The 67th annual Alfred E. Smith dinner, with President Obama and Governor Romney

In the middle of an important and extremely hard-fought campaign, two competitors who visibly dislike each other on personal and political levels came together to briefly put their swords aside, the mission of the Al Smith Dinner, which has been bringing candidates together since 1945. And yes, the moment was brief — one of the speeches seemed more biting than normal for an event primarily dedicated to self-deprecation — but it was there. President Obama and former Governor Romney met for the first time on friendly ground since 2004, the first sitting president to attend an Al Smith Dinner since 1984, and I was there, as the exclusive independent eye. They joked about Romney’s singing, they smiled in ways that showed exactly why they have reached the pinnacles of political life, and they prepared to bring the house down, raising millions for the archdiocese and marking the progress Catholicism has made in American politics. When Al Smith ran for president in 1924, the Klu Klux Klan almost managed to get an explicit anti-Catholic plank on the Democratic party platform. In 2012, both tickets have Catholics on them and no one even really notices.

It was an incredible honor in 2008 with Senators Obama and McCain, who as co-workers at the time were openly collegial throughout the night, but there is a unique thrill to photographing a current president, to tell the most powerful person in the world even which way to turn and smile.

I’d covered Presidents Bush and Clinton as part of press scrums for upstate newspapers, and won an award for coverage of Clinton when I sneakily broke away from the press pack with this crazy new device called a digital camera, but it’s hard to be fully prepared for an event like this. Even just maintaining sight lines for good compositions is a Herculean challenge when you are between the rock of not wanting to elbow aside a billionaire and the hard place of making sure Secret Service can keep a direct path to him at all times.

A challenge, and a thrill. One of the draws of photography is to spend my time doing something that will outlive me. I shoot weddings because these are images that people will value for decades. But to stand at a crossroads in history and witness the moment when these two candidates came together, shared each other a laugh, and called each other honorable men … thank you. Thank you for this.

Elissa - This is so awesome!

Jason Nunez - These are hands down the best photographs ever taken of any presidential candidates in the history of photography. Marvelous work! They should hire you as the official photographer of every sitting president.

benj haisch - AMERICA!!! nice work, man. this is nuts.

Kyle Ford - Kick ass set Ryan.

Sarah Brewbaker - Ryan…WOW!

Zohar Ralt - Did you freelens Romney? :D

Paul Krol - You did a swell job, Ryan. I’d have **** my pants if had this gig :-)

Branden Harvey - Well done Ryan! I really appreciate your take on these photos. Keep up the great work!

Matt Randolph - I’d pay to watch a video of you in action. Seriously, your next wedding, have someone follow you around the entire time and have them record you. Seriously.

Arol Horkavy - You are a total stud, Ryan. These photos are amazing.

Jason Nunez - These are hands down the best photographs ever taken of any presidential event in the history of photography. You should be hired as the photographer for every sitting president to come.

Bob Orchard - Wow…..just absolutely amazing shots! Congrats!

Lukas Gisbert-Mora - You must have been restrain to a small bag, What was in it?

Michael Streubert - Man, such great captures- amazing how you get them so razor sharp.

Nicholas Gonzalez - Wonderful work, Ryan!

Mike Kelly - An incomparable rendering of such a momentous event, Ryan. Exceedingly well-done.

Tall - Ryan, this is some smash-up photojournalism. Those huge grins from these men is refreshing at this time of year.

Matt - Awesome mate! Seriously awesome!

Jackie Burhans - Wow, just wow. I’d love to chimp the EXIFs of each photo. I’d love to have even ONE shot this good of anyone, or one photo however good of this event.

Brian Boing - Awesome job Ryan! that’s one serious gig!

Mitch Orr - Stunning. Did you use flash for this Ryan?

Amir | Ottawa Wedding Photographer - Wow! What a coverage! Love all the spontaneous shots from the event. Must have been a real challenge.

Pedro Alicea - Ryan, as always, truly amazing. You portrayed each candidate equally and none, in my opinion, in a negative light. Not sure of the blurred photo of who I think is President Obama thru a glass, but that is personal taste and not reflective of your talent.

AC - So cool to see an up close and personal look at how world leaders roll.

Meredith Adams - These are absolutely brilliant. Love the shot with Obama and the bokeh overlapping him.. What an awesome opportunity. So good.

Penny Maggio - What a thrill that must have been! Such an incredible opportunity to be a part of history like this.

Congratulations, Mr President! » Ryan Brenizer — NYC Wedding Photographer. Problem solver, storyteller. - […] It’s been a long road since this one I took in 2008 (and a shorter one since a few weeks ago)… […]

Carolyn Lloyd Photography LLC - These gave me chills. Absolutely breathtaking and inspiring! What an incredible event, and what an amazing eye you have.

Bemby Andiyanto - Awesome Ryan. You’re so talented. Very good journalism.