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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2011-05-15
Covering The Royal Wedding
Up High in the Deep End
By Martin McNeil
So much can change in an hour that it can make your head spin. With my wife and two young children planning to escape London on the weekend of the Royal Wedding – mostly because it was my father-in-laws birthday, but also because staying in the city would be chaotic. We decided that, to avoid the high cost of kennel fees that weekend, I’d stay at home and take care of the dog.
Photo by Martin McNeil
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, waves to well-wishers as she and Prince William make their way towards Buckingham Palace following their marriage.
I sent a short email off to Linnéa Woolfson, the Global Diary Editor for WireImage in London, to let her know I’d be free all weekend to pick up whatever slack there was… perhaps to shoot a gig, concert or anything else that was going on, knowing full well that pretty much every other photographer on her roster would be tasked with the wedding.
That was at 3pm on April 23.
At 11:41 on April 26, Linnea called me on my cell phone. As I answered the phone, I thought “Oh, good – at least I won’t be idle this weekend.” And then she said some words that put my thoughts well and truly into perspective.
“We’ve got a spot free for the Royal Wedding on Friday – do you have a long lens?”
Nothing longer than a 70-200mm f/2.8, I said, though I could try one hire outfit that might have something with some more reach.
“Okay, give them a call and then get back to me”
I frantically dialed the one company whom I thought would still have something in stock and, sure enough, they were able to hook me up with a Sigma 120-300mm and both 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters for it. Not exactly what I would have liked but all their other stock was taken.
I called Linnéa back and confirmed I’d sorted out a suitable rental. “Brilliant!” she said “I’ll get you added to the list and email you confirmations when I have them”
Right about this point, it began to sink in. I’d gone from expecting a lazy bank holiday weekend with no one but my dog to run after, to being one of hundreds (if not thousands) of accredited photographers whom were going to be at various spots along the official route for the wedding.
To say I was a bit apprehensive would be a gross understatement. I was literally going into unfamiliar territory here. My wife took a different view, responding to the text message I’d sent her to let her know about my change of plans for Friday:
“It’s good that you’re nervous – it means you feel challenged!”
Photo by Martin McNeil
Queen Elizabeth II en route to Buckingham Palace after the marriage of her grandson, Prince William, to Catherine Middleton.
I had to agree. There’s nothing like getting out of my comfort zone; the initial fears eventually give way to a sharpening of my mind and a desire to ‘knock it out of the park’
Linnéa’s email arrived some time later, with a brace of attachments detailing protocol for the day and a PDF map showing me where my spot – and those of other photographers under her direction – would be. My spot was RW95: the intersection of the Palace of Whitehall and Horse Guards Avenue.
The next day came and my Sigma rental and the 1.4x TC arrived. The lens worked perfectly, but mounting the TC was giving me an “fEE” error on my D3 body. A closer inspection and it looked like the rear mount on the TC was fractionally misaligned. I wasn’t overly concerned as I had the 2.0x TC arriving the next day. Little did I know this was to be the first of a few glitches!
An early rise on Thursday had me heading in to the offices of Getty Images for a pre-event briefing by their senior staff. Scheduled to run from 10am – 11:30 am, the room soon became packed with forty photographers, a few dozen volunteers whom were acting as card runners on the day, and the head admin, sales and technical staff who were tasked with ensuring a smooth operation. Being present at that briefing went a long way to calming my nerves as it answered every possible question I could have.
My next stop was number 22 Whitehall – one of the Cabinet Office’s buildings – to collect my official pass for the day… and yet another glitch. The staff there couldn’t find my name on their list and asked for contact details of whomever assigned me to the spot. Fifteen minutes later, they’d found my details but then told me my pass wouldn’t be ready for another hour or so. I put the waiting time to good use and headed south down Whitehall to scout out where I’d be shooting.
An hour later, I was able to collect my pass and start heading home. The Sigma 2.0x TC had arrived and a quick test confirmed that it was working just fine. At 8pm, with the kids tucked up in bed, I started running through my own checklist to ensure I had everything ready for the day.
Memory cards: cleared and formatted. Batteries: charged. Laptop: software updated, fully charged, spare battery and mains cable packed – and so on…
By the time I’d checked everything, it was around 11pm. I had to be up and awake at around 3:30am in order to catch the first of two trains that would get me into central London for the press pens opening at 6am. I think I got about an hour of actual sleep that night.
Friday morning arrived with a kick and a shove. My wife mumbled that it was 3:50am. Despite setting my alarm to go off at 3:30, I’d forgotten to actually switch it on. Cue me getting dressed frantically and being glad that I’d triple-checked and laid out all my gear the night before.
I made the 4:22am train with moments to spare and got into Westminster tube station at 5:25 on the dot. Stumbling up the stairs into the pre-dawn glow, I lucked out as St Stephen’s Tavern was open on the corner of the station, serving full English breakfasts with a pot of tea, all for just £7.20. Fed and watered properly, I headed northwards up the Palace of Whitehall to find my designated spot.
Turns out that, when scouting my position the other day, I wasn’t to be penned in at ground level behind a waist-high barrier as I had thought – what I had reckoned to be an elevated box reserved for TV crews was in fact position RW95, with space for eight photographers and their two media escorts. Perched about twelve feet off the ground, there was just a narrow wooden stepladder lashed to a scaffolding pole to get us up to our places.
Once up in the box, the waiting game began. The weather was overcast, mild and breezy, making it feel distinctly chilly perched up in the "birds nest" looking across onto the grounds of the Household Cavalry. I couldn’t help but think that, as much as I was up above street level, I was also now firmly in the deep end.
