Photographing the Queen’s Birthday (otherwise known as the Trooping the Color) is one of the highlights of my life! If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know that I’m a huge Anglophile. I went to William and Kate’s wedding 5 years ago, and just returned from England after attending the Queen’s official 90th birthday celebration.

Between the royal wedding and Trooping the Color, I’ve spent close to 15 hours outside of Buckingham Palace planning how to get the best shots. These are the strategies that have helped me the most. And even if you aren’t planning a trip to England anytime soon you can use the same tips at concerts, sporting events, parades, or any other large gathering of people.

How to Photograph the Queen’s Birthday

Tip #1. Arrive early and find the best location.

We arrived at the Palace an hour before the Queen’s procession to Horse Guards, where the actual Trooping takes place. We should have arrived two hours early. Had we been there earlier, we could have been on the other side of the Mall. If you are facing the Palace, the Queen leaves in her carriage and turns right. We were on the left side, so I couldn’t get great shots of her riding away.

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Even on the left side, we were on the second row of people. When photographing special events, you need to be on the first row, or stand on a step stool or bleachers. Or be very tall!

We knew from the wedding that we’d need to move after watching the procession in order to get the best balcony shots.

Only the press corp can be directly in front of the balcony. Unfortunately, I don’t have press credentials. (I should work on that though, before Harry gets married!)

Knowing that I’d be offset from the balcony, I decided to move back from the front so that I’d have a better angle to the royal family.

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I love how William is kneeling down to take care of George and looking up at Kate & Charlotte!

Just like at the wedding, I found a tree with a branch slightly above eye level. I used this branch as a tripod.

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The rain coat was over my head and the camera not because it was raining, but because it was too bright to see the Live View display accurately on my camera without some shade.

Tip #2. Use Your Best Camera

I took my small Olympus mirrorless dSLR on this trip. It’s much easier to carry around town. However, in retrospect, I wish I had packed my 6D for the Queen’s Birthday.  Its higher resolution would have allowed me to crop photos with better quality.

Tip #3. Use Your Longest Lens

Duh, right? Unless you are on the front row at a concert, you are going to want all the zoom you can get. I have a 70-150mm for my Olympus. Adjusted for the crop factor, it’s equivalent to a 300mm on a full frame camera.

Tip #4. Use Live View

For cameras that offer Live View, it’s especially helpful to use if you need to aim the camera above your eye level (onto a balcony or stage, for instance). Live View replicates what you would see in the viewfinder. It allowed me to compose & focus the shot without holding the camera to my eye.

And, shorty that I am, I could see a lot better using Live View than I could with my own eyes.

Tip #5. Choose Your Settings Ahead of Time

Before each activity, I set exposure so that I didn’t have to worry about it when the action began. I also noted the best location for the camera with test shots. Shutter speed is important here – it needs to be longer when you are shooting with a long lens. And I’d recommend an aperture no larger than f/8 to make sure everyone is in focus.

Tip #6. Use Burst Mode

This might be the most important tip. Turn your camera to Burst (or Continuous Shooting), hold down your shutter button and take as many photos as you can. It will be best if you have some familiarity with how long you can shoot on Burst before the camera needs to take a break. If so, you’ll be able to anticipate when you should release the shutter and give the camera a chance to catch up before sometime exciting happens.

Burst mode allowed me to get the photo of the Queen at the top of this tutorial – I swear she’s looking right at me. Odds are that I wouldn’t have caught that shot if I had been shooting in single shot mode.

Tip #7. Be Observant

When photographing special events, pay attention to everything: not just the “main stage.” I shot this photo as the carriages were leaving the Palace. I believe that it’s Princess Alexandra.

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Tip #8. Use the Largest/Best Photo Quality

Yes, using the largest photo size will take up lots of room on your memory card. I believe strongly that you should always shoot using the largest photo quality. Why buy all those megapixels if you aren’t going to use them, right?

However, when you are shooting action happening a long way away, you’re going to want to crop your photo. Crop too far, and you start to lose quality. I love the interaction here between the Queen, William & George:

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However, you can see that the image is starting to look soft. More megapixels would have helped with degrading quality. Here’s the image pre-crop, for comparison:

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Tip #9. Take Photos that Establish the Setting

To document an important event, you’ll want to take photos that show more than just the event. You’ll want to remember the city, the travel, the crowds – anything that factored into your experience.

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This next photo was taken at Frogmore, which is on the grounds of Windsor Castle. It’s only open a few days a year, so we were especially lucky to be able to visit.

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The Queen’s birthday was a great occasion for me – a time to pull out all the photography know-how that I could. Do you have tips you use for concerts, sports events or other special events? Please share! I want to be ready for my next royal family photography adventure!