What a Duchess taught me about photographing people

I’ve had the opportunity to photograph many famous, prominent and interesting people through my career. I’ve photographed presidents, movie stars and people who made a difference in their communities.

One of my favorite stories occurred when I photographed Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, a few years after the death of Princess Diana. It was a last-minute assignment and I had to race to the location. I met the reporter and we were led into a small office, where the Duchess was sitting against a wall with two chairs in front of her. To the right of us was a public relations person taking notes.

I pulled my equipment out and listened to the conversation started by the reporter. The room was dark so I pulled my flash out of my bag. I politely interrupted the interview. I gestured with my camera that I was about to take her photograph and asked if she would mind if I used a flash.

There was long awkward silence.

The Duchess looked at me and said, “You know something?”

More silence. Then she said:

“You are the only photographer to ever ask me to take my photograph.”

Considering there was a time she was one of the most photographed people in the world, that was a statement.
After that moment, the atmosphere transformed and her demeanor changed from formal to casual. She nodded to the public relations person and he excused himself.

We had an excellent interview. She opened up and began sharing stories about her life and the Royal Family. After the reporter’s questions were answered, we said our good-byes.  She walked us to the door expressing her pleasure with the interview and the conversation.

That interview was an excellent lesson for me. All people want to be appreciated and respected, and not treated as an object. No matter your subject’s status or attitude, you should always be considerate and professional.

From the new book “One Hour Photographer”

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