The Story Behind the Accidential Yet Award-winning Portrait of the Queen of Sweden | Profoto (US)

The Story Behind the Accidential Yet Award-winning Portrait of the Queen of Sweden

13 June, 2014

Written by: Fredrik Franzén

Rickard L. Eriksson was asked to take the Queen of Sweden’s portrait. Doing so, Rickard accidentally managed to catch the Queen off guard and got an award-winning portrait in the process. Keep reading for the full story.


Queen Silvia of Sweden recently celebrated her seventieth birthday. The anniversary was to be commemorated by a lavish tabletop book, documenting the Queen’s life as a professional woman. The book would, of course, feature portraits of the Queen – portraits that Rickard L. Eriksson was asked to shoot.

“My first thought was to create images that felt natural yet styled,” says Rickard. “Differently put, I wanted the images to feel documentary yet royal. However, getting that documentary feel is easier said than done when working with royalty. In most cases you’re allowed very little time to do your job, which means you’ll most likely end up with a formal portrait of a posing person. But in this case I was lucky enough to spend some time with the Queen. I believe this created a much more relaxed and personal vibe on the shoot.”

What are the benefits with photographing a person that gets her picture taken as often as the Queen does? And what are the challenges?

“The benefit is, of course, that the Queen is used to the camera. But this is also a challenge. When getting your picture taken is part of your daily routine, it becomes a professional thing. You slip into your “portrait smile”, which makes it difficult for the photographer to get a unique and honest image.”

Considering this, it should come as less of a surprise that the portrait that Rickard ended up being the most pleased with happened almost by accident.

“It was a warm and sunny day,” says Rickard. “The Queen was relaxing in the sun, watching princess Madeleine’s dog Zorro play, while I was busy setting up my lights and doing some test shots. The Queen still had her sunglasses on. The plan was that she would remove them as soon as we started shooting for real. But as it so happened, I snapped a couple of test shots, and when I looked at the screen, I knew I already had my shot.”

The unusual portrait of the Queen got a lot of attention. It was even featured in the annual Swedish contest Portrait of the Year, where it ended up in the second place, right after Niclas Hammarström’s powerful portrait of a Syrian boy collecting ammunition shells.

“The Queen relaxed and allowed herself to reveal a bit of her true self,” says Richard. “I think that’s why so many people like this image.”

How were the lights set when you snapped this shot?

“I’d brought an AcuteB2 battery generator with me. You have to have a battery generator when shooting at these old castles. Mains outlets are rare, plus you often have to quickly move your entire setup, so you want to stay mobile at all times.

“In this case, we were outside. A storm had just passed and the sun was shining strong. I wanted to capture the natural feel of sunlight, but I had to somehow light up the darker shadows around the Queen’s face. So, I mounted a large Softbox RFi 3×4’ on the flash head and placed it camera left.”



Is there any other shot from these sessions you feel particularly strong for?

“I like the image of the Queen walking down the corridor at the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace is where the Queen works, her office so to speak, so I think this portrait nicely captures her as a professional, hardworking woman, which was an important part of this assignment. Also, this particular picture ended up being the cover for the book. And that must mean something.”

How was this image lit then?

“I used the same AcuteB2 battery generator, but in this case I didn’t use the softbox but a Softlight Reflector White.”

Final question: I know the queen was involved in choosing what images to include in the book. Why do you think she picked these particular images?

“My guess is that she wanted to present a slightly more diverse image of herself. As being more than just dresses and tiaras, if you know what I mean?”

See more of Rickard’s work at his website or at his Facebook page.



Written by: Fredrik Franzén