Hayes was made President.
8. Ulysses S. Grant
Moving down our list, and moving down in beard length, we come to Ulysses S. Grant. His military photos capture the determination of a leader. In his later years, we see a sense of accomplishment in his gaze.
While life wasn’t always easy for Grant, I like how these photos capture a distinguished look despite being typical poses of the day.
7. Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln had an interesting look to say the least. What I note most about Lincoln’s photos is how he dominates the scene. Your gaze is drawn to him.
In a way, that makes him photogenic. Is it because of his elongated figure made even taller by his trusty hat? Regardless, his ability to steal the show in a photo seems unparalleled in his time.
Gazing into Lincoln’s portrait, I can’t help but feel a small sense of understanding of what he went through. Even with a stern look, his face speaks out. Perhaps it bears all the trials of keeping a country together amidst strong opposition. Perhaps it shows a humbled sense of accomplishment from rising out of absolute poverty to become one of the most respected presidents ever.
6. George H.W. Bush
From a confident young soccer player to a reflective senior flashing a contagious smile, George H.W. Bush lived a full life.
To me, he makes the list because of his later years. Photos capture a man that has made peace with past mistakes and will happily work with anyone toward a good cause. I feel a genuine humanitarian sentiment and a love of life when I view some of these photos. Kindness is truly a photogenic quality.
5. George W. Bush
Like father like son, as they say. George W. Bush flashed a kind smile just like his dad. Politics aside, you saw a like-able demeanor portrayed in the photos.
People may argue about his naivety, but no one can argue about his approachability. In photos, he seems like someone you could reach out to have a beer with or that would lend a helping hand to a neighbor. Simply stated, he appears happy-go-lucky and genuine, which is another photogenic quality.
4. Ronald Reagan
Being a movie star should qualify you for a good ranking. But besides his Hollywood appeal, Ronald Reagan’s photos reveal a leader. Even working as the Chicago Cubs announcer in the 1930s didn’t get him down.
As president of his college student body, the screen actors’ guild and of course a country, Reagan’s photos capture a steady, confident look. Two years into his presidency, you can see the look of accomplishment appear.
3. Barack Obama
Barack Obama was a groundbreaking president and a recent president, so perhaps that’s why his photos are so plentiful. What I like about his photos is you see the hope, the passion and the purpose that he embraced in his speeches. You also see him roll up his sleeves when it’s time to talk about getting work done.
A great orator with a genuine smile, you rarely see an Obama photo where he is feeling down. And while that’s remarkable given the situation, the photos do capture the toll the office takes on one’s body.
The final photo below shows another hallmark of being photogenic – even without showing your face, you create a recognizable and dramatic photography moment.
2. Theodore Roosevelt
Wow, I bet you weren’t expecting this one, but I had to add a little drama to the list since you probably know who the #1 president is going to be. While Teddy isn’t the most dapper president, he was photogenic in many other ways. He was rugged, confident and tough. His trademark spectacles add whimsy. I think his photographic character developed as he aged.
Roosevelt was also outdoorsy, so his photos often took place in some of our country’s most beautiful settings. In fact, his actions to preserve our pristine natural areas are a leading reason why nature photographers have places to practice their craft today. I just love these photos, as they capture the time and his personality perfectly.
1. John F. Kennedy
No surprise here. Ever popular with the ladies, JFK is the true definition of photogenic. But perhaps more importantly, he ushered in a new type of presidential photo, one where family often stole the spotlight. A departure from typical presidential photos, JFK was often pictured smiling with his children, which made the population feel happiness and promise amid uncertain times.
As a younger president with a celebrity status, lifestyle photos replaced the more un-emotive photos of presidential speeches and diplomatic meetings. Kennedy understood the power of the media, especially television and photography, and perhaps that’s why his appeal lives on.
All permissions on the photos are attributed in the according images.