Set your standards high: We meet royal photographer Samir Hussein
You might not know it, but you’ve probably already seen some of Samir Hussein’s work. Having photographed everyone from A-list celebrities to the royal family, Samir’s pictures have been used on front pages of national newspapers, inside the pages of magazines, TV stills and even an Australian postage stamp. On the podcast this week, we find out how he came to specialise in this area of photography, the reality of attending high-profile events and some of his stand-out experiences.
Royal and Entertainment Photographer
BA Journalism, Southampton University
Photographing everyone from the royal family to A-List celebrities, Samir’s job often lands him in some pretty extraordinary circumstances. With such an unpredictable working schedule, his day-to-day varies dramatically – from shooting concerts for Shania Twain one day to being stuck on a bus with suit-clad fashion designer Ozwald Boating in Nigeria; and most recently photographing the red carpet film premiere for A Star is Born, starring Lady Gaga.
Starting out as a journalism graduate from Southampton, Samir began to re-evaluate his career direction after moving to London. Although his degree gave him a valuable insight into the way the media works, his mind was made up while working on the picture desk at a celebrity photo agency: “It wasn’t that I fell out of love with journalism, I just started to identify more with photography as a medium,” he tells us, “I loved having something tangible to show and share. And that people could look at and say ‘wow’. Whereas you could be an amazing journalist, but people might not always read your work.”
“A lot of what [the royals] do can be quite still by nature, so I’m looking to show more of their personality.”
Reflecting on his first jobs, Samir singles out the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton as a turning point in his career. One of few photographers invited to capture the couple’s official engagement, his photos ended up on the front pages of national newspapers. “After that, it just spiralled” he remembers.
These days, Samir is a familiar face at both royal and red carpet events, and, in particular, has predominantly documented the developing relationship of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – from their first appearance at the Invictus Games to their official engagement announcement at Kensington Palace and the royal wedding itself. And when we caught up with him, he was preparing to fly to Australia to cover the couple’s first royal tour.
Shooting with a ‘reporter’s view’, Samir told us how he makes the best out of uncontrollable situations, learning to anticipate when the ideal shot might take place: “It’s not always possible, but you learn to foresee things. [The royals] might be meeting members of the public, and will probably react to a baby in the crowd.”
Often working under pressure, but receiving little feedback, gut instinct also plays a big part in Samir’s process: “I work with a lot of people: PR, management, editors, retouchers, but when I’m out shooting, I’m on my own. I’ve got to trust my instinct […] As you get more experienced you learn what makes a good picture.”
“You need to master [your camera] so that so you can trust your skills in any situation.”
Talking about the skill set required for his line of work, for Samir, a practical understanding of technical equipment is just as essential as people skills: “You’ve got to understand your camera; learn how to shoot in manual mode, know about depth of field, lenses for difference assignments. You need to master that so you can trust your skills in any situation.”
“Understanding light is crucial to any kind of photography. How natural light affects shadows on faces; shooting at different times of the day; shooting in an overcast situation; or at golden hour – at sunset or sunrise, and the difference that makes. And also learning what to do when there isn’t any natural light: using lighting equipment, flash guns, soft boxes. Great photography is all about light.”
Interview by Marianne Hanoun
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