Photographing the royals & thoughts on The Crown: A Cardiff photographer's behind-the-scenes tips

December 02, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

 

Diana Princess of Wales HRH Prince Charles visiting Bridgend in 1985. Taken by Cardiff photographer Richard Williams.Diana Princess of Wales HRH Prince Charles visiting Bridgend in 1985. Taken by Cardiff photographer Richard Williams.This 1985 picture by Cardiff photographer Richard Williams shows how the royal rota pass allowed him close access to the late Diana, Princess of Wales and HRH Prince Charles on a visit to Bridgend, South Wales.

This 1985 picture shows how an official pass put me close to the late Diana, Princess of Wales and HRH Prince Charles as they visited Bridgend, South Wales four years after their marriage.

I've been scanning the photographers in The Crown Series 5 to see if I can spot myself, but no luck yet. (I'd be looking harrassed, there's a lot of pressure on a royal visit and few things within your control).

As a Cardiff photographer who works throughout Wales and beyond, I've snapped most of the British royals.

When the Netflix drama moved into the late 1970's to the early 90's, it brought back lots of personal and professional memories. 

You may be surprised to hear what it's really like to take pictures at a royal visit and enjoy a few of my insider stories and advice about capturing great images of British royalty - whether or not you're a professional photographer.

Read on for my top three stories and tips. Number 3 is one of the biggest lessons I learned. It was a day I photographed the now King Charles and had started out from his home at Highgrove, Gloucestershire (often seen in The Crown, although the Netflix filming location was actually Somerly House in Hampshire).

HRH Prince William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge by Cardiff photographer Richard Williams.HRH Prince William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge by Cardiff photographer Richard Williams.HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and HRH Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at Joe's Ice Cream Parlour, Mumbles, Swansea in January 2020. I've seen how Prince William is chatty and engaging with members of the public, just like his late mother Diana, Princess of Wales was. HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and HRH Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at Joe's Ice Cream Parlour, Mumbles, Swansea in January 2020. 
I've seen how Prince William is chatty and engaging with members of the public, just like his late mother Diana, Princess of Wales. You can click on any of the pictures on this page to see more in this royal gallery.

#1 If you don't have an official pass, don't worry too much

You can often come away with even better pictures without being an official photographer, even as a member of the public.

There are two types of passes for professional photographers - a rota pass and a fixed point one (which means what it says, you're fixed to that one spot while the rota pass means you have more freedom of movement at that location). 

The organisation you're representing submits its photographers' names in advance and if approved by the Newspaper Society or the palace press office you go along to the place the royals are visiting.

But being one of the offical  press photographers on a royal visit has its pros and cons.

There've been many times when I was beaten for picture quality by amateurs or professionals who didn't have a pass.

They simply stood on a step ladder at the back of the crowd and waited for the royal to walk towards the crowd and shake hands with fans. 

The photographer on the stepladder would end up with a face-on portrait, one that was sometimes better than the ones the pass-holding photographers could capture because we're usually at the side of the group.

Our images then tend to be side-on and in profile - not showing someone like HRH the Duchess of Cambridge (now the Princess of Wales) or the late Princess Diana to their best effect.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth at the Rhondda Heritage Park in June 2002 by Cardiff photographer Richard Williams.Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth at the Rhondda Heritage Park in June 2002 by Cardiff photographer Richard Williams.Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's colourful outfits are a delight for photographers looking for a picture which will stand out. We see her here on a visit to the Rhondda Heritage Park in 2002, where she chatted to schoolchildren.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's colourful outfits were always a delight for photographers looking for a picture which would stand out.
We see her here on a visit to the Rhondda Heritage Park in 2002, where she chatted to schoolchildren.

#2 Predict where HRH will go next

Experience counts for a lot and over the years I learned to work out where the royal visitor would be likely to walk next.

That's always handy because you can arrive a second or two before them and be in position for the best pictures.

A child with flowers or an older person with a big smile is a good bet, and some of the royals will sometimes stand and talk for a while. 

Diana, Princess of Wales would be very chatty and her eldest son, Prince William and his wife Kate (the Prince and Princess of Wales) also enjoy talking to the crowd. 

Although The Crown is a dramatisation, the scenes of Princess Diana meeting the public on their tour to Australia gave a realistic picture of how she would be with ordinary people - and how popular she was.

3 Always be prepared

I've always taken time to check my photographic equipment, fresh batteries, the right lenses and so on but one royal visit taught me a big lesson I've never forgotten and it was nothing to do with my camera gear.

A professional photographer's bag can weigh a LOT. Mine can be around 20kg (about 44lb). 

It was a beautiful, blazing hot summer's day when I set off to photograph the then Prince of Wales, now King Charles, who was out and about in a peaceful Cotswolds forest with an environmental charity, one of the causes closest to his heart.

I'd driven over to Highgrove from South Wales.

The police restricted me from following him into the forest in my car which meant I had to walk over a mile to where the visit was to take place.

Dressed in trousers and a lightweight shirt, this wasn't too much of a problem, although carrying the camera gear too made it a bit of a workout.

The photographs went well, HRH was on fine form and the charity delighted with how it all went.

All I needed to do was trek back to the car, drive home and file the pictures.

The British countryside is stunning and, as I should have known, our weather is unpredictable. 

As I walked back, the heavens opened with an unforecast and torrential downpour. 

With no wet weather gear in my bag, it was tricky enough trying to keep my camera kit dry and by the time I was back at the car, I was completely drenched down to my underwear.

I had no spare clothes and the only garment in the car was a nasty, sleeveless plasticky photo vest (the kind with lots of pockets, practical but definitely not a fashion item).

Stripping off my shirt, I put the vest on anyway, thinking no-one would see me in it.

With the car heater on full blast, I made my way down the M5 motorway and onto the M4. Then I remembered I needed to stop and pay at the toll booths on what was then the Severn Bridge (since renamed the Prince of Wales bridge and it's now free to cross).

I really don't want to know what was going through the mind of the toll booth operator who had a clear view into the car of this soggy, strangely-dressed motorist. I'm sure he wouldn't have believed I'd just been working with royalty.  

And I now always have a lightweight waterproof jacket in my bag and a change of clothes in the car.

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