Hundreds of photographers from around the world descended on London in late April 2011 to shoot the Royal Wedding of HRH Prince William of Wales to Catherine Middleton. CPN writer Mark Alexander spoke to some of the key people behind photographing the biggest pre-planned news event of the year to find out how photographic coverage of the Royal Wedding was planned and exactly how it was shot.
“Everyone knew it was the big moment, and everyone knew from the Diana and Charles wedding in 1981 that only three photographers actually got the kiss because no-one was expecting it; and it was shot on film, so people were changing rolls. It was a very quick peck on the cheek. All of us who were there are aware of the history of that picture,” recalls photographer Peter Macdiarmid.
Nearly 30 years on from that fateful day Peter Macdiarmid, now a senior news photographer with Getty Images, was perched on the Queen Victoria Memorial along with 60 other photographers facing Buckingham Palace on a cloudy Friday afternoon in late April 2011. He had arrived at 6am, but it had taken five months of preparation to get him there.
Like the dozens of other photographers who were shooting the event for Getty Images that day, his job was to capture iconic images that would encapsulate the celebrations surrounding the wedding of the newly-titled Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, otherwise previously known as HRH Prince William of Wales and his long-term girlfriend Kate Middleton. “I wasn’t going to take my eye off the viewfinder from the moment they got on to the balcony to the moment they left it because my life would not have been worth living if I had missed the kiss,” reveals Macdiarmid.
It took Macdiarmid two hours to set up his equipment. He had transported his “inordinate amount of kit”, which included four camera bodies, four lenses, two tripods and multitude of triggers, to the Queen Victoria Memorial in two robust trolleys. After connecting the cameras either together or hooking them up with foot pedals, he settled himself to capture what would become one of the most recognised images of the year.
“I was remarkably calm,” he recalls. “Once they had come out onto the balcony, and I had very quickly checked the exposure by looking at the back of the camera, I was happy I was getting what I wanted. I was concentrating so hard on the technical things like framing, exposure and remembering to push the foot pedal that I didn’t have time to think about the bigger picture. I only thought about the significance of the kiss afterwards. I do remember feeling slightly relieved that they did actually kiss.”
Although ‘the kiss’ was the shot all of the photographers had come for, there was another balcony image that was worth waiting for. Of the 2,000 images shot across his four cameras, Peter Macdiarmid particularly enjoyed capturing a more candid shot of the new Duchess of Cambridge.
“I was watching carefully,” he says. “I had heard one of the photographers saying that we should watch what’s happening inside the door before and after the couple come onto the balcony. So I was very conscious of keeping an eye on them until they had completely gone inside. I remember thinking it was a great picture at the time because it was unexpected. While we had all hoped for the kiss and got it, this was a truly unexpected moment.”
To ensure all of the Getty images’ photographers got the shots Hugh Pinney, Getty Images’ Vice President News and Sport EMEA, had spent a healthy chunk of his time since the announcement of the couple’s engagement, in November 2010, mulling over every conceivable foul up, mishap and calamity. “It was always going to be one of the biggest royal events, so we ran through every scenario that could go wrong. Ultimately you can over-think these things. In this case, I don’t think we did. It all went remarkably smoothly,” says Pinney.
With content from more than 40 photographers, 23 of whom were Getty images staff shooters, the logistics of getting everyone accredited, in the right place with the right kit at the right time was mind-boggling and was, perhaps surprisingly, left to the last minute. Pinney explains: “A lot of that was determined by where and when ‘the-powers-that-be’ were going to construct stands, how they would be allocated and how many photographers would be allowed on them. That only became transparent within a week of the event. Everything was pretty much in place, but the final ‘nitty-gritty’ decisions were made then.”
Of course the photographers weren’t the only ones hoping to catch a glimpse of the happy couple. The million-strong crowd that lined the streets of London presented a host of problems for the media. “In terms of communications, you work on the assumption the crowd is going to be so large that mobile phone networks won’t work and data networks will be swamped,” Pinney says. “We made that assumption and hard-wired various positions so that our photographers at the Queen Victoria and Crimea memorials were tethered, essentially moving stuff directly to an editor.”
Caught in the car
Laden down with three EOS-1D Mark IVs, three EOS-1D Mark IIIs and an array of lenses The Times’ chief sports photographer Marc Aspland also set up stall on the Queen Victoria Memorial. While there he managed to capture a passing shot of the bride-to-be.
“From the Queen Victoria Memorial there was the family shot, the kiss and the walking-in picture, and that was pretty much all we got,” says Aspland. “Saying that, I was pleased I managed to get a frame when she was on the way from the hotel to the abbey in the car. From a sports photographer’s perspective, I was able to do a car shot with a very long lens looking through the glass, which news photographers pride themselves on. It’s quite a charming picture. It was a very brief view of her. I had just a couple of seconds to get her in focus and properly frame her up, but it set the scene for the rest of the day.”
The Times publishes live photo feeds
The Times newspaper took a huge gamble when it decided to push the technological envelope to cover the event. “We got this new piece of software that enabled us to transmit the picture straight to a live gallery on the website, bypassing the picture desk completely and publishing the images within 30 seconds of them being taken,” explains Paul Sanders, Picture Editor of The Times.
Used in conjunction with WiFi transmitters, the software in question was Shootitlive; a content management system that helps media outlets manage and publish live photo feeds and video clips. The Times had six of its photographers tethered this way, each one providing images directly to its website.
