Royal photographer Jason Bell's top 10 tips
- 16 November 2013
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
No cameras were allowed to film at the royal christening but one man was invited to make a record of the event and that was the photographer Jason Bell.
As well as the first official photographs of Prince George, his award winning work includes portraits of Sir Paul McCartney, David Beckham, Kate Winslet and Halle Berry.
Here are his top ten tips for being a photographer.
1. Start young
People often ask me when I decided to be a photographer. The answer is, I never really did, I just always was, even as a kid.
I've got pictures in the family album of me wandering round with a camera aged five. It wasn't a decision; I always took pictures.
The magical moment for me was probably being given the keys to the school darkroom when I was 14. I seemed to be the only person who used it, so I had it all to myself. Doing everything from beginning to end, that was magical to me. That was when I knew most clearly that this was what I had to do.
2. Do your homework
To me, a great photograph goes beyond just being something beautiful to look at. I suppose, to be a better portrait photographer than everybody else, you are trying to draw something out of a person that they don't show everybody. I think it's absolutely crucial to be a people person. It always amazes me when I hear about shy or socially awkward photographers, to me that's really weird.
You've got to be able to get on with people and you've got to be interested in them. I always research people before I photograph them. Do your homework. If you are trying to say something about someone, you need to know who it is you are saying something about. Everyone can point a camera, you need to be able to get people to give you more.
3. Get an education
I went to university, which I kind of hated in a way because it was such an interruption of what I was wanting to do. It was a fascinating degree in philosophy, politics and economics, but it felt like the back-up plan, something I was only doing in case photography didn't work out.
You can't really predict success, because you are being commissioned, so you are subject to the will of others. You need people to like your work and you can't guarantee that.
I just knew I wanted to do it. I became photo editor of the university newspaper. It was very much like my job now, I would get sent off to take someone's picture and so I quite quickly got into the habit of photographing well known people, I learned to interact with them and not to be intimidated by them. That was definitely good training. It's something you get used to, they're just people.
I think the first thing you've got to do is pick a project and go and do it. You won't get commissioned showing a little bit of everything. You can bend the genre you are working in once you are very well known, but I don't think you can do it at the beginning of your career.
You have to focus and work out what interests you. For me, I knew it was portraits. It sounds obvious, but you need to practice. You need to take lots of pictures, find out what you enjoy taking and what your style is like. There is no substitute for taking lots of pictures.
5. Learn to shoot on film
I don't miss film at all. If anything, for me, the digital age has created more magic. I do think it's brilliant that I learnt on film, though. It is a great training because there's a rigour to it and it's far less forgiving. You have to be disciplined and you have got to get it right.
I see a lot of the younger photographers now who have never used film and there's a lot of "we'll sort it out afterwards in post-production", which, A, I think is lazy and, B, there are limits to what you can do in post-production.
There is no substitute for getting it right the first time.
6. Don't freak out
The Man of Steel photo shoot for Warner Brothers was one of the largest I've done. I remember having 12 movie stars in a line and saying, "Kevin Costner, could you just move this way a bit? I wonder if, Amy Adams, you wouldn't mind doing this?"
They were all there, with big teams of people and I remember looking up from the camera and thinking "wow, there are 100 people staring at me!"
Part of the job is to cope with that. Don't freak out and don't go to pieces. The more you do it, the easier it gets. You have to be the calm captain of the ship.
7. Bring out the best in people
I do believe that people look better from one side than they do from the other, and they look better lit a certain way.
Can I make anyone look like Halle Berry? No. And nor would I wish to. I don't believe there is one ideal of beauty but I do think you can make people look better and bring out the best in them.
Only strange people like being photographed. It is a bit weird having your photo taken; you are giving something of yourself. Not everybody wants to look beautiful, some people just want to look like themselves and I totally respect that. Some of the smarter people that I photograph understand that and are interested in doing something more than just looking good on a magazine cover.
8. Learn to say no
I say no to things all the time. You have to be very careful.
For me it's very good to have an agent because otherwise I probably would just say yes to everything! I'm not snobbish about it, I'd never say, "I only do Hollywood". But the truth is if you start taking pictures of soap stars you're much less likely to be asked to take pictures of movie stars.
9. Say cheese
I'm a different person behind the camera, I become a caricature of myself. I'm a much shyer person without a camera in my hand. The camera gives you license in a way and it gives you authority because, when you meet someone, they are there to be photographed by me, so there is a sort of weird altered power dynamic.
I'll do anything to get the picture. I'll be silly or make a fool of myself, say daft things or make somebody laugh - but when I don't have the camera, I'm much more self-conscious or worried that I'm being an idiot.
So if I have said "say cheese" it would have been ironically because it's quite a silly thing to say. But I might use it now, it is a funny line!
10. Never ask, 'why did you choose me?'
I don't really know how the Royal Christening came about. My agent got a call, I guess. There was a lot of speculation about why I was chosen, but I don't know whether any of that is true.
It's weird because I would never say, "Why did you choose me?" It's not a very confidence-inspiring thing to say! I wasn't nervous. I think my job in situations like that is not to freak out. You have to be calm and tell yourself that this is a job like any other. That is an absolute pre-requisite of that kind of assignment.
I was really pleased with the results. There was a nice reaction to them. They are happy pictures and it was a happy occasion. I was very pleased to be asked and then really pleased that people liked the photographs. The response was quite moving.
I would definitely do it again, if asked. It was a great experience.