Photographers' Blog

The Labor Pains of Royal Photography

London, England

By Suzanne Plunkett

The last occasion I spent any amount of time at St Mary’s hospital in London, I was giving birth to my own child. And I can honestly say that experience was a lot less painful than covering the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s newborn son.

A photocall for a baby might not seem like that tough an assignment — and for many of the endless days of waiting in the run up to the birth, the only challenge was boredom — but when the time came, the physical and mental stress gave even the most severe labor contractions a run for their money.

GALLERY: ROYAL BABY BOY

First there was the planning — far more meticulous than for a birth when most couples simply have to pack an overnight bag, work out the quickest way to hospital and, for reasons we will never truly understand, prepare a relaxing CD of whale sounds. For the photographers, this was more of a forensic exercise in which every detail was scrutinized minutely and agonized over.

Reuters had secured four jealously-guarded camera positions offering different angles over the entrance to the Lindo Wing, where the baby was born. This might seem excessive, but to get that first shot of the new prince we needed to be ready for any eventuality. We might only have a few seconds and we had no way of knowing where the couple would stand or even which way they would look.

For clues, we pored over photos of Charles and Diana taken in the same spot after the birth of Prince William. We even tried to establish whether the Duchess of Cambridge was left or right handed to predict which way the baby would be facing. In order to capture the baby’s first expression, one photographer was stationed at the end of the street armed with an enormous 600mm lens and perched precariously atop an eight-step ladder.

Royal media circus comes to Canada

The last few days have been frantic to say the least as part of the traveling media circus following William and Kate across Canada.

There are no media charter flights on this particular tour which means that in order to stay apace with the couple’s Canadian airforce jet we are constantly having to decide which events to shoot whilst leaving us enough time to dash to the airport to get our scheduled flights.

This is a nightmare, as you just never know where the picture will happen and you are making decisions based purely on pre-tour briefings and judgment. Fortunately, we are blessed with a hugely talented pool of local photographers in Canada who can still provide coverage at events whilst I race to the airport repacking my kit as I go.

Wimbledon, William and a Mexican Wave

Rafael Nadal is hurt. A physio and a doctor have arrived on court to inspect his left foot. I scramble to position myself directly across the court from his chair to capture what could be a crucial moment in the match. It is towards the end of a tense first set. Temperatures have only cooled slightly from a sweltering 33 degrees C (91F).

In my haste to capture Nadal’s injury I had left my original position with just a 300mm lens and Canon Mark 4 body, knowing I had to be agile as I joined a crush of photographers.

As I shot a few frames, I noticed out of the corner of my non-shooting eye his opponent Juan Martin Del Potro complaining that Nadal is wasting time. Engrossed in this unfolding tennis story, I try to ignore the crowd who are restless and trying to get a Mexican Wave going.

The view from inside the Abbey

There were probably more than a billion people who would’ve loved to have been inside Westminster Abbey to see Prince William marry Kate Middleton and to soak up the glamor of what was, for a day, the world’s biggest news story.

I was lucky enough to be assigned a position inside the abbey, but though I got to witness the spectacle through a camera lens, my experience was less about pomp and pageantry and more about perils and pratfalls.

With the congregation dolled up to the nines, even the photographers were expected to smarten up. Abbey staff told us to wear “a suit and tie or female equivalent”. Dressed accordingly in my smartest jacket and skirt, I felt the part – right up until I saw the ladders.

Completing the Royal puzzle

As dawn broke over Westminster Abbey on Friday, myself and the other Reuters photographers were already on our way to our positions for the big day. With no donkey in sight, it already felt like we had done a days work by the time we got there.

Those of us with fixed positions on media gantries could access them from 6am which seems plenty of time for an 11 am start. But with the abbey doors opening from just after 8am and the guests starting to arrive shortly after it didn’t allow for much time for us to set up all the equipment and ensure our various editors around the world could see our pictures.

It wasn’t good for the blood pressure when we discovered the internet connection we had installed outside the abbey for myself, Kai and Toby Melville (who would shoot the key head on picture of the couple leaving as man and wife), had failed overnight and it was a frantic hour or so while replacement parts were sought and installed by our technical team. As with most assignments like this, the on day reality of the event often bears little resemblance to how it appeared in rehearsal or the day earlier.

Final preparations for the big day

The guest list was finalized weeks ago and the invitations sent out. For the lucky ones their presence was requested, nobody refused.

There was no fancily decorated envelope from the lord chancellors office landing on our doormat, but an email from the UK chief photographer asking you to be part of the Reuters team to shoot William and Kate’s wedding is an invitation you don’t turn down.

It’s like any other wedding in many respects; you worry about what to wear. How do you keep dry and warm whilst dressing for a wedding? Not as easy task.

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