Friday, 22 April 2016

My First Royal Tour

I embarked on my first Royal Tour with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with great trepidation . Some of the other photographers at the my newspaper are old hands but for me this was a daunting prospect, the only other " tour" I'd done was with Prince William in Malta a couple of years previous which was a rather low key affair after the bulk of the media cancelled when the news broke that Kate wouldn't be joining him .
I've been to India a couple of times already, once to shoot a feature on the Ganges from it's start in the foothills of the Himalaya's to it's finish in the Bay of Bengal and also a street food feature in Mumbai and Delhi . What had me nervous wasn't the location but the scale of the event, the logistics and having to work with a Royal  press pack who are a tight knit team and work and with the Palace press office on a daily basis unlike me . Considering that this Royal Tour also took in the mountain kingdom of Bhutan this really was an assignment I could swerve, this was likely my once in a lifetime chance to visit the fiercely traditional Himalayan nation .


The tour saw multiple daily engagements crammed into seven days in five different cities in two different countries . We arrived a day early to get ourselves organised including picking up local 4g sim cards to facilitate sending images back to London which the local High Commission kindly organised with the help of Vodafone . On day one we took in the Slums of Mumbai followed by the glitz of a Bollywood style red carpet event, I then stayed on the following morning to cover an engagement as the Pool photographer whilst the others bundled themselves off to Delhi several hours ahead . 








From now on we would be staying only a night at each location  until we reached Bhutan. From Delhi we flew to Assam and then a 5 hr bus trip to the Kaziranga National Park where the Windsors that evening watched some local dancers . The following morning I shot the solo pool of the couple on Safari where they spotted several Rhino .  At one point it looked as though the Safari shots wouldn't work as the couple were seated and couldn't be seen from the vehicle I was in ahead, but fortunately their Press Officer after some nagging from myself and the tv cameraman managed to persuade them to accommodate us and stand for some of the drive . Solo pools are frustrating as not only do you have the pressure of being the only photographers and the ear of getting it wrong, but also the knowledge that you'll be then handing over you images to other photographers and agencies who can sell you images on ! In fact looking at the Royal Tour edition of Hello i can see number of pictures shot by me but credited to other people, but that's just the way it is, for all of us !
After an incredibly busy day in Kaziranga we all shot off in various vehicles for the 5 hr drive back to Guwahati where we would take a charter the following morning to Bhutan . On arrival we discovered that there had just been an earthquake which bizarrely we hadn't noticed on the drive into town, and were greeted by other members of the team who'd been evacuated from the hotel and were still clearly distraught .




The flight into Bhutan didn't quite live up to expectations, after the stories I'd heard I was exception a white knuckle ride, apparently only specially trained Companions can pilot into Paro airport, and it was obvious from my window view that some hard turns had to be made on the final approach but the landing was one of the smoothest I'd ever experienced !
Bhutan was incredible, like something out of a TinTin book, with the majority of it's inhabitants still wearing traditional dress . On day one we had an official welcome, a palace visit and archery session to photograph which made some great images ( for a Royal job ) and a sudden realisation that our Bhutanese data sims were basically useless ! Luckily the hotels had excellent wifi but any plan to shoot live from the camera the following day for the trek up to the Tigers Nest Monastery were out of the question .




Only one photographer and one cameraman we allowed to go to the top of the climb for the monastery shot the following morning and to honest I wasn't to bothered as the trek to the midway point with our camera's was strenuous enough . I'd already decided to despatch with the 500mm lens as it seems to me that as with the Taj Mahal the following day , the image was all about the backdrop and shooting too tight would ruin the point of the location . It did seem a pity and with more time I would have loved to complete the ascent but to do so for a mass photocall would have spoilt the experience .
That night we were entertained by the Bhutanese government with some delicious local food, music and dance preceded by a brief informal drinks gathering with the Duke and Duchess . 



The following morning we took the charter flight to Agra for the final engagement of the Tour and the one that everyone in medialand had been waiting for... the Taj Mahal . 24 years previous the Dukes mother, Princess Diana was photographed sitting on a bench in front of the ivory white mausoleum which illustrated the loneliness and isolation of the final years of her relationship with the future King. 
We were greeted by a wall of heat and humidity when we descended the steps of the airliner at Agra airport, the weather in Bhutan that morning had been 12 degrees and drizzly, in Agra it was 41 degrees . The heat, weeks of tension and finally exhaustion from a relentless week on tour created a few heated moments at the Taj Mahal and resulted in me having some kit damaged and a flash gun stolen during the push and shove for a position . In retrospect I didn't need a flash but at the time with fairly hard light it seems like a good idea to be prepared, fortunately Adobe Raw can cope with all but the harshest of lighting scenarios ! For the tour, and with occasional other news jobs I shot Raw and Jpeg simultaneously so that I could send images live off the camera and then send a better high res edit off the laptop later . In the end it all worked out fine, a Pool of half a dozen photographers shot the classic image of the couple sitting on "Diana's bench" whilst a larger pool shot which I was in shot the Will and Kate standing below framed by the same backdrop of the Taj Mahal .


All in all it was a fantastic trip and one I will remember with fondness , I have always loved India and it's fantastic inhabitants and Bhutan lived up to all my expectations , if only I'd had more time to explore . Whether I'd put my hand up for another tour, we shall have to wait and see !


Nerdy stuff : For the trip I took 3 cameras, a Canon 1DX, 1DkIV and 5DkIII with 4 lenses ,  a 500 f4 , 70-200 2.8, 24-70 2.8 and 16-35 2.8 . I left my short primes at home as weight was an issue so zooms made a lot more sense . I also carried an Apple 15"macbook Pro, Lacie hard drive, Mophie portable battery pack and all manner of cables and chargers . All camera gear was taken on as hand baggage as I couldn't risk landing somewhere with my kit in another city thousands of miles away !



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