You can eas­ily shoot a thou­sand frames a day – over the course of Game of Thrones I’ve shot over a mil­lion pho­to­graphs

Keith Wil­son met Game of Thrones prin­ci­pal stills pho­tog­ra­pher He­len Sloan on the eve of Se­ries 7, still clean­ing her kit bag af­ter the Bat­tle of the Bas­tards…

NPhoto - - Front Page - He­len Sloan, film stills pho­tog­ra­pher

Se­ries 7 of Game of

Thrones pre­mieres on 16 July and He­len Sloan is on spoiler alert as she answers my ques­tions about the Emmy Award-win­ning fan­tasy drama. The Irish pho­tog­ra­pher was an un­known in the rar­efied world of film stills pho­tog­ra­phy when she got the job in 2011, but since then her work has been seen by mil­lions of fans, all ea­ger to know what hap­pens next in the bloody bat­tle for the Iron Throne…

There’s only so much you can say, but were there any par­tic­u­lar shoots from Se­ries 7 that tested your abil­i­ties this time round?

Well, I think ev­ery­body knows we were in Ice­land so I can talk about the weather. It was -28°C with very, very strong winds on top of a glacier, and that was our very first day of shoot­ing in that lo­ca­tion. I’ve shot in the cold be­fore, but for the type of work we were do­ing, it was very cold to be stand­ing out all day. It was pretty hard, but you get through the work and you’re done. In Belfast this year we shot a very big and long se­quence that tested ev­ery­one to the limit be­cause the weather in Belfast is so change­able and we were deal­ing with a very big num­ber of cast and crew and ex­tras.

You are ex­pected to get lots of dif­fer­ent types of pic­tures, so how do you know you have got ev­ery­thing that is ex­pected of you?

We have a great re­la­tion­ship, my photo editor and I. She just knows that I love the job enough to be want­ing to get as much as I can. I’m not ever rest­ing. I guess my best qual­ity, from my boss’s point of view, is that I’m ner­vous. I’m ner­vous that I haven’t got things, so I’m al­ways look­ing for more pic­tures. I’ve got a list in my head of things that are hap­pen­ing that day, or things that might be in­ter­est­ing, be­cause the guys in New York who deal with the photo de­part­ment are not able to be on set, so I’m al­ways think­ing: ‘Okay, what’s cool that they’re miss­ing?’ Not just the scenes, but things like the pros­thet­ics work­shop, or how many peo­ple are in at 4am in the morn­ing dress­ing the ex­tras? Ithink that’s a real spec­ta­cle for some­one who never gets to see it. I’m their eyes, think­ing what would they like to see: buck­ets of fake blood and those funny lit­tle things you just don’t get to see on TV.

I sup­pose it’s about feeding the fans’ cu­rios­ity as well?

Yeah, def­i­nitely. The fans are so in­cred­i­ble and so ded­i­cated and so pas­sion­ate that they just want to see ev­ery­thing that there is to see. They can’t get enough of it and they no­tice ev­ery lit­tle de­tail. On a day-to-day ba­sis I am ex­pected to be a jack of all trades. I am ex­pected to do land­scape work, por­trait work in avail­able light, photo stu­dio work, flash set-ups and be­hind-the-scenes doc­u­men­tary work. We do a two-day photo shoot at the end where we shoot all the props and cos­tumes that we’ve made. I think peo­ple don’t re­al­ize that Gameof

Thrones, the ac­tual pro­duc­tion, is just art on an in­dus­trial scale. The things that we make are amaz­ing. I’m sur­rounded by ar­ti­sans. It’s a re­ally in­cred­i­ble po­si­tion to be in as a pho­tog­ra­pher be­cause there’s never a day where there’s noth­ing to shoot.

What did you know about Game of Thrones be­fore you got the job?

I didn’t know any­thing about Gameof Thrones. The pro­ducer who wanted to put my port­fo­lio for­ward de­scribed it as some­thing with a lot of swords and magic, and thought it might be right up my street as my pho­tog­ra­phy has al­ways been de­scribed as a bit dark, a bit melan­cholic, dra­matic. He be­lieved the style of my work would suit the show they wanted to make, al­though no one knew how big it was go­ing to be­come. Back then it was just a pilot that they hoped would do well, but it’s be­come the big­gest TV show in the world, which is in­cred­i­ble.

Did you read the books?

