Behind the Scenes: Annie Leibovitz’ Game of Thrones Photo Shoot for Vanity Fair

It’s always a pleasure to watch a living legend work, and the above BTS video of Annie Leibovitz photographing the Game of Thrones cast for Vanity Fair certainly qualifies.

Unfortunately, there’s not much in way of BTS info. We don’t know what lights she was using, how the shoot came together, or even how she interacted with her subjects because this is a video made to appeal to the readers of Vanity Fair and not our nerdy photography brains.

As such you should take this as more of a source of inspiration than knowledge. Watch a master at work and gather some insight into how a massive commercial shoot like this works. You can always take something away from watching someone like Leibovitz ply her craft, even if it’s just a glimpse at a level of success you hope to achieve someday.

Here’s a look at the final shot as it appeared on the magazine’s cover:


And if you ABSOLUTELY need to nerd out about gear, feel free to drop some insights in the comments. If we all put our heads together, we can probably break down every piece of gear she used on this shoot.

(via SLR Lounge)

  • BDWT

    Her work was great as always, too bad the BTS video really didn’t tell us photographers much. I’m rarely one to say anything negative in these comments but that BTS video was actually hard to watch; shaky handheld shots and bad zooms, who the heck was in charge of producing that? It doesn’t come close to meeting my standards, let alone a big name like Vanity Fair!

  • Sean Lucky

    Agreed, it was pretty poorly done… In terms of showing the gear, doesn’t seem like there was much to see. Those 46″ Photek Softlighters have been pretty popular with her for a while, which was what she was using here. Also saw a 7ft. Elinchrom on the ground in one quick shot which she was perhaps using as a fill? Light brand was obviously Profoto. Camera was a Hasselblad H series with the 50-110mm lens, and a Phase back.

  • Altravs

    Those aren’t the characters at all, just a bunch of actors trying to look cool with weird lightning that doesn’t match at all the enviroment. I’m not sure how the RAW files Leibovitz got looked, but the staging and the editing are awful to me.

    And yeah, the video sucks in all its aspects (why does it take so much for some people to just grab along a monopod for shooting video?).

  • Daz

    weird how video makes the characters look fake even thought it looks more real.

  • Broseph of Arimathea

    Jaime Lannister: too cool for costumes.

  • OnePhotog

    Preface: I do enjoy Annie’s work. I have seen a bit of game of thrones; but not enough to go ga-ga-crazy obessive about the new season.

    I wish to be a little critical of Annie’s work for Game of Thrones here. It doesn’t seem to have the same drama that she is typically able to capture with her other subjects. At worst; these just look like a bunch of actors or cosplayers lying in a field of grass. I would have hoped Annie would have been able to capture and convey a sense of the drama that makes so many fans ga-ga-crazy over the Game of Thrones series. If I were to hazard a guess; Annie has never watched Game of Thrones and wasn’t really sure how to convey it accurately. Kind of like a director directing a movie to a book they never read.

  • Terry

    this is a composite image. the cliff side has been pasted in and the blending done to the left of the actors is atrocious. The colour is also waaaay off. The queens hair is supposed to be blonde and the imps isn’t red!

    whats up with this? am I making this stuff up? I feel I must be in the wrong given annie probably made a couple hundred thousand dollars doing this shoot.

    someone humble me. please. I feel bad.


    Watch a “living legend”…..



  • Scott M.

    Credit show Barbara Leibovitz as film maker. Sister?

  • BDWT

    Haha, I didn’t notice, I kind of stopped paying attention by that point.

  • Bingo

    Can someone please tell me why photos that are so heavily photoshopped need to be taken on location? If that is the look you want then shoot in a studio and drop in a background in post.


    Not only is the video remarkably uninteresting, but the cover picture is almost as disappointing as her Sean Connery ad for Louis Vuitton. Legends retire.

  • MMielech

    I’d be much more informed by sitting with her retoucher watching the final image being created.

  • arkhunter

    Re: Retouching/post, yeah that seems to be what she does any more. (from watching other BTS videos) Big elaborate (sometimes) lighting setups and a good bit of composting and post processing work. Good reason to use the MF camera.

  • Matthew Rakola

    nothing like posing highly paid actors, in armor, next to a rocky ocean cliff on a windy day. (Yes, I know the armor is probably plastic.)

  • bri

    I love Game of Thrones.. but this cover shot is awful

    Why does she get so much accolades anymore? This cover shot is boring, and in case you didn’t notice. The pose look like the one in the grass, yet the obviously photoshopped it to the background on the cover. So how is it even her shot anymore?