For such a high-profile event, relying on new technology was certainly daring, especially when you consider the system had never been used live before. “We were the first British newspaper to employ this technology,” says Sanders, “and the Royal Wedding was the first time we had used it properly. We had tested it every day for a week before the wedding, but because of the volume of people on mobile phones, we didn’t know whether it would work. It was a massive risk, but I like putting all my chips down at one time, and it paid off.”
The higher the risks, the greater the rewards; so on what was arguably the most important news day of the year, The Times gambled with a new system and it worked. Like no other wedding, William and Catherine’s big day was a frenzied feast of kit and gadgetry employed to capture iconic images and beam them around the world. But for many photographers, this was a day when getting the shot meant more than just getting the job done. It was an opportunity to be a part of history.
Evoking memories of an earlier wedding
Although The Times successfully published live photo feeds a more measured approach was taken to ensure an image shot by Marc Aspland bore a striking resemblance to a much earlier age. “We’d had half a dozen forward-planning meetings,” remembers Aspland. “During one of those meetings we discussed the idea of creating a series of pictures that would look as if they had been taken at the Queen’s wedding in 1947. Nothing had changed on the façade of the palace, so we thought about processing them in black and white.”
Aspland’s view of Buckingham Palace was processed with a black and white finish and a ‘sloppy’ border had been designed to resemble a 5x4" plate camera view. The aged look was received favourably by readers and even won praise from the Clarence House press office.
Working with former Times photographer Michael Powell, who performed the post processing work, the team was able to send the file in time for the newspaper’s 4pm deadline. “We set out with a specific idea,” says Aspland. “To get it I used a 50mm lens, which is razor sharp. I used it because I had already rec’ed the site and knew it was a long way away. The 50mm gave me a straight perspective onto the palace. It’s a really sharp lovely lens.”
Shooting in Westminster Abbey
From an elevated position Richard Pohle, a photographer for The Times, was one of only four photographers allowed to shoot in Westminster Abbey. Being restricted to a specially made platform that was also being used by television crews, he had little, if any, latitude to create a varied portfolio of shots.
“I knew I had to capture the grandeur of the abbey,” he says. “As I was overhead and looking down, I knew my photograph would be a wide angle shot. In my mind, the couple was always going to be small in the frame. The picture The Times used [on a full page] was the picture in my mind.”
With limited light, Pohle had to choose his equipment wisely. “The EOS 5D Mark II was the perfect camera for that situation,” he says. “I paired it up with an EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM [lens] which I bought especially for the occasion. I knew I would be shooting in low light, so I wanted it to be as clear as a bell. The sharpness of the Mark II [lens] is jaw dropping. It’s not like having a zoom lens, it’s more like a prime lens.”
CPS support and training
To help photographers to capture a unique slice of history, Canon Professional Services (CPS) set up on-site facilities at the Jacobs store on New Oxford Street in central London. It was a place where photographers could come for quick repairs, sensor cleaning and to pick up the essentials. It was a place of refuge, but for some it was also a place of learning.
“On the day, we provided a lot of technical support, so for photographers who normally use EOS 5D Mark IIs, for example, and were using our EOS-1D series for the first time, we helped them set up the cameras for what they wanted to do. We did a lot of one-to-one training, and a lot of that was information beyond the manual,” says Frankie Jim, pro-imaging communications professional at Canon UK, and the man in charge of Canon’s Royal Wedding day operations.
There was also an on-site loan service with £1 million worth of stock to choose from. Indeed, with 98 pre-loans and another 87 sorted out the day before the wedding, the Canon drop-in centre was a hive of activity. “We’re not just a loan facility,” explains Jim. “We want to make sure photographers get their shots with the right lens and body combinations so their editors are happy, but we also want to ensure they can use their creativity or maybe show them a feature on the camera that improves their productivity.”
Like all good weddings, the success of the day came down to planning. “It was an awful lot of hard work,” says Jim, “a tremendous amount of planning, but great satisfaction particularly when I saw the sea of grey [Canon] lenses on the TV.”
The surprise Aston Martin
Matt Dunham (Associated Press) also had a brief to photograph the now iconic balcony scene, but he also had licence to shoot whatever came into his field of vision. For a sports photographer more accustomed to reacting to the unexpected, the opportunity to capture the royal couple in an unscripted moment was one to savour.
“Everybody thought it was pretty cool,” says Dunham. “By then, some photographer’s had broken their stuff down and left, or were having problems sending their pictures because the phone lines were so busy. The bigger agencies had put in Ethernet cables so that wasn’t a problem for us. We knew everything was choreographed, so it was nice when something spontaneous happened. It wakes you up a bit and it’s more of a test.”
Shooting at distance, with a combined focal length of 1120mm, Dunham made the most of the EOS autofocus system. “The EOS-1D Mark IV is an amazing camera. It tracks extremely well. I shot it with an 800mm lens and the new [Mark III] 1.4x extender which is really nice.”
Mountains of images
By the time all of the confetti had been swept up and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were settling into their new royal roles, the picture agencies were left with a mountain of images and their final selections. Tony Hicks, Associated Press’ Picture Editor for the EMEA region, personally sifted through 3,000 images. His efforts paid off with the company making more than double what it had invested within a couple of weeks.
Looking back, Hicks is pragmatic about the big day. “It was more of a marathon than a sprint,” he says. “An opening ceremony at an Olympic games is probably more intense because it all happens at the same. The wedding happened in stages, so by the time the couple got back to the palace, had a freshen-up and went out on the balcony, we were basically done with one part of the day and had moved onto the next. It was a nice progression. In a 100m Olympic final when Usain Bolt wins it in nine seconds, everyone is shooting all at the same time. It wasn’t as intense as that.”