Alexi Lubomirski Thought Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Photo Commission Was a Joke 2023

Alexi Lubomirski was astonished to receive a phone call from Kensington Palace in 2017 asking if he would be available to capture Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement photos.

“When I hung up the phone, I said, ‘I think Kensington Palace just called me?'” “Two days later, I was seated in front of [Harry and Meghan] discussing concepts,” the renowned photographer reveals exclusively in this week’s issue of PEOPLE.

Lubomirski, 47, reflects on the commission, which he initially mistook for a joke, in his new book The Sittings (2003-2023), a compilation of 113 of his most cherished portraits.

The famous photographer recalls photographing the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at life milestones.

The spread includes the engagement photos of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, as well as his photographs from their royal wedding day in May 2018. Reflecting on how everything came together, Lubomirski tells PEOPLE that the initial phone call came on a particularly difficult day for his family.

“Because my mother was having a brain tumor removed, I was all over the place. Then, after ten hours of waiting for the doctor to call, my unfortunate brother and sister were gazing at me through the phone. The expression on my face, when I answered the phone, was, ‘I’m sorry, what?’ “My poor brother and sister were like, ‘Oh my God, what’s happened to our mother?'” he says.

After their mother’s triumphant recovery, Lubomirski had the privilege of photographing Prince Harry, 38, and Meghan, 41, at Frogmore House for their December 2017 engagement.

The British photographer tells PEOPLE that he was inspired by an iconic photograph of Mel Ferrer wrapping Audrey Hepburn in his cloak, and he urged Harry to do the same with his then-fiancée.

“It just occurred to me when I saw his coat and asked, ‘Can you put that on?’ Then everything begins to fall into place,” he explains of the creative process.

In the spring of that year, Lubomirski was summoned back to Windsor Castle to photograph Prince Harry and Meghan’s historic royal wedding, which he described as “probably the most high-pressure job” he’s ever had.

“That was a blur,” recalls the photographer, a descendant of a Polish princely family. “I slept for roughly two hours the night before, thinking, ‘Okay, do I have everything? How am I going to position everyone? How can I make the Queen laugh?'”

Lubomirski told PEOPLE there was not a second to spare due to time constraints, so he made the most of his time with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

“I had only three minutes to get them into the garden and take photographs, and it took me three minutes to get them there,” he explains. “I also captured an image of the couple seated in the rose garden.” It was their first time being alone, away from the public eye, after getting married. Therefore, this moment of tranquility was a truly unique experience.

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