As Rex Shutterstock’s accredited royal photographer for 25 years, Tim Rooke knows a thing or two about covering a regal event. So it’s no surprise that May 19th found him outside St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle at 7.30am, with two D5 bodies, the new 180-400mm and his trusty 70-200mm to photograph the much-anticipated wedding of a certain Mr H Windsor and Ms M Markle. It was the third major British royal wedding of Tim’s career, following on from Prince Charles and Camilla in 2005, and Prince William and Kate Middleton in April 2011. He explains what it’s like to photograph such a momentous occasion, and to have a job that stops the conversation at dinner parties…

What was your vantage point like – good, bad or ugly?

On an occasion like this, it’s a lottery as to where you’re positioned. While I’d been hoping for the West Steps of St George’s Chapel, where Meghan would be making her entrance and where she and Harry would be first appearing after the service, I found out a couple of days beforehand that I’d been allocated the Galilee Porch entrance, which the royal family would be using. Obviously, I would have preferred being at the West Steps to get those first shots of Meghan in the dress as she stepped out of the car, and “the kiss” after the ceremony, but that’s the luck of the draw; it goes with the job.

As it turned out, the Galilee Porch was probably the next best position. It was great for pictures of the senior royals, including the Queen with Prince Philip, who was making his first official appearance after his hip-replacement, and for all the celebrity guests on their way to the other main entrance. It also enabled me to capture that first-glimpse image of Meghan in her veil, as she was being driven past with her mum in the Queen’s vintage Rolls-Royce. It’s the type of moment that goes by in a flash on live TV, but a photograph captures the that moment, and the emotion on the faces of the bride and her mother, forever.

Was it a long day?

I stayed in a hotel in Windsor the night before, and got a call from a colleague at 5.50am saying photographers were already being allowed in. But I’d done a thorough recce a couple of days earlier and decided that, within the allocated shooting area, it was fairly irrelevant where any of us stood. There was plenty of space for us all to work, and we were all going to get pretty much the same viewpoint, so I wasn’t in a rush to get there; I think it was about 7.30am in the end, after going through a lot of security screening.

From the moment the first guests arrived, around 10am, it was pretty much non-stop. It was an unusual crowd – from rugby players to Amal and George Clooney – and they’re coming by the coachload, so you’re picking them out and photographing them as fast as you can. Then the royals started arriving after 11, and Meghan herself at around 11.50am. After the service, I realised I couldn’t get a decent position for the carriage shots, so I packed up and went to work on my RAW edits over in the Nikon Professional Services depot at a nearby hotel.

It was after seven when I finally got home, but you get used to early starts and long days in this business, so it wasn’t particularly out of the ordinary. I admit, though, that it was hard work carrying all my kit in the heat from the castle to the depot. Although it was technically only a few yards away, because of all the security I had to walk about a mile the long way round to get there.

What did you shoot with?

I had two D5 bodies, one with my new 180-400mm f/4, and the other with the 70-200mm f/2.8, which tends to be my standard lens for most jobs, and I also packed the D850 and 600mm super-telephoto as back-ups. But I prefer to stick to one camera and lens as far as possible, because it’s all too easy to miss a crucial moment when switching between kit, so in the end I shot virtually everything on the D5 and 180-400mm. The 1.4x teleconverter built into the 180-400mm gives it incredible reach, and it was almost perfect for the job; I didn’t even take the 600mm out of the bag, and it was the same story for the D850. The D5 did a superb job: great resolution, great autofocus, very fast. Put it this way: I shot William and Kate’s wedding on the D3 and D3s and I was more than happy with the images, but if I’d had my D5s back then, they would have been amazing.

Any big differences for you between Harry’s wedding and his brother’s?

Access, obviously – I had a much better shooting position for William and Kate, right outside the main door of Westminster Abbey, and I also had the opportunity to get over to Buckingham Palace and get the kiss on the balcony. Weather was another factor. William and Kate’s April wedding was cloudy, so the light was perfect for shooting in manual – soft and flat. For Harry and Meghan it was incredibly bright, creating a harsh, directional light with shadows and highlights that are tricky to balance. To compensate, rather than use manual, I set shutter priority, adding 1/3 and 2/3 stops exposure to help bring out the detail in the darker areas.

How many times had you photographed Harry and Meghan together prior to the wedding?

I’ve covered most of their engagements, but a lot were big set-piece walkabouts where the photographers are stuck at one end. I enjoyed their trip to Belfast in March – at one point we were in this old historical pub, just me and one other photographer, so the access was great, and we were waiting for them to have a pint… it would have made a great picture, but apparently drinks weren’t on the agenda that day, sadly!

