Professional Insights

Professional Insights

Arthur Edwards

Arthur Edwards

Royal photographer, The Sun newspaper (UK)

A Regal Career

Arthur Edwards has been photographing the British royal family for The Sun newspaper for nearly 40 years and is responsible for many of their most iconic and intimate images — from a backlit Lady Diana in a transparent skirt to Prince William kissing Kate on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on their wedding day. He came to royal photography by accident in 1976 when he captured a "cracking shot" of a young Prince Charles in action on the polo field, and has since become a royal favorite. Princess Diana used to call him "Arthur," while Prince Charles tells visiting dignitaries that "Mr. Edwards has been with me for over 30 years." In 2003 he was awarded the prestigious MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for outstanding service to newspapers, and in 2012 he was given an honorary doctorate by Anglia Ruskin University.

From the docks to the press

I was born in the East End of London in August 1940. We lived by the docks, and many of my schoolmates went on to become dockers, but my mother wanted more for her children. She bought me my first camera, a Rolleiflex, for my 18th birthday because I had told her that I wanted to be a photographer. My dad had died when I was 16 and times were tough — my mother was an office cleaner and it was a huge amount of money for her to find to get that camera for me. 

I'd left school when I was 15 and got a job in a darkroom, printing contact sheets. I went on to assist the fashion photographer John French, but fashion wasn't for me — as an East End boy, I was out of my depth in a studio working with models —­­­­ so I got a job at the East London Advertiser, and it was the best thing I ever did. I had lots of pictures published; local newspapers are a great place to start.

I did a few years of freelancing, then in 1975 I joined The Sun and I've been there ever since. I started with general news and a bit of sport and I loved it. You'd work on just one job a day, so you had to put every effort into it. Press photography is always a job of peaks and troughs; weeks would go by without anything being published, and then you'd have a winning streak where everything you shot would make the paper, and seeing your pictures in print would be an instant reward. That's the oxygen that still keeps me going.

 

 

Becoming a royal photographer ‘by accident'

I was enjoying myself shooting cricket, football [soccer] and general news for The Sun, then one Sunday morning I walked into the newsroom and sitting there was James Whitaker, who had just become our royal correspondent. He asked if I'd like to go to a polo match with him that afternoon, where Prince Charles would be playing. I went and took a cracking shot of the prince, and the next day it was in the paper. Then my editor, Larry Lamb, decided it was time to look for the next Queen; Prince Charles had once said 30 was a good age to get married, and by this time he was 28, so I needed to find the mystery girl he was dating. Eventually I found Lady Diana Spencer. When they got engaged, Sun reporter Harry Arnold and I sent Prince Charles a congratulations telegram. He sent one straight back thanking us for our kind wishes, adding that he hoped we wouldn't get made redundant now that he'd got engaged!

 

Three decades with the royals

There have been so many highlights over the years, including seven royal weddings and six royal births, Charles and Diana's six-week Australian tour in 1983, and the births of William and Harry. I was outside the hospital when Diana carried each of those boys out as tiny babies, and now I see them as fine young men. I feel an affinity with them — I've watched them take their first steps, start nursery school, go to Eton, learn to ski, learn to fly, and so much more.

One of the most amazing memories happened while I was photographing Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, in Rome as they met the Pope. Prince Charles introduced me to the Pope, explaining that "Mr Edwards has been covering me for over 30 years and he's a Catholic." The Pope nodded in my direction, and I carried on taking pictures. Then after Charles and Camilla left, I was told that the Pope would grant me and the other five journalists present a private audience. I left in a bit of a daze. Just as I got back to my hotel, my son John, who is picture editor of The Sun, rang to say that the people at the Papal Palace — who are very, very slick — had already sent over a picture of me with the Pope. The Sun ran it the next day under the headline "Snapper Meets Pappa."

And then there was becoming Member of the Order of the British Empire. My mother would have been so immensely proud, as I was. I'd never expected anything like it. I opened an envelope one day in November 2002, thinking it was a tax demand. Instead, it was a letter asking if I'd accept the honor. When I went to the Palace and the Queen pinned the medal on my chest, she smiled and said, "I can't believe I'm giving you this — how many years have you been coming here photographing me?" I said, "Ma'am, it's 27 years," and she said, "Well, let's have our photograph taken together." All the years freezing in the rain and sweating in the sun... this photograph made it all worthwhile.

