What’s it like to photograph the Queen?


When it comes to a party, the royals know how to put on a show, and thankfully, after all the uncertainty of the past couple of years, this royal event will be no different. As we detailed a few weeks ago, beacons will be lit, there’ll be processions, parades, pageants and street parties, not to mention a star-studded concert at Buckingham Palace.

It certainly appears to be shaping up to be a royal event to remember. The Queen herself is gearing up for the celebrations with a short stay at Balmoral. She often travels to her Scottish estate at this time of year, but on this occasion it’s likely to be something of a break before the big weekend. 

In any case, to get you excited about all the festivities, we thought it would be fun to have a chat with someone who has spent the past several decades documenting some of these milestone moments.

As the Shutterstock agency’s royal photographer, Tim Rooke has had a unique opportunity to follow the Windsor clan all around the world and see the royal family’s duties first-hand. Here, he tells us what it’s been like to capture some of their most unforgettable occasions and what he’s learned about them from behind a camera lens.

CNN: How did you get into royal photography? Was it something you’d always been interested in pursuing?

Tim Rooke: From very early on, the role of a royal photographer always looked incredibly appealing to me because it combines the two things that I love most: photography and travel. I’ve worked for Shutterstock as its royal photographer since 1991, but I had been photographing the royals for many years before this. There’s something so rewarding about capturing and having access to some of the most significant moments in British history. It makes my job special every day.

CNN: You’ve traveled far and wide in your role and documented some of the most memorable moments of the Queen’s reign. What has that been like?

TR: Being up close with the Queen is truly a surreal experience. Being able to capture her in both serious and candid moments is something very few people will get to do in their lifetime. In my opinion, there is no one more famous in the world than Her Majesty. People across the globe have always been and will always be captivated by her every move, and it is down to me to capture her in those special moments so that the media can share them with the world. To name but a few, I’ve traveled with the Queen to Australia, South Africa, Canada, Thailand, and Ireland. The tours are always my favorite part of my job because there is less media in attendance and the royal family appear more relaxed. I’ve even had the opportunity to fly with the royal family with the Royal Air Force Voyager. It’s an experience comparable to flying on Air Force One. 

It is important for me to showcase her true personality, which is why I am always so pleased when I catch her smiling or having an interaction with the public. I think the thing that piqued my interest in the royal family is how mesmerized people are in their engagements, despite so many of them happening every year. Undeterred by the routine nature of events, there is still so much mystery with the royal family.

CNN: Tell us about some of your favorite snaps you’ve taken?

TR: Two photos serve as some of my most memorable shots, but I am looking forward to many more being added to my collection!

The Queen beams with delight while visiting the Royal Windsor Horse Show in the UK on May 13, 2022.

I have always found the easiest place to get a picture of the Queen relaxed and smiling is when she’s around horses. There are hundreds of pictures I have taken of her enjoying herself at the races — this shot was taken this month at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. It is getting rarer to see the Queen on engagements and even though the horse show is in her back garden (the grounds of Windsor Castle), we only saw her on one day, visiting the show to watch her horses compete. She watched some of the show from her car with her window down, looking relaxed, happy, and natural in her home surroundings. It is clear that she’s in her element when attending these events, and I love being able to showcase this passion!

The monarch peers through the curtains of Buckingham Palace as she waits for the Patrons Lunch to start on the Mall in central London on June 12, 2016.

This photograph I particularly adore, because I think it is such a relatable scene for everyone to enjoy. It was one I captured leading into her 90th birthday as she waits for the Patrons Lunch to start on the Mall. The streets around Buckingham Palace were filled with people bustling about before the big celebration. You can see the Queen ever so slightly peeking out from behind the curtain to see what is going on. The curtain twitch is playful and shows a sense of curiosity from Her Majesty. I am happy I was able to capture it because it is such a natural moment. In other instances, the trick is always to get yourself in the right position to make it look like she is looking directly at the camera but is in fact smiling at the person she is greeting or talking to!

CNN: Have you spent much time with the Queen?

TR: The nature of my role means I don’t have any personal relationships with the royal family, although I am around them quite often. However, I think this mystery and undetermined expectation helps me capture some of my best work. As the Queen takes on less royal engagements, it’s amazing to look back at the years and the incredible service she has delivered and devoted her life to.

The Queen chats with her youngest son, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex at the Royal Windsor Horse Show.

CNN: Lastly, having spent so long observing her, what’s one thing you’ve noticed about her that the public might not be aware of?

