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Every year the British Academy Film Awards (Baftas) are presented in London. For the past five years, Sarah M. Lee has been the Baftas’ backstage photographer when the stars of the international film world are honoured in London in the run-up to the Oscars. She told us about the experience, her favourite picture and even gives advice.

On photographing huge events
Shooting at the BAFTAS is always a total pleasure and also the most nerve-wracking job of the year. There is intense pressure and there are so many people. The challenge is trying to pick out composed frames within all that movement and seeming chaos. There is no time to stop or think or to pose people, you have to move fast and try and anticipate where “moments” might happen and how the crowd might move.

Colour or black and white
As a photographer I’m usually only interested in colour, but for this series I chose black and white deliberately. That’s to try and remove a lot of the visually chaotic noise you get at an event like this. The sponsor’s logos, the different lights, the red carpet, the clashing couture dresses… I’m interested in personality and intimacy and removing the distraction of colour seems to pull that element in to sharper focus. Also it’s an obvious nod to “classic Hollywood”, and with so many deeply charismatic men and women all dressed up and looking their best it’s irresistible to me not to try and recreate some of the glamour of those old Hollywood shots.

On capturing private moments
But most of all I’m interested in trying to capture intimate, tender or gently humorous moments in the midst of this hugely public crowded event. The rangefinder is a good tool for that, also it’s been a great conversation piece, it turns out lots of famous actors are “Leica people” on the quiet and have stopped to ask me about my cameras!

On meeting celebrities
I try and keep low key, I like to observe quietly rather than being the centre of attention but over the years there have been a number of the actors who have recognised me and they’re always friendly, there is none of the reticence towards me that there can be when you turn up as an editorial photographer, for this series I’ve been commissioned by BAFTA, it means literally working from the inside and that creates a lot of trust. It’s a good place to be at an event like this.

On her favourite shot
From this year I think the frame of Glenn Close leaning in to her on screen husband Jonathan Pryce is my favourite frame. I was touched to see Close herself re-posted it on her Instagram page. Though, less touched she forgot to credit me, but c’est la vie!

All pictures of the website: © Sarah M. Lee
Equipment: Leica M10 with Summilux-M 35 f/1.4 Asph and Leica Monochrom

You can find further photos from this series on her website.
Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman with their awards
The auditorium as the awards are about to begin
Cynthia Erivo on the red carpet
BAFTA trophy
Best actor winner Rami Malek backstage
Letitia Wright, winner of the Bafta Rising Star award
Jonathan Pryce and Glenn Close
Sarah and her assistent Agne.

Sarah M. Lee

Sarah studied English Literature at University College London (UCL) in the late 1990s and used the time not spent in libraries to train herself as a photographer.
She was offered a freelance position at the Guardian in 2000, and has continued to work for the Guardian and Observer ever since. Lee specialises in portraiture, features and the Arts but is interested in all photography that focuses on people, and our shared human experience.
She lives in London with her husband and their dog.

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