With little change in the weather, it soon became clear that the next challenge was to get clean shots of royals and guests in their cars as they departed for Westminster Abbey. Their vehicles would approach us head on from the grounds opposite, so there was a narrow window of opportunity whilst they made a right-hand turn to head south. The fact that the overcast sky caused glare and reflections on the near side windows played havoc with any attempts at auto-focus, so falling back to manual was the safe bet.
The arrivals along the route were well spaced apart but the vehicles traveling a little faster than I had expected. Before we knew it, it was 10:50 and we all knew that Kate Middleton would be in her car an en route. Five hours of waiting was about to be punctuated by about a minute of sheer terror!
At 10:58, I caught sight of the car approaching the archway. I tentatively snapped a few frames, trying to focus as best I could through the windshield. Her car made the right turn and I scrambled to reframe, triggering the shutter as my fingers worked the focus ring. A few seconds later and it was all over.
Without time to think or check if I’d gotten “the” shot, Linnéa appeared on the ladder behind me to take my card and whisk it away to the office that Getty had rented at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre on Broad Sanctuary, close to the Abbey.
Photo by Martin McNeil
The crowd in the Mall wave flags and cheered as a ceremonial flight of a Lancaster bomber, flanked by a Hurricane and Spitfighter, made a flyover of Buckingham Palace.
The service well underway, I relaxed a little as some of the other photographers in the nest started to beaver away on their laptops, downloading their images and working as fast as they could to get their pictures wired out.
Cue another hiccup: Linnéa re-appeared on the ladder just a few minutes after she’d collected my card. It turned out that police had completely closed off all pedestrian road-crossing points near the Abbey for the duration of the service. I fired up my laptop and tried to get a 3G signal to wire out on but couldn’t get a connection.
Murphy’s law had been well and truly invoked.
Linnéa wasn’t concerned, though; she knew that once the procession had passed our spot en route back to Buckingham Palace, the cross-street traffic would be allowed again and she’d be able to run my cards back to Broad Sanctuary.
Cue more twiddly-thumb time, this time looking through my lens for any other frames of interest. Servicemen from the RAF were now parading just in front of our “birds nest” box but I couldn’t get a good angle on them. Southward down the street, more RAF servicemen were lining up to form a ceremonial guard on the western side. Directly across from me, one of the Household Cavalry was having trouble with his horse that had become nervous.
Before we knew it, it was 12:15 and we caught first sight of the procession heading northwards towards us. Because of the slope in the road, the shooting angle was somewhat flat – almost head-on, in fact, so I knew I wouldn’t get any usable frames until the carriage was a lot closer.
A shout of laughter from the crowd sharpened my attention and I spotted one of the horses galloping towards us, riderless. I pulled in the zoom and tracked the horse, snaring two quick frames before I switched back to looking south.
As Prince William and his bride neared in their 1902 State Landau carriage, I did my best to get clear views of them past all the obstructions: street lamps, my fellow photographers and so on. The Reuters photographer to my left got a bit over-excited and started leaning out well past his slot, blocking my view. I bit back my curses and concentrated on working around his elbows, panning and focusing as I went.
With nary time to catch breath, more carriages were upon us. First the Queen and Prince Phillip, then Charles and Camilla, and then a few more. I shot what I could get clean views of – a tricky proposition from our height and angle, as these carriages were enclosed. Linnea popped her head up once more and I waited for the green light on the back of my D3 to clear, then I handed my two CF cards off to her without even knowing what I’d gotten.
After stowing the bulk of my gear away, I made my way down the ladder back to street level. I remembered the final words from the briefing at the Getty office just the day before: “Once you’re done at your spot, try to make your way up the Mall towards Buckingham Palace.. you might be able to get an angle on ‘the kiss’ or some other interesting shots”
Easier said than done, I thought, as that was where everyone was heading! Despite the slow shuffle I headed off in the general direction of the Palace, not sure how far I’d get. After forty minutes, I found myself on the eastern side of the Queen Victoria memorial… I could see the fence surrounding the palace on either side but the sheer sea of people meant I had zero chance of moving any farther.
I knew that one final event was about to take place any minute: a flyover of the Mall and Palace by a World War II Lancaster bomber. With chance of another vantage point to shoot from, I readied a wide-angle take on the scene from within the crowd. It was all over in seconds… and so was my day.
It took me over an hour to get to the nearest exit gate, just two hundred yards away from where I had been stood, and then perhaps another thirty minutes to get back to Westminster underground station to catch the first of two trains I needed to head home, snaring a few more frames along the way. I was tired, a little sore yet still buzzing from the generally good vibe that was all around.
When I finally got home at close to five o’clock, I powered up my desktop PC and headed straight to the kitchen to make some tea. With a fresh brew in my hand I hit up the WireImage homepage and searched to see what the editors had put up from my cards… and felt relief as I saw in-focus, correctly exposed and neatly framed shots.
Photo by Martin McNeil
A shot taken with a Sony Bloggie Touch whilst perched up in the "Birds Nest" photo box.
Only one last task remained: wiring in those crowd shots I’d taken on the Mall. I worked through them as quickly as I could – the strong tea helping to sharpen my mind. I think I was completely done come six o’clock.
It felt good. Really good: infinitely better than what my original vision of that Friday would have been – simply relaxing on the couch with a book or taking my dog out for an extended stroll. In a small way I had been part of an historic event, one that I’ll never forget.
Resting her head on my lap, my dog looked up at me with raised eyebrows and reminded me that the long walk was still required. Like so many people, she didn’t really care for the celebrations that had happened that day… but she did benefit from the extra spring they’d put in my step.
Martin McNeil is a freelance photographer based in London, U.K.. You can see sample of his work on his Sports Shooter member page: http://www.sportsshooter.com/members.html?id=6653 .
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