When I knew the pilot was go­ing to sea­son, I de­cided that I didn’t want to read the books be­cause I thought it would af­fect how I shot the char­ac­ters. For ex­am­ple, if I knew some­one was nice right now but was go­ing to be­come a hor­ren­dous mur­derer, I thought I might put that into my pho­tog­ra­phy; I might start to shoot the char­ac­ter in a dif­fer­ent way if I knew they were go­ing to turn bad.

What have been the twists and turns in the path that led to this life-chang­ing op­por­tu­nity?

My first paid job was for some clients that I met in a pub in Belfast and they wanted some­one to take some pic­tures of their cir­cus act so that they could pro­mote them­selves. Then they told their friends who told their friends and I ended up do­ing quite a lot of cir­cus work for peo­ple from all over

the world. I started to re­ally love be­ing this kind of fly on the wall of this in­cred­i­ble world of cir­cus.

Then a girl who worked in the of­fice of a film that was be­ing shot, who knew my work, some­how got one of my por­traits un­der the nose of a pro­ducer and he wanted me to take some por­traits, as props that would ap­pear in the film rather than to pro­mote the film. When I was there I got talk­ing to the on-set stills pho­tog­ra­pher, Keith Hamp­shire. It had al­ways been a thing at the back of my head: ‘I’d love to take pho­tos of movies, but how do you get that job?’ So, I just hap­pened to be in a sit­u­a­tion where I could speak to one of these elu­sive peo­ple, and Keith and I just hit it off straight away.

How did he help you?

He had a look through my work and said some­thing that gave me that bit of con­fi­dence: ‘You could do this, you’ve got the eye, you’ve got the style.’ Okay, if Keith Hamp­shire says Ican do it, I can do it. So, I started to do more film shorts, and then, just through the con­tact of a con­tact, Iman­aged to get a job do­ing this se­ries of low-bud­get hor­ror films, which suited my style be­cause it was dark and me­lan­choly. I seem to have al­ways ended up on jobs where I’m shoot­ing in the dark and it’s some­thing I’m good at.

What did you shoot Se­ries 7 with?

On set I al­ways have four bod­ies: two D3s, a D5 and a Df, all in sound blimps [sound­proof hous­ings]. Around my neck Ihave an­other Df. Each cam­era has a dif­fer­ent lens on it, so Idon’t have to change lenses at any point. I al­ways have two 24-70mm lenses, an 85mm f/1.4, a 70-200mm f/2.8 and a 14-24mm f/2.8. Then Ihave a load of very fast primes and they’re al­ways in the bag. For more spe­cial­ized things – if I’m in the stu­dio, say – I’ll use the 105mm f/2.8 mi­cro. I de­cide which cam­eras and lenses are the best combo on the day.

Which is your desert is­land lens?

My 85mm f/1.4. It’s such a beau­ti­ful lens and it never dis­ap­points. With­out a shadow of a doubt, it’s my best lens in low light. I’ll swap over to the other primes, the 50mm or what­ever, but I al­ways go back to the 85mm and just step back a bit be­cause it’s just beau­ti­ful, the qual­ity of the pho­to­graphs from that lens, and it’s so sharp. It has a good weight to it too. That’s a bit nerdy I know, but that weight helps me with my bal­ance and cam­era shake.

What are your pre­ferred tech­niques and set­tings when shoot­ing on set?

I’m fully man­ual all the time. I pre­fer a grainy tex­ture to my pho­to­graphs so I usu­ally shoot at quite a high ISO. I like to have quite a high shut­ter speed be­cause I don’t like set-ups and I don’t like ask­ing for set-ups. It’s not nice to ask the ac­tors to go through it all again for me, es­pe­cially if it’s been emo­tional. So I like to get that lit­tle bit higher shut­ter speed so I can shoot them talk­ing and mov­ing and go­ing about their ac­tion.

It’s about do­ing the job with­out be­ing no­ticed?

Yeah, I just like to get on with it, and I think it’s bet­ter for ev­ery­one else if I’m just get­ting on with it. I re­mem­ber I was on a job one day and an ac­tor turned around to me and said: ‘Where have you been all day? That was a great scene, it looked amaz­ing and you missed it.’ And I said: ‘I was there. The whole time!’ I went home that night and I felt like I had won a prize be­cause he hadn’t even no­ticed that I had been in the room.

ROBERT SHEEHA N AS LUKE , CHER­RY­BOMB

JAMIE DORNAN AS PAUL SPEC­TOR, THE FALL

KIT HARI NGT ON AS JON SNO W AND ROSE LES­LIE AS YGRITE , GAME OFTHRONES

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