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Behind The Scenes With Annie Leibovitz | Gear, Grading, And Process

By Holly Roa on October 14th 2016

Annie Leibovitz is a photographic legend and any opportunity to watch her work is a gift. Through the years, she has photographed countless celebrities, from John Lennon (on the day of his death no less) to the royal family, from Allen Ginsberg to Lady Gaga. She has shot high-profile ad campaigns and most photographers will only dream of matching her breadth of editorial publication; Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and Vogue are all magazines that have at one time or another regularly published her work. With a career spanning decades, she is still going strong and, in a departure from typical automobile photography, was recently selected to work on a campaign for Lincoln Motor Company’s Continental. The company’s president, Kumar Galhotra, has said “The rich, warm emotions her photos evoke mirror the feelings we want our clients to experience on all their journeys in the new Lincoln Continental.”


One of the final results

One hallmark of Leibovitz’s work is her masterful lighting, and here we can observe a few of her techniques. Wherever the sun would prove problematic for her intended lighting, we see assistants taking action. On this shoot, we often see large diffusion umbrellas being held high to diffuse the harsh and direct sunlight.

Her modifier of choice is an octabox on a portable strobe (Profoto). In one instance, we get to watch her aim her strobe – in its octabox (which is an Elinchrom Rotolux) – through a car windshield to light her subjects inside.




We are offered a peek into her process. Throughout the video, we see how story-driven she is and what steps she takes to ensure her narrative shines through for the viewer. She lays out her images in a grid, in sort of a storyboard, to help flesh out the story as she’s planned it.

annie-liebovitz-lincoln-storyboard-hollyannie-liebovitz-lincoln-storyboard2-holly An interesting thing to note is her interactions with the subjects. She has chosen a cast of non-models because she wants the whole production to feel as authentic as possible. They are instructed to “bring personal effects” like the kinds of things one would choose to take on a road trip. It’s a collaborative process with all her characters as she tries to get their genuine energy and infuse that into the production. Her favorite images were the ones that were candid, when the subjects didn’t even realize they were being photographed “for real.”


Note* – this list is general as some models can’t quite be seen distinctly.

Nikon D810 (with Canon strap?)

Nikon 24-70

Sony A7RII

Hasselblad (but with 100MP Phase One Back)

Pocket Wizards

Elinchrom Rotalux (seemingly a few variants)

Profoto Lights


Here are some of the final images for the campaign:








Have a watch, and see the celebrated Annie Leibovitz in action.

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Seattle based photographer with a side of videography, specializing in work involving animals, but basically a Jill of all trades.
Instagram: @HJRphotos

Q&A Discussions

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  1. barbara farley

    yes, thanks for this. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

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  2. Greg Gulbransen

    It is always a pleasure to watch Anne in action so thank you for this. Naturally I have a question related to the gear used, specifically the long poles holding the umbrellas. I like the way they can change angle up close to the umbrellas. Thank you in advance.

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    • Holly Roa

      Hi Greg. Looking at a video like this, gear is kind of WYSIWYG, and unfortunately those poles aren’t something I’ve used so I couldn’t tell you much about them beyond what you can see in the video. Maybe someone else can answer?

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  3. Rob Durston

    Great BTS, yes she shoots stuff many other professional photographers shoot; cars, people, lifestyle etc.
    She has her own style, which personally I like and obviously many clients, art directors and creatives like also, its sells merchandise.
    Lets see how long it takes before all the haters come out to play; tell us how bad/old/yesterday her work is and yet she is still a relevant photographer.
    No one is saying this is the most amazing project ever, or even of 2016, its just a shoot, like many of us have done and specifically a BTS video which many of us have on our own blogs/sites.
    I’m writing these words because of tired of pot shots of good/great photographers by wannabes/weekend warriors.
    Your comments aren’t relevant unless you truly have something constructive to say, otherwise, like momma said, “if you ain’t got nuthin’ nice to say, don’t say anything”.

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