To celebrate Barack Obama’s 57th birthday Saturday, Obama’s wife and former vice president shared a pair of photos of him.
Michelle Obama’s photo was simple, a muted landscape shot that featured her husband off to the side, wearing a baseball hat, with wide-open space behind him and what appears to be a hot air balloon in the distance. It’s an epic shot.
Joe Biden’s pic was taken during their trip to Dog Tag Bakery last week in Georgetown. It appears to be a selfie taken by Biden, who looks like he just cracked a joke. Obama is in the middle of laughing. It’s exactly the type of candid selfie you’d want your friends to share of you on your birthday.
The photos were social media birthday cards, flattering images of the 44th President to mark his big day. Taken together, they paint the image of an engaged and happy former POTUS, traveling and keeping up with friends. That they came following his re-entry to politics in the form of an 81-candidate endorsement list last week didn’t hurt.
Social media has made it easy for politicians and others public figures to tell the world how they feel, with tweets sometimes standing in for press statements. But overlooked is social media’s role in sharing official images, something prominent families like the Obamas have mastered – and the Trumps are still figuring out.
Sharing official family photos is a tradition for millions of Americans. Every year, families across the country take a special portrait for their annual Christmas card, to be sent out to friends and families. More high-profile families just take these kinds of photos more than once a year.
The public figures who are the best at official photos are the Royal Family. They release pictures for family moments like weddings and birthdays. For the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, three official photos were tweeted out by @KensingtonRoyal, and official photos of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their family were released for Prince Louis’ christening last month.
But it’s not just heads of state. The Carters announced Beyoncé’s pregnancy with an official photo of their own, though it looked more like a Rolling Stone photo shoot than anything that’s come out of Kensington Palace. Beyoncé’s floral pregnancy announcement was named the most-liked photo on Instagram in 2017 and today has more than 11.2 million likes.
Beyoncé also marked her 36th birthday by releasing more than a dozen photos of women – including her mother, daughter, Destiny’s Child band mates and noted fan Michelle Obama – all dressed up like her “Formation” music video.
Meanwhile, the Trumps have missed easy opportunities to share photos of each other. President Donald Trump publicly marked his wife’s birthday not with a tweet, but by telling “Fox & Friends” he “didn’t get her so much” because he was busy. When Melania Trump commemorated her husband’s first year in office, she shared a photo from Inauguration Day without him.
Even Ivanka Trump, who is much more active sharing family shots online, has run into controversy with people online criticizing her sharing of photos with her children while her father’s administration separated families at the border.
“Official photos” can serve as a visual press release. For public figures who’ve had an untold number of photos taken of themselves, having a special one released for a specific event sets it apart from the thousands of others. They mark an occasion and say something about how an individual would like to be perceived publicly, like mini Christmas cards that can be tweeted and posted online year-round.