My most challenging assignment

In the last 12 months, my most challenging assignment has to have been photographing Prince George being brought out of the hospital by William and Kate. It was very difficult, but so rewarding, and nothing else comes close to it. This whole year has been about that baby being born. On the Sunday night I'd been at a Jools Holland concert over 100 miles away in Gloucestershire. Early the next morning, the news broke that Kate had gone into labor. I'd had my position staked out at the hospital for a couple of weeks, so I grabbed my wife and rushed off to London. Back in 1982 when William was born, it was just the BBC and ITV, and you knew every photographer there. This time it was a truly international event; there was a ten-deep crowd of over 500 press, including photographers, reporters and every TV network in the world.

When William and Kate walked out on the Tuesday evening holding the baby, I'd been standing on a ladder for two days in incredible heat waiting to get my shots. It was very exciting, of course, but a very high-pressure situation. No other job concentrated the mind like that one. John Stillwell from the Press Association had a prime position high up in the hospital looking down on the royal couple — I'd argued with the Palace to give a press photographer that position — and he got the baby's face. For me, that was the picture of the year. It was a day when press photographers were better than the TV; still cameras triumphed, and the TV stations ended up running John's shot!

There were thousands of pictures taken that evening, and if I'd dropped dead of a heart attack the newspaper would still have had images from all the other press photographers, but it's your own pictures that count. Everything else I've done this year has been "another job," but this was the future king. And to have been there 31 years ago when the man holding this baby was brought out of that same hospital, well, it was a very special, very emotional moment. Nothing can compare to it.

 

My relationship with the royal family

When you work with a family for over 30 years, things happen to shape their view of you, and your view of them. It wasn't so great at first. In fact, it was very aggressive in the 1980s, when everything was about getting the pictures and there was a lot of intrusion into their lives, so they were against us from the start. When Prince Charles first moved into Highgrove, I went down there with a big lens to get some pictures from a public footpath on his grounds. He was out riding and came galloping up to me, shouting, "What are you doing on my land?" I replied: "It's not your land. It's a public footpath, and I'm just doing my job."

"Some job," he said, to which I replied: "Well, at least I have a job." He turned puce with anger and galloped off. One of the policemen on duty later told me that they were having a coffee break in the kitchen when Prince Charles came storming in, shouting, "You're supposed to be guarding me and Arthur Edwards is on my front lawn!" I wasn't there for long afterward.

But it slowly got better, and now I have a pretty good relationship with all the royals. Over the years I've grown to like them all very much, especially Prince Charles. I never get too friendly and I never ask personal questions. He calls me Arthur and I call him Sir — but he acknowledged both my 60th and 70th birthdays with cards and a gift. He is an inspiration to work with: he's so passionate about people — especially young people — and he works such long days, never taking lunch, never stopping. To be honest, it's hard keeping up with him.

No such thing as a typical week

I get up in the morning and often don't know what's coming next, so it's exciting. Take this week: on Monday I'm doing a portrait, then Tuesday I'm at a meeting for a trip to India with the Prince of Wales, along with a magazine interview about a book I've got coming out for Christmas called Magical Memories, which features pictures from the royal year, including Prince George with William and Kate, and the Queen visiting Ireland. Last week I was in Sydney for one day with Prince Harry, followed by a day with him in Dubai, then I was photographing the Prime Minister David Cameron and the Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, in their private offices. Variety keeps the job enjoyable.

What's in my camera bag

I had a Leica when I first started out, but it used to take three months for repairs. Then I got my first Nikon, the F2. I got great service, I felt comfortable with it and I've been with Nikon ever since. The lenses are the best and the cameras are the best — nothing can touch them. I've never known a time when camera equipment was so brilliant. The advance in technology with small cameras is great, too — COOLPIX are fabulous. From £100 to £5000, the quality of Nikon cameras is unbelievable.

