After many hours of thought, concern and general fizz, the day of the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton was quite definitely the biggest rollercoaster that I’ve ever been on. Thirty six hours after the day ended, I’m just starting to get a clear idea of how the day went.
The problem with this job is that a photographer puts so much time, effort and emotion into capturing a high-profile event that it becomes truly mentally exhausting. To an outsider, it may simply look as though I turn up and click the shutter a few times and head home for tea, but there really is so much more to it than that.
The day started at 5am with a taxi to the Queen Victoria Memorial, opposite Buckingham Palace. With the streets closing at 6am, it was important to get through the traffic and be slotted into position before the chaos began. Thanks to a stroke of luck with the positions, I managed to get a really strong spot to shoot from, so simply had pass the seven hours away with getting my gear set up. AFP had arranged for me to have a fast network cable to my position so, combined with Nikon’s WT-4, I could transmit my images straight from my camera as the kiss was actually happening.
Thankfully, the staff provided us a chance to see just how much of a throw this would be when they came to set up the balcony drapes. As you can see from the pictures, the shot below is the area between the two columns in the centre of the frame above. That’s quite a distance.
A downside of drawing the central position was that I was “trapped” within a mass of tripods, bags, cables and sandwich boxes so was unable to shoot many feature shots throughout the morning. This only added to my apprehension as I had nothing to distract me other than wondering about my camera configuration. As I’ve previously mentioned in rule 2 here, the longer a photographer has to wait for an event to occur, the more he or she will begin to doubt their kit choices. This results in a near-constant swapping of converters, lenses, clamps, cables or camera bodies.
With the use of a helpfully placed PA system, the photographers on the stand could hear the BBC’s coverage of the event, so we had an idea of when to expect our first view of the newlyweds. Thanks to a combination of the commentary and the roar of the crowds as they came down the Mall, I knew when to wrestle my way out of the pack and round onto the corner to get a shot of the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arriving at Buckingham Palace for the first time. As a colleague later pointed out to me, of the two “footmen” on the back of their carriage, one is an actual footman and one is a close protection officer, ready to dive in front of a miscreant’s bullet at a moments notice. Can you guess which is which?
Once safely inside, the police began to slowly filter the public out from behind their security fencing and along the Mall. With the possibility of a crush or stampede, the sheer volume of tens of thousands of royal supporters and tourists were thankfully held back by a thin blue line of police.
With the public in position, the time had come. After weeks of planning, meetings, equipment tests, logistical headaches and sleepless nights, it was the moment to see if it had all been worth it.
With a twitch of the curtains and a cheer from the crowds below, William and Catherine were there on the balcony. With my final decision being to opt for a Nikon D3x, I had to watch my shooting speed as the buffer fills up VERY quickly and takes an absolute eternity to clear. All around me, photographers who had opted for lower resolution, but higher speed cameras, rattled through their shots at nine frames per second. Being used to that kind of speed myself, the urge to gun it and hose them down as soon as they appeared was immense but I forced myself to shoot single frames at what I hoped would be the key moments.
Then, there it was; the kiss. After noticing an earlier look from Kate towards William that had been met by a whispered “No, wait a while longer”, he turned to her and they kissed. The crowds cheered, the cameras exploded into action and the adrenaline surged.
After what seemed like ages (but looking at it afterwards, was really quite fast), they separated. I quickly hit the transmit button on my camera and returned to shooting. Following a fly-past by a variety of aircraft that I didn’t even look up to see, a second kiss came.
With more cheers from the crowd and a final wave, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge turned and with a final look over her shoulder, they walked into the Palace and the doors closed.
I immediately scrolled through my frames and selected the kiss pictures and hit transmit again. By this point, four or five of my shots had left the camera and were back with the editors in London’s Centre Point. Relieved to have caught the moment, I phoned back to the office to check that they were seeing the frames. “Did you get the second kiss?”, I was asked. On telling them that I had and it was coming shortly, I was told that they needed them fast as the first pictures of the kiss were soft. It was round about now that my heart just crumpled. The problem with the WT-4 system of transmitting pictures is that I don’t get to see them or work on them at all; what I shoot is what the editors see with no chance to check my production or tweak the pictures in any way. While everyone else was sat around me discussing their shots, I was just left standing there in shock.
The next fifteen minutes were possibly the longest in my life. As the frames slowly dropped down the line to the office, I could only sit and work out what had just happened. Had I screwed up? Was it the set-up? Was it the heat haze? Were the second kiss pictures any better? Slowly, as the other photographers around me filed their frames, the phones started to ring and suddenly I was noticing that they were all saying a very similar thing. It seemed that a combination of the heat, the pollen in the air and the distance had caused trouble for everyone. With those people shooting on higher burst-rate cameras having more to choose from, they could pick their choices a little easier but we were all suffering.
Even with the knowledge that nearly everyone was in the same boat, I can’t begin to describe how low I was feeling. After such a huge amount of effort and time in getting the pictures, to hear that things weren’t perfect was heavy blow. It seems odd to admit this but it’s only a few days later that I’ve come to look through the raw NEF images and can see that the photos are actually pretty good but, at that moment, I hadn’t had chance to sit down and properly look through them. With no chance to check my output, the day continued with comings and goings from the Palace and lots of running around, laden with satellite phones, long lenses and tripods. It was well into the evening when I finally got into the office and saw the frames. It was a hell of a relief to see the results. With the situation magnifying itself in my mind over the afternoon and evening, I’d imagined the shots to be seriously ropey but in the end, a bit of considerate editing with the haze being taken into account had produced a decent set. This job really is not good for people who can’t handle stress.
Now this may seem like an odd post but I don’t want this blog to live up to it’s title of being just another “vanity project”. This job provided some real highs and some incredible lows but three days later, I can stand back from the heightened emotions and pressure of the day and see that I actually ended up getting the shot after all. The image of “The Frowning Flowergirl” Grace Van Cutsem covering her ears as the couple kissed has done very well, and other moments have made front pages in various countries around the world. As I said in the opening to this post, the photographer can get so unbelievably attached to an assignment that it will always have the potential to leave them feeling less than chipper. Combining this close emotional bond to the work, with the fact that the job itself is so full of variables and unpredictable events, means that I’m sure this won’t be the last time in my career that I get side-swiped by a job. Thankfully, the years have taught me that every dip has a peak waiting at the other end. Bring on the rollercoaster!