Photographing HRH Sophie Countess of Wessex in India / by Sarah Li

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HRH The Countess of Wessex with the graduating midwives.

HRH The Countess of Wessex with the graduating midwives.

I never chase events, I am not a photographer who chases, I tend more to observe and let life happen. I find that interesting; to see without upsetting the balance. That is how photographing Her Royal Highness Countess of Wessex came about. Having been acquainted with the well-liked British Deputy High Commissioner for coming on two years, he approached me with an invitation to photograph the reception party hosted for HRH The Countess of Wessex at his residence on behalf of his office. This would not be a paid job but it didn’t take me long say yes, realising that this would be a great opportunity plus a lot of fun!

Deputy High Commissioner, Andrew Fleming, surrounded by the 30 graduating midwives with Anita, Indie and Kate in the crowd.

Deputy High Commissioner, Andrew Fleming, surrounded by the 30 graduating midwives with Anita, Indie and Kate in the crowd.

News of her visit was kept very quiet in the Hyderabad but I had the briefing about who would be in attendance. What really inspired me was the fact that not only was this a reception for a member of the British Royal Family, it would also be a graduation party for the first cadre of India’s midwives! The incredible Evita Fernandez set up the “Promise’ programme two years ago with the aim of bringing UK midwifery skills to India. For the last eighteen months Indie Kaur and Kate Stringer - two midwives from the UK - have worked tirelessly training 30 women to become qualified midwives - all 30 of them graduated this week! These midwives will now, in turn, pass their skills on to more training midwives resulting in a growing awareness of midwifery and ultimately a higher level of care and survival for newborns and their mothers.

HRH The Countess of Wessex photographed with the group of specialist doctors from across the city.

HRH The Countess of Wessex photographed with the group of specialist doctors from across the city.

HRH, The Countess of Wessex is the Vice Patron of Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, a charitable foundation working with partners across the Commonwealth to eliminate avoidable blindness. Much of their work focuses on ROP (retinopathy of prematurity) - a major cause of blindness, and so the relevance of fully trained midwives in India is undeniable. Also in attendance were a number of doctors who have been doing groundbreaking work in thee field of retina surgery, Anjani Kumar - Hyderabad’s Commissioner of Police, and the Queen’s Young Leaders award winner Neha Swain.

HRH The Countess of Wessex in conversation with Anjani Kumar - Hyderabad’s Commissioner of Police.

HRH The Countess of Wessex in conversation with Anjani Kumar - Hyderabad’s Commissioner of Police.

When it came to taking the photographs, I had my GH4 across one shoulder and my Canon 2000N loaded with Kodak Portra 400 across the other. The three lenses I had with me were a Canon 50mm Macro (with Metabones adaptor), Voigtlander 21mm f/4.0 (with adaptor) and a Panasonic LUMIX G 14mm f/2.5. The lighting was bright indoor lighting so I adjusted my WB to suit per room. My brief was to capture all of the guests in the company of HRH, The Countess of Wessex throughout the evening, as well as capture the set up group photos. For the most part I used my digital camera, only switching to film when I knew the lighting was bright enough and where there was an opportunity for a portrait. Most of the pictures I captured were from .the 14mm lens on my digital camera. If I had to chance for a more intricate portrait shot, I changed to the 50mm macro, but as this is adapted to micro four thirds it became a 75mm lens.

The fact that there was a very strict protocol about how the evening’s Chief Guest would work the floor, and that timings for conversations were well scheduled, meant it gave me enough time to capture the guests she was in conversation with, in the most part, from a variety of angles.

Once HRH, The Countess of Wessex had departed I had time to look through the 500 pictures I had shot, green flagging the best 100. My workflow process then takes me into Adobe Lightroom, where I managed to import and edit six of the best that evening to share with The British Deputy High Commissioner. Recently I have been using Nic Collection by DxO plugin to enhance my pictures and I am really happy with the results I get, despite some photos looking a little dull once shot, using this workflow it changes the whole look and feel of the photograph. After completing and sharing the first six, I then got to work on the remaining number of selected images. For this collection I decided upon Color Efex Pro 4 and once you are into it you will understand what I am about to say next. The “Recipe” was a mix of GLAMOUR GLOW, VIGNETTE: LENS, CLASSICAL SOFT FOCUS, WHITE NEUTRALISER, DETAIL EXTRACTOR and DARKEN/LIGHTEN CENTRE.

Andrew, Van, Alex and Arran Fleming, together with their rescue dog Muni, welcome Sophie, Countess of Wessex to their home for the reception.

Andrew, Van, Alex and Arran Fleming, together with their rescue dog Muni, welcome Sophie, Countess of Wessex to their home for the reception.

What I found a challenge was the lighting and my 14mm lens. The GH4 does not operate so well in low lighting conditions. At ISO 800 you begin to see a grain, however there was no way I could reduce this and in the end decided to increase this to ISO 1600, as I needed depth in the photographs so had to close the aperture and due to the movement had to keep the shutter speed above 1/30 sec. The 14mm lens was the ideal lens however being a pancake lens does not give me much control - it is great for filmmaking - but I think it is time to invest in a better wide angle lens!

I am currently in the process of posting a collection of the photos onto my Twitter & Instagram pages and will continue to do this for the next couple of days. I will also be creating a private gallery here on this website so people who wish to view the entire collection can write to me to request access! You can also drop me an email and I can share some before pictures with you too.

Lastly, I would like to thanks my good friends Andrew Fleming for inviting me to photograph this auspicious event, and Van Fleming for hosting such a great event. Also respect always to Evita, Indie and Kate - more power to you!

Love, always

Sarah x

Sophie, The Countess of Wessex signs the Visitors Book at the Deputy High Commissioner's residence. With my name, as official photographer, below.

Sophie, The Countess of Wessex signs the Visitors Book at the Deputy High Commissioner's residence. With my name, as official photographer, below.