What It's Like Being the Stills Photographer for 'Game of Thrones'

What It's Like Being the Stills Photographer for 'Game of Thrones'

We all dream of having huge production budgets for our shoots, so imagine being one of the lucky few who get to work as stills photographers on one of the TV’s biggest shows, "Game of Thrones." With a budget of $10 million per episode for its latest season, you can only imagine the fun these photographers have on set.

Helen Sloan and Macall Polay form part of a huge crew that make “Game of Thrones” what it is. As stills photographers, it is their job to work around the rest of the production team, documenting candid shots as scenes are filmed — a job that Polay describes as requiring one to be "as stealth as possible." They’re also responsible for the portraits you’ll no doubt have seen on promotional posters all around the world.

“There's no sort of normal day on ‘Game of Thrones,’” said Sloan. “One day we're kind of on a nice boat in the middle of a lake and the next day we're setting fire to Dave the stuntman and chucking him off the side of said boat. You have to just approach each day as it comes.”

Polay and Sloan discussed their schedule in a new interview with Time. A typical working day involves trailing film crews during a 10-hour shift, although they do get to travel to places such as Northern Ireland, Spain, and Croatia.

Admitting that he “overshoots everything,” Polay says the crew’s set-up is forever changing. “I would shoot with a wide angle lens and try to show the characters within the scope of where we were filming. Sometimes it could be very difficult, because [the crew sets] the lights and the equipment and sometimes it's hard to get that scope, because they're already shooting a tighter shot, for instance."

Their kit includes Nikon D5s and DFs, encompassed by sound blimps to reduce shutter sounds during filming.

Sloan lists the “Battle of the Bastards” from season six as her most memorable shooting day. Describing it as “chaos,” she recalls being unable to capture everything she wanted due to the sheer volume of “cool stuff” that was going on.

Read more from the interview here.

[via Time]

Jack Alexander's picture

A 28-year-old self-taught photographer, Jack Alexander specialises in intimate portraits with musicians, actors, and models.

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This would be a really fun job. I've considered getting into this genre of photography but the hours are pretty brutal as well as the constant change in schedule. My fiance works as a set dresser and has mentioned to me how these photographers are some of the hardest workers on set.

I imagine working on GoT would be really full-on. Like one of the photographers says, so much cool stuff to photograph all around you

I'm the furthest thing from a Sony fanboy, but doesn't their new camera have a silent shutter? I'm curious as to why you'd go with a traditional DSLR when something like the noise of the camera shutter is such a big deal...

Sony a7s haven't proven themselves to be a reliable AF for fast action. The a9 was just announced with along with their 70-200. GoT has been shooting since 2011? With also the poor battery life, the Sony system would just become a pain to use.

Agreed, that battery life is a joke. I went to Utah for a quick 4 day trip with three other photographers. Myself and another guy shot D800s, and never charged the batteries once. One of the Sony guys had 5 (!!) batteries to get through the day, and had to recharge them all every night at the hotel. Crazy.

Mad Max Fury Road stills were shot on a Fuji Xt-1 with silent shutter

I have a feeling this info is slightly dated, perhaps he had tried silent shutter on previous Sonys and it wasn't quite good enough. I have no doubt every set photographer seriously wants to get their hands on the a9.

Yeah, these comments are behind the times... New A9 would seem to be ideal for these shoots along with phenomenal AF, silent shutter, new G-Master zooms, bigger batteries, buffer, dual cards, wild frame rates, etc. How's that for a fan-boy comment, LOL!

Yeah, listen to this video, he makes it sound like every single set photographer has changed to mirrorless: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=al9o_DGgUlM

Not surprising.

My guess: combination of what they're familiar / comfortable with, availabilty of accessories & lenses, and a judgment of overall suitability for doing the job (the need for silence is only one aspect of the job requirements).

<--- comfort and familiarity are the primary reason I still shoot blimped. I just don't have a lot of time to learn/trust new gear. I've been shooting Canon in blimps and I know I can depend on the combo. I've added the Fuji XT-2 this year but have only broken it out infrequently -- it just not a tool yet for me -- I don't know it inside and out. <I'm learning it and liking it though>

Another reason to shoot in blimps is that they provide incredible protection for your equipment. I hate having multiple bodies dangling. Once I know what I plan to shoot I only want to manage that camera. The other bodies are parked closeby- always safely out of the way but also always somewhere you wouldn't want to leave an expensive piece of gear -- they do take a beating.

cool article. It is a great gig. Nice to see the unit folks represented.

I used to shoot blimped Canon but then moved over to Fuji for most work. Rolling shutter on Mirrorless cameras shooting electronic shutter is enough to limit their use though.