Shooting on the set of Game of Thrones
The sets can be quite dark and we shoot a lot at night… Another challenge is having to work with my cameras inside ‘blimps’ so I don’t make any noise during filming
Since the pilot series in 2009, I’ve been the stills photographer for Gameof
Thrones. I had no idea how big Thrones would become on the first day of the pilot in 2009. It was a much smaller crew than now, and we all went over to Scotland to start filming. The producers told me they didn’t really have a style in mind for photography, but that they liked my hard-grade, cinematic style and I should follow what I thought was right for the show. So I was given a lot of creative freedom.
As a stills photographer my job is to portray the mood of
Thrones in one shot, so somebody reading a magazine or visiting a website can instantly ‘get’ what the show is about. It’s all about working with the amazing actors on the show to bring out the emotion, even when the cameras aren’t rolling. It helps that the actors are so photogenic and I’ve worked with many of them for a long time.
A tough call
I am on set all the time, and shoot at the same time as the film cameras – every setup, every scene. This job sounds cool, and it is, but it’s also hard work. On a standard day, shooting begins at 8am and ends at 6pm without a break. If we have a long drive to get to the set, this can mean getting up very early, and we then have to factor in time to get set up. Some departments can arrive at three in the morning on big days, depending on the requirements.
When it comes to shooting stills, you have to learn where to place yourself, so as to get the best angles. It’s vital you don’t get in anyone’s way or in the actors’ ‘eyeline’. You have to get the job done, but there are 200 other people trying to do their jobs too. We work together like a machine.
My workhorse cameras are two Nikon D3s and two Dfs. I use Nikon 24-70mm, 70-200mm, 14-24mm and a few 50mm lenses, but my favourite lens for portraits is the 85mm f/1.4. The sets can be quite dark and we shoot a lot at night, which means I have a lot of prime lenses in my kitbag. Another challenge is having to work with my cameras inside ‘blimps’ – soundproof housings – so I don’t make any noise during filming. It’s like trying to do embroidery wearing gardening gloves. The fact that I can get good results using blimps shows how easy the Nikon D-SLRs are to handle. I’ve also been sent a Nikon D5, which I am really looking forward to using.
The publicity machine
I do most of the editing of the images myself, but the producer, HBO, has a wonderful photo services department which selects the ones to send out for publicity and promotion. Once the hard drive leaves my hands I won’t know what’s happening until I see my images on billboards or in magazines.
The picture that stands out for me is one that was really tough to get. It shows Beric Dondarrion with a flaming sword, and was taken during a nightmarish week of shooting. We were in a man-made cave inside the studio which the crew filled with fire, pumping smoke in. It was really hot – we were all in vests and shorts, while the poor actors, dressed in leather and fur, were expected to have a sword fight! My equipment kept fogging, and I was struggling to get a decent shot as fire-light and stunt work made it really hard to focus on the eyes. Then the actor fell to his knees for a second, and boom! I got the shot. It’s so evocative of Beric’s character.
I don’t know what I am going to do when Thrones finishes after series eight. Hibernate, probably! But I have loved being involved so deeply in this project.
1 Tricky lighting and heat made this shot difficult to get – but the end result was worth the wait 2 For portraits such as this of Maisie Williams as Arya Stark, Helen prefers her 85mm f/1.4 lens 3 Filming locations range as far south as Morocco and as far north as Iceland