TR: She loves to smile and laugh, and she has an intense passion for horses. People often are nervous when they meet the Queen because of her status and from how they believe they need to behave. However, it is special to watch how she engages with the public at engagements — she always dedicates time to speak to crowds and can make the person she is speaking to feel like they are the only one in the room. She is a pro and is incredibly respected by everyone who she works with.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

Speaking of the monarch of the moment… The Queen hit this year’s Chelsea Flower Show in style, taking in the designs from the comfort of an electric buggy at London’s Royal Hospital Chelsea on Monday. The monarch’s mobility problems are well known by now and have prevented her from attending several recent events, but she looked to be in great spirits as she toured the show this week. The Chelsea Flower Show returns to its usual place in the horticultural calendar after being canceled in 2020 and postponed in 2021 due to the Covid pandemic. This year sees it celebrate the Platinum Jubilee while embracing a theme of mindfulness that runs through the garden designs.

WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING?

Meghan mourns at Texas memorial.

The Duchess of Sussex visited Texas on Thursday, after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in the state earlier this week. A spokesperson for the duchess told CNN that Meghan traveled to Uvalde “in a personal capacity to offer her condolences and support in person to a community experiencing unimaginable grief.” Wearing a baseball cap, t-shirt and jeans, Meghan quietly laid a bouquet of white roses at a memorial of white crosses for the victims of the school shooting.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex leaves flowers at the memorial site.

Queen gives rare access to home movies in new BBC film.

A new documentary will take viewers into the very heart of the Queen’s home, using the monarch’s own private archive footage spanning from her early childhood through to her coronation. The 75-minute special will reveal “rare private moments from the Monarch’s life including her engagement at Balmoral and footage from behind the scenes of her first tour abroad aged 20 with her family,” according to a press release from BBC Studios, which reviewed more than 400 reels of film held privately by the Royal Collection in the vaults of the British Film Institute. The program, “Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen,” features previously unreleased home movies to “show the fun behind the formality,” the Queen says, in a message recorded to introduce the show. “Cameras have always been a part of our lives,” she says. “You always hope that future generations will find them interesting, and perhaps be surprised that you too were young once.” BBC Studios Productions creative director Claire Popplewell said the film “reveals a warm, loving, playful family.” She continued: “Personally, I think the film demonstrates the love and fondness Her Majesty’s father, King George VI, had for his daughters Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. There’s a scene of him playing football and doing rough and tumble with the two Princesses as very young children that is particularly touching.” It airs in the UK on Sunday at 7:45 p.m. BST.

King George VI poses with his daughters, Princess Elizabeth and  Princess Margaret, in 1947.

DID YOU KNOW?

Prince Charles made a previously unannounced trip to Romania on Wednesday to meet Ukrainian refugees forced to flee their homeland as a result of Russia’s unprovoked invasion. The heir to the British throne was joined by Margareta, Custodian of the Romanian Crown during his visit. The two royals went to the Romexpo donation center for Ukrainian refugees in Bucharest, “to see at first hand the excellent response of the Romanian authorities and of international and local organizations to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine,” according to Clarence House. More than 1,000 refugees have been coming to the donation center every day for essentials and support, the press release added. This is the latest in a series of engagements Charles has undertaken in recent months in support of the Ukrainian community. Nearly one million refugees had fled to Romania as of May 25, according to the latest UN Refugee Agency data.

Prince Charles and Princess Margaret, the Custodian of the Romanian Crown, offer presents to Ukrainian refugees during a visit at a donation center in Bucharest, Romania on Wednesday.

FEATURED PHOTOS

Several jubilee celebrations have punctuated the Queen’s reign since her accession to the throne in 1952: the Silver Jubilee, marking 25 years in 1977; the Golden Jubilee celebrations for 50 years in 2002; and the Diamond Jubilee commemorations a decade ago for her 60th anniversary.

The monarch opted to mark other anniversaries, like her Ruby Jubilee (40 years in 1992) and Sapphire Jubilee (65 years in 2017), with less fanfare and without public events.

The Queen enjoys a laugh with two young well-wishers at St. Katherine’s Dock, London during the final Silver Jubilee event — a trip down the Thames river on June 9, 1977.

The Mall is awash with red, white and blue as revelers pack in to watch the royal family take to the Buckingham Palace balcony during the Diamond Jubilee weekend in 2012.

During celebrations for the 2002 Golden Jubilee, the Queen and Prince Philip watch an impressive fireworks display following a concert at Buckingham Palace.

Check out our full gallery looking back at the Queen’s jubilee celebrations from years gone by here.

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