When f-stop Icon Ambassador and multiple Red Bull Illume winner, Lorenz Holder, follows his creative instinct the results are usually stunning. His latest project, Riding Thrones, is no exception - shooting a bmx athlete in the iconic locations of fictional Westeros. We caught up with Lorenz for an in-depth look at how he brought this personal project to life. Read on to see the work that goes into creating these images and the full behind the scenes video.
About three years ago I was watching the first episode of the first season of Game of Thrones. I can still remember how it hit me when I saw that first location – what they call the Haunted Forest. My mind just said, “WOW.” The landscapes and the look of the world of Westeros were amazing to see. I was immediately inspired and I knew I wanted to shoot there as well.
There was only one problem – Westeros is a fictional place that doesn’t really exist. But I knew that those scenes where filmed somewhere in the real world and that it couldn’t ALL be CGI landscapes!
After a little research, I found out that a lot of scenes were filmed in a relatively small area of Northern Ireland. So, there it was – I’d found the real-world Westeros. I don’t know why, but from my first thoughts about what I’d like to shoot there, I always saw a BMX rider. I asked Senad Grosic, an Austrian BMX rider - and friend - if he would be up for such a project. I’ve never gotten a faster reply, and that’s how the journey started.
I spent a year doing my homework, researching locations that could work for shooting. But scouting locations via Google Earth and Game of Thrones wikis is totally different from seeing them with your own eyes. I had to see this version of Westeros myself.
To be honest, I hate nothing more than being unprepared for a shoot. I decided to fly to Northern Ireland to scout all of the potential locations and to determine what time of year would make the most sense to shoot. Naturally, I ended up in one of the heaviest snow storms that Northern Ireland has ever seen. But I loved it! I felt I was finally in Westeros and even the weather was like in the series: “Winter is coming…”
Back home I made a masterplan for the main shoot. Who would be on my team, when would we shoot, what would we shoot? A couple of weeks later, the blueprint for Riding Thrones was ready and so was I. By then, I just wanted to go.
Over 10 days, the goal was to capture a variety of shots of Senad doing tricks at and around the locations where Game of Thrones was filmed. We had two bases. The first was close to Bushmills, a small town close to the coast, to get images featuring the landscapes of the Iron Islands, Dorne, Winterfell, the Kingsroad and Dragonstone. So for those of you who are not so familiar with the GOT, this is more about the rough coasts of Westeros. The second base was close to Tollymore Forest Park, where we tried to get shots with a darker mood. In GOT this was the “Haunted Forest” north of the wall and Wolf’s Creek where the Stark kids find the direwolf puppies.
Due to the fact that Game of Thrones is so famous all over the world, it is no wonder that pretty much every filming location is flooded with tourists during the day. That made it difficult to get shots of just Senad, his bike, and the landscape, and we ended up shooting lots of sunrises and sunsets. During this time of year, those are either very early or very late.
But the crowds and the sunlight weren’t the only challenges… Sometimes things got truly bizarre! For example, when a bus showed up at the Dark Hedges (AKA The Kingsroad) and thirty people with black coats and swords stepped out. They began an epic role-play at the scenic location that I have to admit was pretty funny to watch!
Getting the shots was sometimes a struggle, but most of the time it was great and we had a lot of fun. I guess the shot that got me and Senad the most stoked was the Kingsroad shot that we did after sunset. We already had a pretty good image from the sunrise, but my idea was to get a flashed image of Senad in the rain. It was forecast to rain the whole day, but everybody who knows Northern Ireland knows that you simply cannot rely on weather forecasts. The weather just does its own thing up there. However, figured we didn’t have anything to lose and just gave it a try anyway...
I set up the camera and the flash and Senad started to warm up when a light rain began. So there it was, the one puzzle piece missing to get the great image I was looking for. I told Senad to go for it now, because rain or shine, you never know how long it’ll last. We had some problems getting the flash to work as the distance between me and the flash reached the range limit of the triggers. Because of that, the flash only fired every 6th or 7th try and we just couldn’t figure out why. It was a frustrating situation for both of us. When the flash worked, I got the wrong moment and when I got the right moment, the flash didn’t work. I was close to giving up, but I knew that we only needed one shot where everything came together to get the shot I had in my mind. Then, suddenly, boom! There it was. The moment couldn’t have been better, and there was the flash in the background. Looking back, I think that was a key moment of the whole trip. Pure relief and happiness!
"In those 10 days of shooting, every day was different. We had easy shots and we had those where you really need to work for it, carrying all of our equipment down a 100-meter cliff. We met awesome people along the way who not only helped us, but became friends as well.
When I look back now, it was for sure one of my favorite shoots I’ve ever done. It all worked out so well, and so close to how I dreamed of it when I had my first thoughts about Riding Thrones all those years ago. Now I’m looking forward to the last season of Game of Thrones more than ever, to go back to Westeros one last time!
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