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Tips & Tricks

Shoot Like Famous Photographers With Entry Level Gear | Annie Leibovitz

By Kishore Sawh on July 11th 2015


I’m not really sure what it is about photographers, but those in current photographic circles can be very two sided when it comes to the photographers that will line the annals of photographic history – photographic gentry, if you will. That is, until they’re dead. It may sound morbid, but there’s some truth there. Many of us secretly will admire the work of a Testino or Leibovitz but hardly give them a kind word, while at the same time long to be able to do what they do.

Maybe it’s artistic jealousy or what have you, but I think it can often stem from feeling we can either do what they do just as well as they do it, or, that we can’t afford the gear that allows us to do so. After all, photography IS one of those trades where different gear really CAN make a difference. You won’t be able to replicate the finer characteristics of a shot lit with a massive $12K Broncolor Parabolic Reflective Umbrella with a $200 generic one. Period.


That said, however, you don’t always need to have the most expensive kit to get results similar to the greats. Sid Vasandani of StyleMyPic is aiming to prove it with a series that will try to replicate the looks of famous photographers all done with entry-level gear.

First up? Annie Leibovitz, for reasons that need no explaining. She’s uber famous, a prolific shooter of anyone that matters, and has a particular style we often associate with her. In this video tutorial, Vasandani goes through his equipment and shoot set-up as well as calibration and editing of the image, and his results are rather good. He explains that even though in her BTS videos you generally see only a single light, that she divulges in her bio that there is almost always a second light, usually in the form of a large soft source behind the camera, while the key light is kept close to the subject.



He also goes into her use of muted background colors, which he replicates with large painted brown panels, leaving the rest to color grading in Photoshop, in which he also shows some pretty nice and easy editing tips – some of which are integral to my processing.

Are the images perfect replicas? No, but no one said they would or needed to be, and it’s inspiring for many to know that you can replicate this type of look with the gear he uses, which is:

Nikon D5100
Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8
2 Yongnuo 560 III
32 inch Octabox (Generic)
48 inch Octabox (Generic)

[REWIND: Nikon D5300 Initial Review and Sample Images]

Sid was also nice enough to include links to a free PSD source file you can practice on, all in all making this the first of a series I’ll bet many will look forward to keeping up with. Check out his site here and show some love.

If you are starting out or have entry level gear and want to really push its limits and see just how much you can actually do with a camera like the D5200, check out Photography 101, which will enable you to do just that, and speedily.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Carolyn Dingus

    Where do I get the Style tools for Photoshop?

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  2. Rob Ruttan

    Okay, the technical information and cost saving ideas are interesting, but why do I want to shoot like Annie Leibovitz…or anyone else?

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    • Joel Dominguez

      I think this would be for anyone who might want to practice a specific style or emulate someones technique for a better understanding. I’ve used lighting tutorials in the past that I would normally never try just to see what kind of different results I can come up with.

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  3. Eric Draht

    I’ve bought 6 yongnuo flashes in the past year, and 3 have failed on me during modest wedding work. I now travel with three flashes, but they are not made well. Even worse is their warranty – gotta send EACH ONE to china for 70$/each.

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  4. Ralph Hightower

    The gear that Sid listed was cheap and it involved a lot of Photoshop work. I’m a photography enthusiast who has been shooting with a Canon A-1 since 1980 and continue to do so. I’ve added an F-1N and 5D Mk III to my stable in 2013. However, I participated in a photojournalism contest in 2012 and until the final of 10 entries was judged, there was a three way tie for first. I won the tie for second shooting film with a 32 year old camera shooting C-41 B&W film (Kodak BW400CN). The judges were current or former photojournalist of the local newspaper.

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  5. Dave Haynie

    $13K for a reflector, eh? Well, I barely spent that much on my last three cars (each, not total). And none of those are as useful in actual photography as the $50 or so Cowbow Studio reflector I also own. I love this kind of article, because learning that kind of light management, staging, etc. that’s most of it. The super expensive stuff is all about tweaking that last 5-10%… maybe. Getting to that 90% level is technique and knowledge. And seriously, I’d be ecstatic at getting to 50% of an Annie Leibovitz. Even once.

    Same reason every camera company, and even folks like Apple these days, hire pros to shoot their ad photos. You realize when the camera or other gear becomes a roadblock, but as they say, that guy with a $10,000 camera isn’t a better photographer, he’s a guy with a $10,000 camera. And like other roadblocks in life, there are those who get angry or turn around, and those who get creative and find a detour around that roadblock.

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  6. Lissette Garcia

    This was a great article. Thank you.

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  7. Paddy McDougall

    Great post

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  8. Colin Woods

    Gulp. Thirteen thou’ for a reflector. I often suffer from GAS, but not with a $13k reflector.

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    • Dave Haynie

      I own two camera systems.. a Canon FF system and an Olympus OM-D system. I haven’t actually done all the math, but it’s close… the total I’ve spent on camera gear can’t be that much more than that one reflector. And it all gets me closer to the photo in my head than that one thing.

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  9. Ernesto Gonzalez

    Great article!

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