Game of Thrones photographer Helen Sloan tells us how she got those amazing shots


Helen Sloan. If you’ve ever looked at a high-quality image from the Game of Thrones, then you know her work, even if you don’t immediately recognize her name. Sloan was the principal photographer on the HBO series from the very beginning, starting from the pilot all the way until the series finale.

She was there to capture every moment, big or small. Whether it was Jon Snow fighting in the Battle of Bastards or Daenerys finally approaching the Iron Throne, Sloan photographed it all with the help of her crew.

Over the weekend, WinterIsComing had the pleasure of speaking with Helen Sloan at New York Comic Con. She talked about her upcoming book The Photography of Game of Thrones, and about what it was like to work on one of the best shows of our time.

I went into the interview with one question in particular: how does she get the photos where there have obviously been visual effects added, like this one?

Image: Game of Thrones/HBO

I know HBO did a lot of work building sets for season 8, but some of that isn’t really there. What gives?

"Every time you see a dragon in a photograph, it is a frame grab, since we, unfortunately, don’t have access to real dragons.  Any kind of minor retouching I’ll do it myself or someone at HBO will do it. In terms of visual effects, they don’t usually add it to photographs."

What about all those awesome action shots? Was she actually in the middle of all the action during the Battle of the Bastards?

Jon Snow wields “Longclaw” as the Bolton army charges

And how does that actually work? Sloan told me all about it.

"Yup, right in the middle of it all. A lot of people think that they will hold for a still or do it again for me. I think that’s really unfair especially for big emotional scenes. Cersei had a lot of those! You have to go very deep for that as an actor, so I’m certainly not going to ask them to do it again for me. I’m right in the middle of it all, trying to make it work. As a photographer, that is my responsibility to be able to just get in there and do my job without getting in anyone’s way. It’s all about trust! Over the ten years, as a crew, we start to work as a giant organism."

Can you imagine standing inches away from something so epic?! Just think about this — she captured that ridiculously emotional shot of Catelyn Stark screaming in pain during the Red Wedding. How cool/devastating is that?

Fairley as Catelyn Stark in Season 3, Episode 9. Helen Sloan/HBO

As we mentioned above, Sloan was working on Game of Thrones from the jump. She was there as the show turned from a cult favorite into a cultural phenomenon, and she remembers it all.

"I’m glad that it grew organically. If you took me in the pilot as a photographer and dumped me into season 8, we couldn’t cope. The show just got exponentially bigger. The fact that it’s been a decade of my life, of everyone’s life, it’s not just a job. I’ve done other jobs that are great and I’ve had fun but this has premiered every part of my life. The friends I’ve made in the last ten years, the Game of Thrones crew. It’s hard to explain just how much a part of me this show is. I know it’s a TV show, but it’s my life."

I was very curious to hear from Sloan about how she landed such a fascinating job. The story starts, as many good stories do, at a circus:

"In my book, The Photography of Game of Thrones, I talk about the actual journey right from the beginning of how I was working with a circus theater. As a freelancer, you go through this journey of making your way of where you’re going to be and I think nobody really knows where you’ll end up. I sort of hit the jackpot, really. I’m totally aware of that, I’m grateful for all of this. I had been working on some low budget horror films and working on circus theatre at the time. A producer friend of mine said there is a swords, dragon-y, witchy, magic-y thing that is coming into town and that I probably wouldn’t get it, and that it was a big American company called HBO. He put my portfolio in anyway and then Vicki, the photo editor, called me and said they loved the style of my work and that we’ll try the pilot and see if it works. To this day, it’s still surreal. […] I never get used to this world and I think I don’t want to. I love that it is so exciting!"

Just like the fans, it was difficult for Sloan to say goodbye to Game of Thrones when the time came. After working for a decade on such a big project, I don’t think any of us can begin to imagine what leaving it must have felt like.

"It sounds like PR spin when we talk about it, I keep feeling like there will never be another job like that and I had a great sadness with that feeling initially when it ended. But then one of my friends said that’s okay because you’ve had that, and if there is never another big job that’s fine because I have this and I have a book."

I couldn’t agree more. The number of beautiful photographs Sloan has accumulated over the past decade (over a million!), is a testament to how hard she has worked on the show.

Photography of Game of Thrones. HBO:Insight Editions. BTS

For her book, Sloan and the show’s auxiliary photographers selected 800 pictures — about 5% are from auxiliary photographers and rest from her. Naturally, I had to ask her how the heck she was able to pick and choose the best of the best from such a large collection.

"There are so many photos that I forget about some of them. So I had to have a list of the cast beside me and go through it one by one and think what my favorite pictures of the cast were. I let myself choose 10 for each person, and this was for every cast member that had ever been on the show. And then I started to Google things like “A hundred greatest Game of Thrones moments” because I couldn’t really focus on it. I chose photos from each of what people thought were the 100 great moments and then I started to get into phoning people I knew that were huge fans and just saying what’s your favorite photo or moment. You lose your mind because I start thinking, I want this person to like it, I want that person to like it, I want the fans to like it. You could do ten volumes!"

I volunteer anyone at WiC to help with that kind of problem at any point in the future.

Does Sloan have a favorite photo from among the million-plus she took? It turns out she does!

"I have a collection of 20 that I really love. They’re in the book! I have a favorite photo of each cast member. But sometimes as a photographer, there are personal reasons that something is my favorite and it’s hard to straddle the two worlds sometimes."

As we wrapped up the interview, Sloan mentioned that she and the crew were big fans of our site, WinterIsComing. In fact, it’s the one site she enjoys going to the most. Imagine my shock and surprise to hear these words coming from the woman who spent the last ten years on the set of Game of Thrones!

"I’m so happy to talk to you actually because Winter Is Coming, I’ve been following that site. I read it all the time! It’s the only one that I would read because I feel like that it is the legit one. The crew would always talk about it, and even when we were on Blood Moon, we were like “Did you see we’re on Winter Is Coming”."

Whoa, we are way beyond flattered. And hey, anyone on Blood Moon or Game of Thrones who’s reading this and wants to tell us about their experience, contact us!


New York Mets Michael Conforto Game Of Thrones Night's Watch Bobblehead
New York Mets Michael Conforto Game Of Thrones Night's Watch Bobblehead /

New York Mets Michael Conforto Game Of Thrones Night's Watch Bobblehead

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Buy Now!

You can pre-order The Photography of Game of Thrones by Insight Editions by clicking here. It officially releases on November 5!

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