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The rise of royal photography

Photo: HRH The Duchess of Cambridge

Recently there has been a remarkable shift in the photographs shared by the royal courts. Increasingly, the official pictures are no longer taken by professional photographers but by members of the royal families themselves. Photographing has become a typical “royal” hobby.

In the previous decades, the royal courts instantly contacted professional photographers when there was a need for new pictures of the members of the royal families. This took place for quite a lot of occasions, and the photographers made sure to maintain good bounds with the royals. They were (and are) great clients: births, christenings, marriages, birthdays, anniversaries and so on, they all need to be recorded. Additionally, having a royal family as one of your customers brings great publicity.

The importance of royal photographs is not to be underestimated. Pictures are key to the relationship between the monarch and the public. It is impossible for a king or queen to meet and chat with all citizens. However, releasing photographs on a regular basis can give the members of the public the feeling that they know their monarch and can create a favourable image of the head of state. Definitely, photos of the young princes and princesses can have a great impact on the popularity of the monarchy in general.

Recently, there has been an evolution in the royal photographs, especially when it comes to pictures of the younger generation. We can observe a decline in the employment of professional photographers by the royal palaces. While a professional photographer used to be invited to take photographs for every royal occasion, today this has often been limited to official portraits, family photo’s, christenings, anniversaries and weddings. Of course, photographs taken by members of the royal families have always existed, but it was rather rare that these images were officially shared by the royal courts.

The very first photo of a new royal baby is a very important occasion. Increasingly, the parents have chosen to take the pictures of their newborns themselves. Princess Madeleine of Sweden, her husband, Chris O’Neill, as well as her brother, Prince Carl Philip of Sweden, have taken the first pictures of their newborn children. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have asked Catherine’s father, Michael Middleton to create the first images of the newborn Prince George. This choice was met with criticism in the press. Nevertheless, it was the Duchess that took the first photos after the births of Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.

When it comes to birthday photos, there are big differences between the different royal houses. Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge is most famously known for snapping the pictures that are released on these occasions herself. Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark also take a lot of the birthday shots of their children. Also, Princess Marie of Denmark takes images of her children. In Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Spain the birthday pictures are mostly commissioned.

Princess Estelle and Prince Oscar. Photo: H.R.H. Crown Princess Victoria

Last but not least, images that are released for no special reason are the most likely to be taken by the royals themselves. The Swedish royals often share photos of their little ones that they have made themselves. Also, Princess Charlene of Monaco often takes the pictures of her twins and posts them on Instagram. The Duke of Sussex and the Duchess of Cambridge have both recently shared pictures that they have taken while being abroad. The photos give insight from their perspective.

In general, it can be argued that on official occasions the help of a professional photographer is requested. However, this is not always the case. The official 18th birthday portrait of Princess Elisabeth of Belgium that will also feature on an official stamp has been taken by her father, King Philippe of Belgium. Nevertheless, most royal courts have tried to find a balance in employing a professional photographer and using in-house photographs.

The shift in official photographs can be explained in several ways. First of all, having pictures made by a member of the Royal Family gives a personal touch. People can appreciate this “sneak peek” in the daily life of a royal family. In addition, the young princes and princesses will often be more at ease because the photo is taken by their parents or family members. It is also less intrusive; a professional photographer does not have to be welcomed in the private environment which is important when, for example, the first baby pictures are taken. It is also an effective way to save money. And then there is social media. Social media has become the perfect informal platform to share pictures taken by the members of the royal family themselves. Increasingly, the royals directly head to Instagram or Facebook to share a personal message, with or without a photo.

About author

Laura is from Belgium and has a passion for all things royal. She is Europe Correspondent for Royal Central since October 2016 and has contributed to other news websites. In her daily life she is a fulltime student in EU-politics and political communication.