The secret diary of a royal photographer
What Queen Elizabeth II was like to photograph and the challenges of covering Harry and Meghan's wedding
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Working as a royal photographer may come with its pressures and challenges – being part of the media scrum, waiting (sometimes for hours) for the briefest of appearances, and striving to be the first to file a photo.
But it's also a position of incredible privilege. Ben Stansall, AFP photographer, gave The HELLO! Royal Club an exclusive insight into what it's like to work on the royal beat and, on occasion, be a part of history.
He's been covering the royals since 2010. Some of his most notable assignments include Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's royal wedding, the births of Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, and, more recently, the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.
Here, Ben chronicles why the late monarch was his favourite subject to photograph, the close calls on the day of the Sussexes' nuptials, and how lessons were learnt after George's birth, which at the time was dubbed the 'Great Kate Wait' by the media.
Being at Queen Elizabeth II's funeral was overwhelming
I did quite a lot with the late Queen. My proudest royal photo is one of her at Porton Down, which is a military facility in Salisbury. It was one of the first engagements she did after the initial Covid lockdown. Thankfully, her press allowed me to stand quite close as she got out of the car, and I took a photo of her with her head down. She's wearing this big pink rimmed hat and she has this huge brooch on her pink jacket. It was the last time I photographed her alive. And then AFP used it when the news broke that she had died.
At her funeral, I was in the organ loft looking towards the high altar. It was an amazing position to be given but it was kind of overwhelming to be there – a piece of history. It was the end of a 10 days of covering Her Majesty's death. And then to be there and see it all was incredible.
Her Late Majesty was the most professional person I've ever encountered
I think there was just a huge respect for Queen Elizabeth II. I don't know how to explain it but she had this sort of aura. When she walked into a room, everybody really did stop talking and take notice. I would defy anybody to walk over to the late Queen and ask for a selfie. Whereas I think with the King or the Prince of Wales, it's highly likely.
Before she arrived at an engagement, people were always understandably anxious. But she would walk up to these people, who were often towering above her because she was quite small, and just sort of smile and say a few words and that would be the solution. That generally put everyone at ease.
She was so easy to photograph. It was always pleasant to cover her, that's for sure. I think she was the most professional person I've ever encountered to be honest
The challenges of working Harry and Meghan's wedding
I had the pool position outside St George's Chapel when Harry and Meghan got married, so I took the first pictures of them emerging and their first kiss on the steps. They had built a platform opposite the top of the chapel steps so that we were shooting almost at the same level as them, which was great.
But it was a blazing hot day and the sun was fully on the steps. As they emerged from the chapel, which was quite dark, they came into the bright sunlight and so very quickly I had to change the camera settings, otherwise it would have been massively overexposed.
Nikon had given me a new lens to use for the day too. It was the perfect lens, I don't think it had even been released at the time, so I was using this brand-new lens that I hadn't used before. That added to the anxiety a little bit.
I just remember shooting and hitting the button to see the screen and this sort of overwhelming relief that the pictures were exposed correctly.
Meghan knows what makes a good picture
I have photographed Harry and Meghan quite a lot. Obviously Meghan has a different background as actress. I think this meant she gave more to the cameras than other royals.
She is literally looking straight down the lens of my camera when she walked out of the chapel. She knows exactly where the photographers are and she's looking at them. I think she's very aware of her surroundings and what makes a good picture.
Covering Prince George's birth was 'crazy'
The build-up to Prince George's birth lasted for weeks. Over the road from the Lindo Wing's entrance, there were literally hundreds of step ladders. There were loads of guys, some of them were camping out. So it really made a tricky time for everybody, for people trying to visit the hospital, but even just to walk down the street. It was crazy. Everyone was on high alert.
I think with George, lessons were learned quite quickly. For the subsequent two children, the Palace organised a grid system, a bit like when there's an election at Downing Street. They marked up the streets in squares and then your name or your agency's name came out of a hat and you were given, for example, Row A, Position 20. And that's where you went.
We were also told no camping outside, and no trying to get a picture of Princess Kate on her way to hospital, which is something that other agencies perhaps would try. The Palace announced when she was in hospital and that we were then welcome to come down and take our spot. So it was far more organised and it ran a lot smoother.
I think that's what I like about the Palace: that if something happens, they really learn and the next time it's changed, and it's changed for the better, which is a really good way of working.
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