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The History of Royal Family Portrait Photographs

Royal family photography is a unique and fascinating subject that has been capturing the attention of people around the world for many years. The British Royal family has been particularly famous for its iconic portraits and official photoshoots that showcase the elegance, grace, and style of its members.

In this article, I’m going to share with you the history and evolution of royal family photography and show you some of the iconic portraits that have made a lasting impact on British culture.

Image: Queen Victoria and Family (1890s) by John Jabez Edwin Mayall

The First Royal Family Photograph

The history of royal family photography dates back to the 19th century. The first ever royal family photograph was taken in 1842 when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert posed for a portrait with their children.

The photo, which was a daguerreotype, was an instant sensation and paved the way for many more royal portraits to come.

In the years that followed, photography became more popular as a way of documeting the personalities and lifestyles of the rich and famous. Royal family photography, in particular, became an important tool for promoting the British monarchy and projecting an image of strength, stability, and tradition to the world.

During the 20th century, numerous photographers captured images of the royal family, each adding their own unique perspective and style to the mix.

Queen Victoria with the Princess Royal, the Prince of Wales, Pri
Image: 'Queen Victoria' by William Edward Kilburn (1852)

Famous Royal Family Photographers

One of the most famous photographers of the royal family was Cecil Beaton. He began his career in the 1920s and went on to become one of the most celebrated photographers of his generation.

Beaton’s style was heavily influenced by the glamour and sophistication of the era, and he often used soft lighting and intricate props to create dreamlike, theatrical images.

Beaton’s portraits of the royal family were particularly iconic, with his 1942 photograph of Queen Elizabeth II, then Princess Elizabeth, becoming one of the most widely recognized images of the monarch.

Another notable royal photographer was Lord Snowdon, who was married to Princess Margaret, the sister of Queen Elizabeth II. Snowdon was a highly respected photographer in his own right, and his images of the royal family captured a more candid and informal side of the monarchy.

His portraits were often spontaneous and unposed, showcasing the personalities and quirks of his subjects in a way that was both revealing and endearing.

Cecil Beaton (1904-80) - Queen Elizabeth II (b.1926) on her Coronation Day
Cecil Beaton (1904-80) - Queen Elizabeth II (b.1926) on her Coronation Day

How the Royal Family’s Photographs Have Changed

In recent years, the role of royal family photography has evolved, with a greater emphasis on capturing the modern, relatable side of the monarchy. This shift has been driven in part by the rise of social media, which has made it easier than ever for the royal family to connect with the public and share their lives in a more personal and accessible way.

Photographers like Chris Jackson and Samir Hussein have been at the forefront of this movement, using their skills to capture intimate moments and behind-the-scenes glimpses of the royal family’s daily lives.

Prince of Wales Wedding Day 2011 Chris Jackson Getty Images
Prince of Wales Wedding Day 2011 Chris Jackson Getty Images
The Queen at Remembrance Sunday 2018 by Samir Hussein

Famous 21st Century Portraits of the Royal Family

One of the most iconic royal family photographs of recent years was the official portrait of Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, on their wedding day in 2011.

The photo, taken by Hugo Burnand, was a stunning composition that captured the joy and love of the newlyweds in a way that was both romantic and timeless. The photo became one of the most widely circulated royal photographs of all time.

Another recent royal photograph that captured the public’s attention was the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and her immediate heirs, Prince Charles, Prince William, and Prince George, released to mark the monarch’s 90th birthday in 2016.

The photo, taken by Annie Leibovitz, was a powerful symbol of continuity and legacy, with four generations of the royal family coming together to celebrate the queen’s remarkable reign.

Despite the changing trends and styles of royal family photography, one thing remains constant: the enduring fascination and admiration that people have for the British monarchy.

2018 Chris Jackson Getty Images
2018 Chris Jackson Getty Images


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