I'm still excited about Nikon, about Nikon products and about the fact that they keep bringing out all the right lenses for the job. NIKKORs are brilliant, crisp and unbelievably sharp. I've just got the new AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens on loan — although it's f/4.5-5.6, I just push the ISO up on my D4 and it's fantastic, especially with the Vibration Reduction on. I took it to Sydney last week because I reckoned it would be the perfect lens to take on royal tours, and it was. It gave me some cracking portraits of Harry, plus great shots of everything going on around him. 

But the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED is my favorite — it's the most incredible lens ever made. It's so sharp. If you have to take just one lens out, this would be it. I take more pictures on it than any other lens. I actually have two because I couldn't be without it, so I carry a spare just in case. I think the people who design these lenses are geniuses.

One of the great things about Nikon is that you get such fabulous quality and so little noise at high ISOs so you don't need to rely on flash as often — the Queen hates flash, so it's a real advantage, especially indoors. It's been the major breakthrough in digital as far as I'm concerned. You can shoot a black cat in a coal bunker with a Nikon. Until a year ago I was using the D3S, and I loved it; I was constantly amazed at the pictures I got with it. But if you don't move with new technology it leaves you behind, so I switched to the D4, and it's tremendous. I think it's the best camera ever made.

I also have the D800, mainly for personal use; I use it with a fast prime lens for holidays, birthdays and christenings, and I get some really exciting pictures with it. I don't tend to use it professionally because I need to work fast and I don't want to be switching cameras mid-job, so I prefer to carry two D4 bodies and keep the D800 in my car if I need to do portraits, because it gives such great results with them. I'll also use it for events like the "Trooping the Colour" and Buckingham Palace balcony shots, as you can pull anything out of 36 megapixels. I've had a safe built into the back of my Toyota Prius, so my cameras are safe and protected all the time, no matter where I am. I take all my cameras everywhere, because you never know what's going to happen.

My full kit includes:
Nikon D4 x2
Nikon D800 x1
AF Nikkor 14mm f/2.8D ED
AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II
AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8D IF-ED
AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4D IF-ED
AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4G ED VR
WT-5 Wireless Transmitter
SB-910 Speedlight

What I'd like to see from Nikon in future

Wireless integration built into the cameras would be the logical next step. But don't get me wrong; the WT-5 Wireless Transmitter is brilliant, and if you've got the right Wi-Fi link and modem, it's indispensable. You can crop, enhance and convert from RAW to JPEG in-camera, then send your shot with the WT-5 Wireless Transmitter, all in seconds, so when you're in a rush, it's very useful.

I was out in the States recently with Prince Harry and Senator John McCain. It was 9pm in London and I was able to send my pictures straight from the camera so they could make the paper for that night's print run.

Retirement can wait

For a boy who left school at 15 in the East End of London, I've had an incredible life through photography. I seem to have achieved nearly all my ambitions, and I don't think many people can say that. I've been in the front-row seat for so many great events and seen amazing places like the inside of the Kremlin, the White House and the Pope's office. I've been to royal weddings, christenings and funerals. Every day I get to meet amazing people: movie stars, footballers, presidents, prime ministers, and young people who've achieved so much with the Prince's Trust. I met Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest human beings of our time, and he shook my hand and said: "Welcome to my country."

I tell students that the most important thing is to enjoy what you do, so that you love all the hours in the day you spend working. I love taking pictures, and I love giving pleasure to other people by giving them pictures. When I photograph someone with the royals, I always send them a copy, because I know how important these meetings are for people — I felt the same way about meeting the Pope, and my picture with him still hangs in a place of pride in my home.

Yes, there's aggravation with every job — I get soaking wet, I miss flights — but the advantages are that I work with great reporters and editors, I have real camaraderie with my colleagues, and I get to do amazing things. I'm now 73 and still pretty active. I go to the gym three times a week, and have a wife who is totally supportive. Many years ago, David Frost told me: "If you love what you do, don't stop doing it," so as long as I'm healthy and the company supports me, I'll carry on. When I turned 70, Rupert Murdoch sent me a letter saying: "Seventy sounds awfully young to me, Arthur." And in the Solomon Islands in September 2012, on William and Kate's visit, William said, "I'm never going to let you retire; I'll put you in a wheelchair and push you to the front and we'll only look at you!" So while retirement will happen one day, I haven't planned anything and I've got lots of encouragement to carry on.