    Stylists set everything up. Assistants set up all the lights, she shows up, someone hands her a camera already dialed in for the lights, and she hits the button.

  • Luke Ratray

    First thing I noticed was the incongruent background. That shore-line/water/cliff on the left side was all added in post.
    Why even shoot on location? (Fair enough we have only seen one image…) but I would think the location had to be essential, in order to warrant all of that expense and effort.

  • MMielech

    “Stylists set everything up. Assistants set up all the lights, she shows up, someone hands her a camera already dialed in for the lights, and she hits the button.”

    You’ve pretty much nailed her work. She has always been almost proud of her technical incompetence. I remember reading about her work back in the 70s, when she flittered about with a Nikon F filled with Tri X, and barely used a light meter. It was the lab’s unenviable job to save the images, which some did well. I’ll bet many images were lost to bad exposures.

    She attained superstar status early in her career, and she milked that for all it was worth. There is a long line of former assistants, equipment suppliers, and post technicians who are still waiting for their checks, or, were willing to work for free just to say they did. Her bankruptcy proceedings from a few years ago brought a lot of those people out of the shadows as they ran to social media to tell their stories. She should thank the sky that Conde Nast still uses her, but, I’ll bet she works for a lot less these days. She will probably die penniless, or with a bit of a cushion provided by the grace of benefactors and patrons who think she is the greatest thing since Ansel Adams.

    Most important though, is the amount of post processing that happens after she shoots. She never acknowledges that, which is insulting to me as a retoucher. I have never once read anything by her (she has many books published) thanking her retouchers, who have toiled for hours to create her images. Almost every one is an elaborate composite. As said above, she just creates raw material for the final image, and takes all the credit.

  • Chuck France

    Personally not a huge fan but I certainly respect her work, career success and whoever does her post work. If everyone wants to bag on it…then go and do a better job yourself and stop bashing on people. Grab your camera, produce and be successful….otherwise stop b*tching.

  • Graf Almassy

    Naah! Lannisters have golden (blonde) hair!

  • Ellis Vener

    Tech stuff: A.L. is shooting with a hasselblad and the lights are either Profoto 7B, Pro-B3, or Pro-B4 systems with Photk Softlighters.

    As others are pointing out there is a tremendous amount of post-shoot work being done afterwards in raw processing, along with Photoshop post-processing, retouching, and compositing including zippernecking ( zippernecking def.: replacing either a head or just individual facial elements in one frame with those from a similar frame.)

  • iowapipe

    Thanks for the new term (to me)!!

  • Bill

    Overrated. Terrible video. Good thing these people get paid the big bucks… Ya for the final image being photoshopped…

  • Marc Aberdeen

    What’s your point here?

  • Been there done that

    You can be sure there are tons of lights and a bunch of stressed out assistants running around doing most of the work.

  • Black Light Shoots

    It’s a family start-up venture I guess. Lolz
    They should get better in no time though.


    Anyone who posts their work (esp. bad bts videos) is open for critique and comments. Leibovitz is paid serious $$$ for her “work”, and therefore is an open target.
    Overproduced, overworked, overhyped production extravaganzas like hers unfortunately are all virtually identical, and show someone who apparently has only one trick in her bag.
    She produced interesting bts work for Rolling Stone, but little of substance (a groupie with a camera), and as a result became a “fashion photographer”, good luck explaining that evolution.
    Annie Leibovitz… meh.

  • Eugene Chok

    its BTS not a tutorial, this is just her sister, you expect a red epic dragon on a Movi? the BTS budget would be much greater then the photography budget… where is the logic in this?

  • seriously

    Id love to see the Vanity Fair covers of all the people that commented on this.

  • First Assistant

    Give ANY photographer:
    ANNIE’s budgets, Annie’s,Assistants, Annie’s Stylists, Annie’s caterers, Annie’s Locations scouts, Annie’s Producers, Annie’s Retouchers,
    and they TOO can become Annie.
    I know Annie’s last 6 assistants, her retouchers, and her H&M people, her Stylists,…..
    ANNIE KNOWS NOTHING, and if you chose to believe the hype you clearly don’t know anything either.

  • ANNIE is a poser.

    Provide ANY photographer:
    ANNIEs budgets, Annies Assistants, Annies Stylists, Annies caterers, Annies Locations scouts, Annies Producers, Annies Retouchers, and they TOO can become Annie. I know Annies last 6 assistants, her past and current retouchers, and her H&M people, her Stylists, etc.
    ANNIE KNOWS NOTHING, and if you chose to believe the hype you clearly don’t know anything either.