Prince William at Imperial War Museum for SkillForce

It’s always the way that when you get busy you haven’t got time to keep up to date with the paperwork. This last week I had the pleasure of attending an event at the Imperial War Museum hosted by Skillforce to celebrate their 10th anniversary.

Skillforce is a great charity who use ex service people to mentor children in schools. Utilising their volunteers training and self discipline skills to influence and encourage those who have lost their way.

The charity being such a good cause managed to secure Prince William as their patron so naturally he was at the centre of the celebration dinner and guest of honour.


Prince Willaim at Imperial War Museum for SkillForce charity
Prince Willaim at Imperial War Museum for SkillForce charity looks at childens projects

I’d been commissioned to cover the event by the event organiser a lady I’ve known and worked with for many years through different organisations and I suppose it’s a credit to my skills that she still keeps coming back to me as supplier of choice for the important jobs for almost 20 years now.

In my 25 year plus career I’ve had the advantage of covering many royal and VIP attended events. One tends to get known for jobs where you have achieved good results and generally more of that sort of work. This is why I’ve covered everything from the Queens Golden wedding anniversary to visits by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in the past.

This event was going to be special for me though as although I’d worked in the Imperial War Museum in the past documenting a new gallery for it’s designer this was actually going to be my first visit to the venue for an event.

For an events photographer exploring a new venue is an exciting prospect but also one with some little risk. One needs to know exactly what you are going to get before any VIP starts walking into the scene.

With these thoughts in mind and knowing the event was due to start at about 6.45pm I arrived at the venue at around 5.30pm to not only know where each area was to be working was related to each other but also get a chance to shoot a few test shots to check the lighting levels and what style of shots I might want to shoot.

The museum was still open to the public when I arrived but sniffer dogs were starting to be deployed as some individual galleries and event areas where already shut off. It’s quite funny to think these wonderful little dogs were used to search for weapons and explosives amongst V2 rockets, Tanks and a million other weapons on display there!

Arriving so early I got the chance to see the main event floor on the ground floor of the museum cleared of exhibits, items that one would have thought were immovable were just trollied off to make room for the many circular dinning tables for the main dinner.


The main hall being prepared for dinner

This action gave me plenty to shoot for my test shots to get an overall feeling for the light levels generally in the room. Low being the main description that could be used but with today’s digital cameras and their sensitive chips it was possible to shoot wide shots of the room without the need for auxiliary lighting by winding the camera up to 3200 ISO and hand holding at slowish shutter speeds.

There was going to be two further areas used for drinks receptions, the first a large open area on the 4th floor already set with cocktail tables and a bar when I arrived. This had been tastefully lit with orange uplighters which complimented the curved roof. This area was to be used for the general guests pre dinner.


The general reception area.

A further area on the floor above called the Ashcroft Gallery was to be used for the VIP drinks reception and where the Prince would meet the charities important guests including not only Lord Ashcroft a sponsor of both the gallery and the charity but also about 9 children and their associated charity support volunteers.

This room was going to be the important one for the photography. Here the Prince would be introduced first to the children and then to about 30-40 other supporters of the charity. This would be where I had to do all my handshake shots. Each person there would be interested in a picture of themselves with the Prince.


A busy room for a VIP reception!

The room was full of display cabinets full of Victoria Cross medals and their owners heroic stories. The ceiling was a great domed white area rising to 20-30 feet above the room. Not an ideal ceiling for bouncing flash off of as it was so vast but if it was possible it would be a lovely soft feel to the light.

Again it was just about possible to get a shot without flash but they would be very grainy at the higher ISO speeds and very shallow in depth of field. So it was obvious that a balance was needed of a high enough ISO to get some of the natural light boosting the main fall of the bounced flash.

Content with my tests and knowing what I was going to try to achieve I proceeded to circulate back round the three event areas capturing the room sets as they started to take shape. Exploring angles and views that were all new to me.

