Dragon tamer

Shoot­ing on the set of Game of Thrones

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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

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