5 Key Concepts From Annie Leibovitz’s MasterClass on the Art of the Photo


Annie Leibovitz is one of the most influential photographers of our time and the very first girl to be named main photographer at Rolling Stone. Her subjects incorporate iconic musicians like John Lennon, legendary athletes like Evander Holyfield, and Oscar-winning actors like Sean Connery.

In her 1st and only on the internet images class, “Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography” on MasterClass.com, photographers are specified a distinctive possibility to find out immediately from her, in her very own words and phrases. We viewed the whole course, took in depth notes, and are now presenting you with five vital concepts that photographers can (and must) utilize right to their possess photographic journey.

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1. No Solitary Impression Certainly Captures a Person’s Essence

Annie Leibovitz browses by way of a selection of portraits – Impression offered by MasterClass

After photographing innumerable topics around many a long time, Leibovitz found that no one photograph can genuinely “capture” a individual. As an alternative, Leibovitz thinks a subject’s story is ideal told by means of a collection of images. To illustrate her level, Leibovitz refers to a collection of showgirls she photographed in Las Vegas.

Following noticing the dramatic transformation the women underwent while obtaining prepared to go onstage, Leibovitz asked the dancers if she could photograph them ahead of and just after they donned their dance costumes. “As the girls came in,” Leibovitz states, “I questioned them if I could photograph them as on their own ahead of they got completely ready.” She continues, “It was revelatory. This was the 1st time it was fairly obvious to me you wanted two pictures to tell the story.” The juxtaposition of the visuals when placed aspect by facet promptly dissolved Leibovitz’s quest for striving to capture a one, decisive instant in her portrait do the job.

2. Conceptual Portraits Are Best When Created Around the Matter

Component of Leibovitz’s legacy as the main photographer for Rolling Stone journal will involve her implementation of conceptual protect illustrations or photos. According to Leibovitz, the most significant breakthroughs for the change to conceptual Rolling Stone go over illustrations or photos grew from other assignments for Lifestyle Magazine. While photographing a sequence of poets, for instance, she attempted to “emulate the poetry” of every single poet into the portraits. The important to executing conceptual portraits, according to Leibovitz, lies in investigation.

When constructing a idea all-around her issue, Leibovitz appears to be at formerly posted pictures to see “what they’ve completed, what they’re keen to do, what hasn’t been performed.” This helps information the session and keeps the visuals connected to whomever she’s photographing. Leibovitz notes, “All the work that I do emulates from [the topic].”

Mainly because most purchasers do not have a catalog of released portraits on-line (outside of these they share on Facebook or Instagram), photographers normally acquire a more robust being familiar with of their client’s history and interests through a talkthrough. However, most formal portrait periods restrict themselves conceptually and concentration as an alternative on dressing up, placing a regular pose, and smiling at the digicam below flat lights. On-locale sessions get a move nearer toward conceptual shoots with a mock-up of a loved ones day at the park or the beach front, but however, the motion in the images seldom relates to the actual pursuits of the subjects.

three. Knowledge Gentle Is Extra Significant than Understanding Gear

Photographers adore to converse about gear. Visit any images-based mostly forum or website and you are going to find this to be correct. Though gear definitely has its put, Leibovitz argues that it’s much more essential to comprehend lights. While she sometimes works by using off-digicam lights, Leibovitz has utilized normal light-weight for many years and she built a level to review its properties. Even today, Leibovitz lets ambient light-weight identify the lighting setup for her portrait classes. When she introduces other light sources, she attempts to retain the look and truly feel of the natural light.

Annie Leibovitz images a topic outdoor – Image presented by MasterClass

Leibovitz says she prefers to just take minimal equipment out with her, which include a digicam and a tiny battery-driven light-weight resource, and at times some bounce boards or an umbrella. She finds that extra equipment really frequently proves far more limiting as the focus shifts to the equipment relatively than the shoot.

4. Photographers Need to Constantly Revisit Their Previously Do the job

Annie Leibovitz talks with pupils through her MasterClass – Image provided by MasterClass

Leibovitz believes it is vital for photographers to understand to glance again at their do the job. Astonishingly, quite a few photographers keep away from revisiting their operate and rather count entirely on the operate of other folks to notify their course. Leibovitz feels this has turn into much more common due to the fact the introduction of social media platforms like Instagram.

In the workshop, Leibovitz revisits function from the “early years,” circa 1970-1983. Whilst on the lookout by the assortment, she found that she envied the wild abandonment in the design and style of her more youthful self, and she finally tried out to borrow from that in her formal portrait do the job going forward. Leibovitz states, “I certainly made use of that encounter. That’s why it is crucial to prevent and appear back again. You are going to be amazed. There’ll be something there you didn’t hope to see.”

five. Learn by Carrying out

Whilst some may possibly fail to see how telling others to learn on their own is valuable, the incredibly mother nature of this system (and of MasterClass by itself) reminds us why this principle is worth mentioning. Each of the instructors who instruct these classes, together with Leibovitz, uncovered by executing.

To superior illustrate this concept, Leibovitz shares her experience transitioning from studying art at the San Francisco Art Institute to taking pictures for Rolling Stone journal. At the time intent on teaching artwork (painting in specific), Leibovitz’s interests turned toward pictures immediately after a respected professor explained to her, “You can not be a teacher of artwork unless you are an artist.”

Leibovitz observed photography to be “a great medium for a younger human being to just go out and find on their own and the globe around them.” She provides, “It provides them permission to go out and search and have a goal.” Just after photographing an anti-war demonstration in entrance of city hall in San Francisco, Leibovitz submitted the photographs to Rolling Stone journal, who ended up impressed with her photos and brief turnaround time (she experienced made the film and submitted the visuals within just just one working day of the function), and they soon employed her to shoot on assignment.


When there are quite a few courses obtainable on the internet for getting technical know-how, Leibovitz’s enchantment lies in her distinctive expertise, and that is what she brings to her MasterClass. Around the decades, Leibovitz has created an incredible system of operate that has appeared in various journals, guides, and museums. The points covered in write-up above present perception into Leibovitz’s technique to making timeless photographs and they offer a beginning issue for studying to elevate one’s images on a conceptual amount. Here’s a brief recap of the principles we discussed:

  • No Single Picture Definitely Captures a Person’s Essence
  • Conceptual Portraits Are Greatest When Developed About the Topic
  • Understanding Mild is Far more Crucial than Comprehending Gear
  • Photographers Must Generally Revisit Their Previously Perform
  • Study by Doing

Which of these ideas do you now implement to your perform? Are there any that you disagree with? If so, why? Allow us know in the remarks beneath!