‘Her only condition was that the thistle robes should not get wet’
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I contacted the Palace and asked, “May I photograph Her Majesty?” The message came back: “Too busy to do it in Edinburgh, but happy to do something in Balmoral.” It was for a book project, Keepers: The Ancient Offices of Britain. The idea I had in mind was to take a picture of a figure in the landscape, one of the great themes of photography. One of Her Majesty’s titles is the Chief of the Chiefs, so that was what we were going to portray. I was influenced by a series of Henry Raeburn portraits of clan chiefs.
We went to Balmoral the day before to do a recon. We chose this position in an area of the estate close to where the Queen held barbecues, with Prince Philip as head chef, when Prime Ministers came to stay in Balmoral. Luckily it had stopped raining on the morning of the shoot. I was at the Queen’s dresser, Angela Kelly, who exchanged the Vladimir tiara’s diamonds for emeralds. However, a message came that the Queen would like to see me. “Why would I do this?” she asked. I said, “Ma’am, it’s an idea after the Raeburn portraits of Clan leaders.” And she said, “Okay, we’ll do it.” Her only condition was that the thistle robes should not get wet. We went back to the venue and had to do a little gardening and pick exactly where she would stand so there would be no hassle. Her Majesty was already dressed. The clouds looked ominous, but the rain held off. There were no mosquitoes.Read:Jane McDonald shares plans to step back from limelight amid happy family news after heartache
The shoot lasted two hours. She was charming and very patient. Towards the end of the shoot, as Her Majesty smiled and looked at me, the book’s author, Alistair Bruce, said, ‘Ma’am, the clans are gathering on the hill,’ so she looked over her shoulder. That was the shot.
I’ve photographed people with egos and problems. It was never a problem with Her Majesty. She was willing to do whatever it took to make the painting work. And as a result of that portrait, I had the honor of creating the official Diamond Jubilee portrait of Her Majesty and Prince Philip.
I am very sad about the news. The Union Jack flies at half-mast in front of my house. The queen was like my mother. It was a special moment when you were in her company. Interview by Graeme GreenRead:Britpop’s back: Blur to play Wembley Stadium next summer | Ents & Arts News
‘That smile you see was natural’
The invitation came from the palace’s communications director. A milestone was coming: In September 2015, the Queen was to become Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, but she didn’t want to celebrate with pomp and ceremony, in robes and her crown. Instead, she wanted an official image of her at work, going about the day-to-day business. My casual style seemed to fit well, and I was delighted when I got the job.
I suggested photographing her sitting at the desk. I had about 10 minutes to set up. We were in the Queen’s private audience room at Buckingham Palace. Here she received prime ministers for their weekly audience, and read and signed the documents that came to her in the red box every day. The desk was by the window which brought in natural light, and it all felt very intimate.
When the queen entered the room, she was accompanied only by a footman – with whom she was joking – and her director of communications. She was in a good mood and talking to all of us, and that smile you see in the picture was natural.
She was completely focused on what she was doing in those 10 minutes we had together. I decided to shoot on film because I like the quality of it – a timelessness and a depth and richness that you don’t get on digital. But it made things a lot more nerve-wracking, because I had to wait for the film to develop to see if I actually had any shots I liked.
The image came together beautifully: I wanted to capture her naturally and show a real moment in her life. Then I had to keep the entire project a secret for a few months until the image was released. Shooting her was without a doubt a highlight of my career and also the most nervous I’ve ever been. Imogen Tilden
‘The light was flattering and she has a slightly sassy expression’
Chris Jackson, Getty Images royal photographer
I’ve been shooting the royal family for 20 years now, from official portraits and behind-the-scenes footage to the routine official engagements. The Queen had a very special understanding of what she meant to people and the power she held. That’s why she always dressed in bright colors – so she could be seen. She was there to do a job and she got through it – she wasn’t there to have her picture taken.
That’s why I especially love this image, which feels very different from so many other photos of her. The photo was taken during a 2012 visit to Lister Hospital in Stevenage to open a new maternity ward. The light fell from a skylight onto her face in a very flattering way and she had a slightly sassy expression. Of course, she had to maintain a sense of royalty and dignity, but it was clear that she had a great sense of humor. I’ve seen her really connect with people for so many years: she had an aura around her, and when there were moments of laughter, it was genuine. You had to be on the ball to catch it.
I’ve just returned from the Highland Games, which has always been one of my favorite royal events to photograph because – other than the beauty of Scotland – I would see the family most relaxed here. I have some nice candid photos of her interacting with her family and the new king. At the end of the day they were just mother and son. She – like him – has an astonishingly expressive face. I loved photographing her. THE
‘I knew the postage stamp image was a particular favorite of the Queen’
This photo is titled Stamp of Approval. It took 12 years to capture that image at just the right angle: that of a postage stamp. I took a lot of pictures, but I never got them until, at the state opening of parliament in May 2015, I went back to my usual position on the Mall. She came around the corner and I got the shot.
I almost burst into tears. I was very excited and sent the photo to my mother. She said, “I didn’t know the Queen was sitting in front of you.” I said, “I took it from a distance of about 200 yards.”
I knew the royal postage stamp image was a particular favourite: when Royal Mail wanted to make it more age appropriate, the Queen sent them a telegram telling them not to change it. I also knew that she had photo albums in the palace where she liked to keep pictures, a bit like my grandmother. I sent her a 5×7 printout with a letter and got a reply asking if I would be willing to send a signed exhibition size print of the photo to be passed on to the Royal Photographic Collection for posterity. I sent it in and the palace returned with a second letter, saying, ‘I showed your picture to the Queen. She is very impressed.”
A lot of people said to me that it would be a very valuable image. But for me, it’s more about a sense of honor and pride than money. I’ve photographed the Queen for 32 years of my career. I even managed to take a selfie with her once. GG
‘I almost knocked my camera off the tripod and she burst out laughing’
In 1996 I was booked to do the official portrait for Her Majesty’s 70th birthday. We selected one of the formal rooms at Buckingham Palace. I set up my lighting with my assistant and several people from the palace and then I was shocked to find that when Her Majesty appeared, everyone else disappeared. When I realized I was alone in the room with the Queen and my assistant, Patrick, I got pretty nervous.
I had a Hasselblad camera on a tripod. I asked Her Majesty to sit in a chair for the first shot, but due to my nerves, I unlocked the camera from the tripod and it nearly fell off. My assistant pushed it back up and said to me, “Don’t do that, Mr. Aris.” The queen burst out laughing. I come from a photojournalistic background, which means I always have to be prepared to shoot, so I just shot two or three frames, and this photo was one of them.
From that moment on it went very smoothly. Terry O’Neill, a friend, had photographed Her Majesty a year or two earlier. He said to me, ‘Don’t worry. Don’t talk about football. And remember, when you’re done with the session, there won’t be another pop star, politician or actor to worry about shooting because you’ve just photographed Her Majesty the Queen.” GG