For their engagement photocall last November in Kensington Palace gardens it was a different matter; around a hundred photographers all lined up at the edge of the 30ft wide pond, with Harry and Meghan about 100ft away on the other side. When we arrived we drew numbers out of a bag, and then chose our positions in number order. There wasn’t much time to think – you just have to grab a spot – but there wasn’t really a bad place to stand at that distance and in the soft, flat light we were lucky enough to have. All you’re getting is variations in the background and the angle.

What’s 2018 been like so far, royal weddings aside?

I’ve just got back from covering Charles and Camilla’s spring tour of France and Greece, and I also photographed them in early April on their Australian tour; there were only three other photographers, so we had lots of time with them. When you’re abroad you get far more access than you do in the UK. I got some great shots of Charles on Vanuatu in a grass skirt…

The morning that Kate went into the Lindo Wing at St Mary’s to give birth to Prince Louis, I’d been at St Martin-in-the-Fields from 7am to photograph the Stephen Lawrence memorial service, but I had all my gear in the car in case I needed to go over to the hospital. I saw a tweet saying she’d been admitted and I was over there by 8.45am.

When Prince George was born it had been chaos, with the press camped outside for two to three weeks. For the birth of Princess Charlotte, me, the TV crews and a Daily Telegraph photographer got together in advance to work out positions and spaces, so everyone was allocated a position, and they weren’t allowed to even be there until Kate was admitted. We used the same system this time, so I already had my numbered position, opposite the door.

So I just had two things to do when I arrived. First, I attached my D850 with 24-70mm lens to the barriers, to use remotely in landscape format to get shots I couldn’t otherwise have managed from my allocated spot; the file size is so huge, just over double the D5’s, that with a longer lens it gives you the scope to crop right in. I then had to lay an ethernet cable to the car where my editor was waiting to sort out the pictures as soon as I’d shot them, which meant I didn’t have to rush away to do picture edits immediately the Cambridges went home.

What’s planned for the next few months?

Well, tomorrow I’m at a Garden Party for the Prince of Wales’ 70th birthday; it’s the first official engagement for the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex and there’ll only be five other photographers there, so I’m looking forward to getting some great shots. Then at the end of the month I’m off to Denmark for the Crown Prince’s 50th birthday; his wife is Australian, so there’ll be a lot of worldwide interest. A big part of our market is Europe, Germany in particular, and the European royals are very popular.

When we get into June it goes quiet for a bit: William and Kate will be off on “maternity leave”, and Harry and Meghan away on honeymoon. Probably the next big event is the Queen’s Official Birthday and Trooping the Colour, then Royal Ascot. Prince William is then on a week’s tour of the Middle East, including Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which will be a huge news item as the first ever official royal visit to the two places.

Eugenie’s wedding is coming up at the start of October, and then later that month I’ve got Harry and Meghan’s first confirmed overseas tour as a married couple. They’re going to Australia, starting with the Invictus Games in Sydney, and it’ll be massive. Harry is always good to photograph, and after doing so many shoots with him by himself it’s going to be really interesting photographing him with Meghan. Everyone will want fashion shots of her on her own too, but they can be quite difficult to get because Harry and Meghan are always holding hands, which means you run the risk of cropping her arm out to get a full fashion shot. I’ve not seen this much affection between two royals in 25 years of photographing them.

How did you get started in royal photography?

By accident! I finished my degree in photography at Nottingham Trent University in 1988, and went out to Australia to work for a small agency in Sydney, where I also did a bit of stringing for Agence France-Press. It was the Bicentennial, and every single head of state visited, so I got the chance to do a couple of royal jobs and meet the royal press pack.

When I came back to the UK in 1990, I continued to pick up royal work while I was freelancing for Rex Features. By 1993, I’d ended up as their official royal photographer, mainly covering foreign tours and royal jobs out and about in the UK. When I go out for dinner and I’m asked what I do, if I say “press photographer”, there’s mild interest. If I say “royal photographer”, it tends to dominate the rest of the evening.

Any advice for people keen to develop a career in press photography?

Find a small press agency and freelance for them, or get out there with your camera to cover events off your own bat, and try to sell them yourself. It’s tough, as there is so much competition and it’s driving the price of pictures down, but there are plenty of opportunities if you’re prepared to work hard. So be persistent, be positive and keep going – and if you’ve got a good eye, you’ll get there in the end.

What is it you love most about your job?

This morning, my eight-year-old daughter was complaining that she didn’t want to go to school, and I found myself automatically saying that thing all parents do, “Well I don’t want to go to work...” And then I had to shut up, because it’s not true. I love going to work. I love what I do. I’ve never wanted to be anything other than a photographer, so I feel very lucky, and very honoured. It’s a great privilege photographing the royal family and being so close to an event like Harry and Meghan’s wedding. You’re being a part of history and that’s an amazing feeling.

For more information visit twitter.com/royalfocus1