How I Got That Viral Photo of Hope Hicks

5 minute read
Leah Millis is a staff photographer with Reuters based in Washington, D.C.

Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, spent much of Feb. 27 testifying in a closed-door meeting with the House Intelligence Committee that is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. That night, Reuters photographer Leah Millis captured an image of Hicks leaving the Capitol that perfectly depicted the mood—even more so the next day when the news broke that Hicks would resign in the coming weeks. Here, Millis describes how she got the shot.

This was one of my very first stake outs on my new job here as a Reuters staff photographer in Washington. After I finished up an assignment at the Supreme Court on Feb. 27, I was asked to join my colleague Kevin Lamarque at the Capitol, where White House Communications Director Hope Hicks had already been testifying to the House Intelligence Committee for several hours. Initially we decided that I would join the other photographers at one of the usual stake-out spots outside the committee’s meetings, which is at the bottom of a large spiral staircase.

I wasn’t there for long when Kevin and my boss Jim Bourg decided that I should gamble and go back up Kevin closer to the entrance to the visitor’s center in the Capitol, as that was the area where Hicks had entered that morning. There were a few places that Hicks could possibly exit, and we were gambling on this area. After several hours, I was asked to briefly run over to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s office to photograph Florida school shooting survivors meeting with him.

A while later I made it back to the same spot. It was nearing 4 p.m. and nothing had happened, but we heard that Hicks was still inside. Finally, after about seven hours of waiting, she suddenly appeared at the end of the hallway, coming towards me with her entourage. There had been no other still photographers with me all day while I had waited in that area, and only one television videographer was with me when she appeared.

I grabbed my backpack and immediately broke into a sprint towards the northern exit with the videographer next to me. After that, we joined her for the long walk up the stairs from the Capitol to First Street. By this time, several other video journalists had arrived. I noticed the lit Capitol building behind her as we climbed the stairs and had the presence of mind to tell myself to get down and make sure that I got it in the background of the photograph. At the top of the steps they hailed a cab, got in and they were off and gone. Seven hours of waiting had culminated in a few minutes-long feverish dash and climb up the stairs and she was gone.

I try not to pre-visualize too much unless I am totally certain of where someone might be, what the lighting will be and when it will be happening. In this case, getting a photograph of Hicks was the most important thing. When the situation presented itself, the objective became to make sure I conveyed this odd scene where she was isolated in this strange, quiet walk only occasionally punctured by a quiet question. The glowing Capitol behind her was looming over the scene in an unmistakable way. I’m just glad that after such a long, grueling day I was able to translate that in the moment.

Hicks seemed very calm to me. This was the first time that I’ve ever seen her in person, but it struck me how confidently she was walking. The only time that she ever broke her stride or said anything to anyone at all was when one of the cameramen almost ran backwards into something and she warned him before he could hit it or fall. That was a universally human moment in an otherwise unusual situation.

Hicks carries herself in a way that lends itself to the dramatic visual, which was compounded by the lighting and the scene, I think.

After she got in the cab and left, I checked my camera. I zoomed in and found that I had a frame with her in the center, the Capitol behind her, properly exposed and in focus. At the moment I was just so happy I had succeeded in getting a photo of her. This was really a team effort. After a whole day with multiple photographers waiting, I wasn’t thinking much about it being “the picture.” I was thrilled and relieved that I could text my bosses after a few minutes of silence and say “I got her.” I immediately transmitted the photo directly from my camera to an editor on our photo desk and minutes later it was on the screens of clients all over the world.

Leah Millis is a staff photographer with Reuters based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Instagram @leahmillis.

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