Throughout history, women have faced enormous social, political and cultural challenges because of their gender. Women’s History Month (every March) celebrates what women have overcome and shines a light on the lengths at which we all still have to go.

Jayne Fincher, award-winning photojournalist of the Royal family and other celebrities, came to The Lightbox on International Women’s Day to speak to us about what it was like to be the only female photographer in such an aggressive and competitive profession.

From blood-blistered shoulders caused by gargantuan cameras and bags, to exhausted feet after standing all day waiting for the glimpse of a Queen or Prince, Royal photojournalism wasn’t as glamorous as the seemingly carefully-composed pictures taken as a result.

Jayne was always the only female photographer in her cohort, so faced numerous additional challenges throughout her career. While the stronger men were pushing and shoving to compete for the best spot, Jayne would crawl through their legs and pop up at the front. While the men were free to roam the Royal Enclosure at the Ascot Races with nothing but a wisp of hair on their heads, Jayne, who was only allowed in if she wore a hat, had to adapt to this rule. She attached elastic to the hat so that when she wanted to take a photograph, she could flick it off and on quickly enough to capture an image before being removed from the enclosure.

Jayne Fincher and other photographers waiting to take their photos © The Fincherfiles

Despite these disadvantages and more, Jayne was tremendously successful as a freelance photographer, and many of her photographs of the Royal family are still widely recognised today.

Whether you are a professional photographer who regularly takes thousands of photos or you’re at home snapping memories for the family album, these five top tips will ensure that your photographs are the best you’ve ever taken.

So, Jayne, what makes a good photograph?

Prince William © The Fincherfiles

1. Prepare what you can control in advance.

Royal photographers do not have the luxury of time. We can’t control 99.9% of what we’re taking because we get what we’re given. Even on private assignments, we would only ever have five minutes to produce a whole series of pictures to be used all around the world. No time for lights or tests or practise. And photographing young children has the added difficulty of grabbing – and maintaining – their attention. I remember a specific shoot when I was photographing Prince William and Prince Harry. I went to a joke shop in Guildford and picked up a range of different noses, hats and toys, and something you can’t see in the photograph (below) is Prince Charles wearing a red nose and arrow, jumping up and down behind me to keep his boys’ attention!

Princess Diana with her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry © The Fincherfiles

2. It’s more important to click with people than to click the shutter.

If you can’t get on with people and communicate, you’re never going to get a good reaction out of them for a photograph. You need to be able to talk to people to make them feel comfortable and relaxed. So communicate with your subject, make them feel at ease, and you will reap the rewards – whilst maybe even finding out some hot royal gossip! (My lips are sealed!)

Princess Diana with women in Oman © Getty Images

3. Use a suitable camera.

When autofocus cameras first appeared on the scene, photographers snubbed them as almost ‘cheating’. However, I had been given some new ones to try out, and my manual camera I would have taken at the time was broken. Princess Diana and her sons were going to Canada, and myself and other photojournalists were waiting and waiting, hoping to catch a glimpse of them. The lighting was awful, and we were all using long lenses, so to focus manually was impossible. Amazingly, my autofocus camera absolutely loved the jacket Diana was wearing, and locked onto it immediately. I was the only photographer who got the pictures – and from then on everyone used autofocus!

Jayne Fincher © The Fincherfiles

4. Observe and animate.

You have 1/250th of a second to capture a moment. You have to notice the little things that will make your picture interesting in the split second that they happen. Your composition and technical details need to be good, but there is no point in having these skills if the photograph is still boring. Catch them laughing, smiling naturally, or doing something you wouldn’t expect. These are the shots that catch people’s attention.

Queen Elizabeth at Royal Ascot © The Fincherfiles

5. A little bit of luck.

As is the way with most things, a great photograph can always be improved with just a little bit of luck. Like being a footballer, you can go out and score a fantastic goal one day and feel on top of the world, but other days you could travel to the other side of the world, spend a fortune, and never get the goal (or picture) you were hoping for.

A series of Jayne’s photographs are available to view outside our Main Gallery exhibition, Women in Photography: A History of British Trailblazers, which highlights the historical achievements of female photographers working in Britain, from the early innovations of Anna Atkins through to Dorothy Bohm’s depiction of 1960s London and the self-portraiture of Sarah Lucas in the 2000s.

See the exhibition in our Main Gallery until 2 June 2019.