Callie Shell has photographed President Barack Obama, TIME's 2012 Person of the Year, countless times before. But for a POY feature shoot that is both grand and personal, Shell herself is humble. “I think people are sometimes surprised by how nervous photographers can get making images that can really show who the person is and what they are going through,” she says.
Shell has covered Barack Obama since 2004, and her quiet but steady lens has documented his development as a politician, father, and president, as well as his first, and now second, Person of the Year honors. This collection offers an intimate look at the President on the cusp of his second term. Shell traveled with President Obama on POY assignment for TIME earlier this month. She met him at the White House on December 10 and flew with him on Air Force One to Michigan, where they visited Daimler Detroit Diesel, and back to Washington later in the week, where the President and First Lady attended a holiday party.
(See more: Barack Obama, 2012 Person of the Year )
Shell first met then-State-Senator Barack Obama in Chicago while she was covering Senator John Kerry’s presidential run in 2004, and Obama introduced Kerry at a campaign event. “We got to hang out in the hallway, and I just got to watch him and realize how truly gracious and kind he was to everyone around him,” she says, remembering how he connected with everyone who walked through the hall. Like Shell, Obama was also away from his young children and spouse. “Family is really important to him, family is really important to me,” she says. “We both always told people that we married up.”
Soon after that, she was reviewing photographs she had taken of Obama sitting on a chair. Shell, who was a White House photographer during Bill Clinton’s presidency, observed many Clinton-level qualities in Obama, especially when it came to relating to people. That’s when she first thought to herself, “He would run for president.”
On the one hand, Shell has noticed ways Obama has changed over the years she has photographed him. The seriousness of the Oval Office has made its mark. But on the other hand, she sees that his core has not changed at all—he still tries to make those around him feel at ease. Last year, Shell was recovering from some health issues. “He called me to see how I was doing,” she remembers. “I didn’t do it consciously, but I stood up to talk to him. After all, he is the president.”
Callie Shell is a South Carolina-based photographer who has covered Obama since 2004. See more of her work for TIME here.
Elizabeth Dias is a reporter in TIME’s Washington bureau. Find her on Twitter @elizabethjdias.