As the guests stared to arrive it was time to go and meet the children that were going to be presented to the Prince. I was expecting teenagers so quite surprised when they all turned out to be 8-10 year olds. This made it all the more important to capture each child with the Prince as there would be some very proud parents waiting to see the end results.

Before the Prince arrived his press secretary turned up to review the proceedings and here came the first of my surprises for the evening. The young lady was one I had worked with quite regularly at Westminster Abbey a couple of years ago. Not that it gave me any extra liberties. There was going to be an Associated Press photographer there to cover the event for the papers and we were to be both kept at a distance and with the press secretary. Having worked with the Royals for many years there are certain things as a photographer you aren’t supposed to do. First is get too close and disturb the meet and greet they are doing, secondly it used to be the rule that no Royal was ever to be photographed with a drink in their hand or eating. Thankfully this rule has been loosened slightly as time has gone on and people have realised royalty are people too.

First important part of the event was the arrival of the Prince, we accompanied the CEO of the Charity and Lord Ashcroft to the entrance hall to catch the first handshakes. It’s always a difficult decision to make for me where to stand as the Charities photographer compared with the Press guy – he wants a full on face shot of the Prince I want side on of both the Prince and the person he’s greeted by. So we both tend to take up different positions guessing which direction the handshake will happen in.


The first meet and greet.

Once the first shots are done it was a quick walk to stay ahead of the Royal party and get to the second lift being held for the press group to get into position in the VIP room ready for the Princes entrance there.

Prince William is great with kids and the pictures of the children’s faces while he discussed their art projects that they had done related to the first world war centenary was classic. Again we were kept to one side which made it a little distant for the furthest group of children at the other side of the room but in fairness that wasn’t really a much better angle to work from.


A present for the Prince.
A present for the Prince.

Once the children had been met then the press guy moved off to post up his images ASAP while I continued to shoot catching as many of the other VIP guests with the Prince as possible.

As the Prince progressed round the room and the press secretary realised I wasn’t going to stick my lens in the Princes face it all got a bit more relaxed and I was able to move about the room to try and get the best angles often requesting guests who have had their turn of meet and greet to move back away and give me space for the next people to get the picture.


Kate Aidie greets the Prince.
Kate Aidie greets the Prince.

It’s important to remember as the official photographer for the charity it’s my job to get as many of their supporters as possible in the pictures so one has to be quite bold at times requesting Lords Ladies Millionaires and celebrities to move all be it very politely so I might do my job. Since most want a picture of this nature they do generally cooperate well when they realise that others have done the same so I could get the shots of them. But there are always some that linger wanting to hang on the VIP’s every word!

After the reception the Press secretary for the charity whipped me down to the general reception for a few shots before everyone started heading back down to the ground floor for dinner. This meant lifts were being queued for so man and camera bags took to five floors of stairs to beat the rush. You have to be fit to do this job!

Now we were heading for the dinner the pressure was much less on me, we had a few welcome speeches, one from the Prince one from the charity and then I could go and have a bite to eat with the crew and wouldn’t be definitely required again until the Princes departure and the charity auction.


Time for me to eat as well!

It was over food that the second surprise of the night happened, it turned out the PR manager for the charity used to be in the Foreign Office and I had photographed him some 7 years ago in Istanbul with the Consulate General! What a small world, this guy had been my minder in Turkey while I had been doing the Foreign Offices annual report and I had even been to his flat overlooking the Bosphorus. It’s a small world.

The Prince departed after dinner and there was a line out from the charity to do the glad hands of about 20 people on his way out and then it was just the celebrity auction to cover. Dinner with Kate Aidie, a swimming lesson from an Olympic medal winner, dinner at the Tower of London all helped raise thousands of pounds from some very rich and generous people.


The Duke of Cambridge departs.

My job was done for the night or so you would have thought. But no that’s not the lot of an event photographer, home by 1am it was time to sit down at the computer download the images and make sure the PR man had a good selection for the press on his desk by the time he got to his office in the morning! Event photography is not for the clock watcher or those who like to work regular hours!


Brian Russell

Copyright November 2014.