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Examined Life: Chris Jackson (BSc 2002)

31 May 2018

Chris Jackson (BSc 2002) is the award-winning Royal photographer for Getty Images, one of the world’s leading photo agencies.

The Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex) was an incredible experience. From the grounds of Windsor Castle there was a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere. It was incredible to see so many representatives from Prince Harry’s charities such as Sentebale invited to witness at first hand such a special day. I was there to capture the Royal couple’s first moments as a married couple.

My job is about trying to capture that excitement. When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge married, more than two billion people watched. We had a team of 30 photographers covering every perspective. We even shot it in 3D. I was shooting the Duke and Duchess when they came out of Westminster Abbey. My pictures went straight to the Getty Images editing team, through a cable which had been specially laid under the road. Then it was just – woosh – and my pictures had gone all around the world.

In terms of practicalities, I always recce the position first and check I’ve got the right lenses. On the night I’ll stay in a hotel round the corner so I can get past the crowds – you just can’t risk not being able to get there. Last Royal Wedding, I was up at two in the morning, testing all my equipment.

As a Royal photographer, I’ve got a front row seat to moments in history. It’s such a buzz to be part of that. I meet so many amazing people, from all walks of life, even world leaders. The Royal Family make great subjects – there are so many different personalities. I love photographing Prince George, he’s so sweet.

No two days are the same in the Royal Diary. But there are lots of traditional things – Royal Ascot, Trooping the Colour, the Highland Games.  I might be doing formal portraits one moment then something relaxed in Africa the next.

I feel very privileged to travel, and I’m very grateful. There will be Royal Tours throughout the year, but who goes will be dependent on circumstance – is someone pregnant? Is there a wedding? Last September I photographed the Invictus Games in Toronto: that was great; Prince Harry is so passionate about it, and of course it was the Duchess of Sussex’s first official appearance. I also had a great trip to Italy with the Prince of Wales. This year, of course we went to Australia for the Commonwealth Games, and had a great trip to Sweden and Norway with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Working with Sentebale [Prince Harry’s charity] is the most rewarding thing I’ve done. The kids you meet are incredible, and a lot of them have HIV – but we were able to bring the cameras out and teach them some photography which was fantastic. The kids absolutely loved it.

There are a lot of Royals with interests in photography. We’ve seen the Queen use a camera a few times! The Duchess of Cambridge has taken some lovely pictures; we’ve seen some that she’s taken recently of Princess Charlotte.

Over the years I’ve done lots of things outside of Royal engagements. I’ve trekked Kilimanjaro for Red Nose Day, worked with luxury brands, and at the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals. That’s the great thing about Getty Images, we work in lots of areas and have an incredible team of people.

I didn’t go into my career with a certainty that I’d become a Royal photographer. These things develop organically. I’m an artsy person, but science felt like the sensible thing to do! I took a degree in the subjects that had interested me at A-Level: biology, physics, and chemistry. Cardiff’s course in Physiology and Psychology was unique. I’m really glad I did it because it gave me the skills to study and a different method of doing things.

Cardiff was a really great place to go to uni, because it was so relaxed.  Being from the Brecon Beacons, I knew Cardiff quite well. But I got to know it in a different way as a student. I probably spent a bit much too much time in Jive Hive – it was every Wednesday, for about two-and-a-half years! I also used to work in The End pub, which isn’t there now. It was a very good time in life.

I spent my first student loan payment on a camera. I was seeing my pictures published every week in Gair Rhydd and being sent on assignments like: ‘Is there a rubbish issue in Cardiff?’ and ‘Are energy drinks bad for your health?’ Sometimes I got my friends to model, they were always willing subjects!

I had a dark room in the cellar of my house on Woodville Road. It was a dump, so I cleaned it all up. I was getting really into developing my photos, and my flatmates were probably wondering where I had gone.

You’ve got to be really passionate to make it in photography, and work hard. After university, I moved to London and did lots of work experience at places like Reuters. I got a graduate loan to buy the cameras and computers and everything I needed. I shot in my free time, and went to cover anything I could cover. It meant I was starting to build up a portfolio to show my bosses at Getty Images.

There’s no strict rule for taking a good photo. What’s important is deciding how you approach the subject: you might be trying to achieve something abstract, you might be trying to make a true documentary of what’s in front of you. You need to react quickly to any situation, be it a change in light or placement – and I always have to get to places hours early to prepare. Don’t be late!

I’d love to come back to Cardiff. It’s a great city. I’d like to run the Cardiff University/Cardiff Half Marathon! As soon as I get back, I go on a run. It’s the best way to see everything so you know, and there’s so many things on your doorstep in Wales.

Illustration by Anton Brand