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Royal wedding photographer Hugo Burnand talks parties, prep and princes

Remember those beautiful official pictures from Prince William and Catherine's wedding almost a year ago? Well we had the chance to speak to Hugo Burnand, the photographer behind the world-famous images, and ask all the questions which have been on our minds ever since. Read on as we chat picture prep, asking the Queen to budge up a bit, and how you can get Hugo to take a picture of your own Diamond Jubilee party!

In a hurry and need a quick takeaway fact?

Hugo managed to take those three serene and stately pictures in just THREE MINUTES!


Hugo interviewHugo with his favourite royal wedding picture. Photo: PA

So, the wedding of the century - what was that like?
I had a good team of assistants with me and they helped me make it work. But in spite of the size of the team it was very much a wedding with two families coming together around two individuals. We kept it mentally and physically on that level.

Obviously you're aware it's a bigger story but we kept it very private and personal. When we stepped out of the palace at the end of the day and found ourselves in this mammoth crowd - that was when we really realised it was a bigger picture!

How much prep time was there?
We had a good couple of months knowing we would do the job and discussing how we wanted the pictures to look, then three days solid preparation within the throne room. We wanted the lighting to look like a beautiful spring morning which, as it turned out, it was but we couldn't know that for sure.

We did dress rehearsals with stand-ins from the staff of Buckingham Palace, we practiced if one of the lights failed how would we change it, we had stopwatches and spares for the spares of the spares... The benefit was that come the day we weren't nervous because we'd practiced it all so we just wanted them to bring it on!

At the end of the schedule there was just enough time to squeeze in one more which turned out to be my favourite - Prince William and Catherine sitting on the steps with the bridesmaids tumbled all around them. That came about because of the preparation - there was already a camera on a tripod in the right position just in case we were lucky enough to have the time to do it.

Everyone helped make it work - the dress was put in place within seconds, the bridesmaids and pages had been bribed with jellybeans. I'm incredibly proud of all the people involved in the picture and all the people you can't see who helped it take place in the three minutes we had.

Royal wedding photographer Hugo Burnand talks parties, prep and princesPhoto: Hugo Burnand/AFP/Getty Images


Were you worried Kate would show up in an enormous meringue-type dress and undo all your prep work?
I was as in the dark as everyone else. The first I saw of it was when everyone else saw it on television. Unfortunately I was watching on a widescreen television so I thought it was a bit bigger than it really was!

So how do you ask the Queen to budge up a bit without breaking protocol?
For wedding photographs like [these] the dress rehearsals are key - you position all the chairs where you want them to be come the real moment so you avoid things like that!

So how do you get people to relax when you're photographing them?
It really upsets me when people arrive at my studio and say it's like coming to the dentist - I know what they mean though. The important thing is to dispel all that dentist fear and make sure they're comfortable and happy. That way you start getting a good photograph immediately.

Any tips for relaxing your subject?
Every photographer has their own style. There's a great story where Norman Parkinson - he was a great fashion photographer - had to photograph David Bailey. He was standing behind the lens trying to get him to relax and David Bailey just didn't want to. He knew David would know all the tricks in the book but Norman Parkinson had his trousers tied up with a piece of string so he very slowly let the string go so the trousers fell inch by inch all the way down to his ankles. In the end David Bailey had to smile!

I don't do that, though - I just talk and chat and keep the flow going. There's no stop-start moment in a portrait session, just slowly building up what I want them to do. When you look at the pictures you want them to be relaxed and engaged.

Even with more formal pictures?
Definitely. There were three pictures I took [for the royal wedding] which were the official photographs and in all three of them I'm probably talking! The line up of two families with William and Catherine in the middle and all the bridesmaids and pages around - Prince Harry's smile absolutely beams out of the picture and it radiates through to all the other people. There must have been some banter and engagement going on from one side of the camera to the other in order to capture that.

Royal wedding photographer Hugo Burnand talks parties, prep and princesPhoto: Hugo Burnand/AFP/Getty Images


Are you doing anything special for the Diamond Jubilee?
I'm doing this fantastic commission - Schweppes' search for social monarchs. [Hugo has teamed up with Schweppes to find the nation's social monarchs - you can find some more info at www.schweppesjubilee.co.uk] We're literally going on a roadtrip the breadth of Britain looking for the three we're going to photograph. We don't know who these people are, all we know is they're creative people who love to give a party so they're probably quite big characters. As a photographer can you see how exciting that is? I'm going on an adventure!

Hopefully one of those people will be within a stones throw of London so I can photograph the event on the day itself. I live in West London and we've got a street party so I'm going to that as well! I'm hoping we get a bit of the cliche - I want there to be lots of bunting - I like bunting inside and outside - it always looks fun! And Union Jack cupcakes maybe?

What's the most important thing for you when you're attending a party?
When the host and hostess greet you with a big smile, a warm hug and maybe a drink when you arrive. It's so nice that you take that energy through with you to the rest of the party. That's probably going to be key to who we choose - those people who make you feel welcome from the start. That sort of good will feeds itself.

Hugo Burnand has teamed up with Schweppes to find the nation's social monarchs: the kings and queens of entertaining who are celebrating the Diamond Jubilee in style. To nominate yourself or a friend as a social monarch, or to pick up some great tips for your Jubilee party visit www.schweppesjubilee.co.uk