Great Photographers: Annie Leibovitz

By Phill Powell

She’s that rarest kind of photographer: a famous photographer.

Most of the time, we don’t see the shutterbug behind the lens. But not so with photographer Annie Leibovitz. She’s taken iconic and legendary photographs – and has become nearly as famous as her ‘A’-list celebrity clients.

When the producers of Star Wars: The Force Awakens wanted to show off the cast and locations in new Star Wars photos, Leibovitz was selected by Vanity Fair magazine as the perfect photographer for the assignment.

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Leibovitz was chosen to shoot the cast from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, such as this shot of director J.J. Abrams advising actress Daisy Ridley. (Image: Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair)

Because of her groundbreaking work at Rolling Stone, Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines, Annie Leibovitz became the ultimate celebrity photographer, and her work usually transcends simple head-and-shoulder shots. Leibovitz portraits are more conceptual and often developed as art pieces.

And her work pops up everywhere: The cover of Bill Gates’ book The Road Ahead was graced with a Leibovitz shot, as was Bruce Springsteen’s classic Born in the U.S.A. album.

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President Barack Obama and the First Family sat for a relaxed Leibovitz family portrait in 2009. (Image: Annie Leibovitz / White House)

Insider Information
Leibovitz started taking photos as a teenager and then decided to learn photography basics while attending the San Francisco Art Institute, where she also studied painting.

Her photos are marked by a creative streak and an impulse to tell you as much as possible about the true character of the subject she captures. Like when she shot legendary actor/rascal Jack Nicholson, who wore a bathrobe and sunglasses while he shagged golf balls from his yard in the Hollywood hills.

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Many Leibovitz portraits are like stories told in a single frame, like her 2009 action pose of Lady Gaga. (Image: Annie Leibovitz for Vogue)

Her photos often convey a little story, such as her 2009 action shot of Lady Gaga. Looking like she fell out of a steampunk fantasy, Gaga stands on a table, dressed as some type of deranged chef, beating a soup kettle with a wooden spoon. Your usual celebrity portrait? Not when Leibovitz is behind the lens…

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Leibovitz perfectly captured the negative energy of Kylo Ren from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (Image: Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair)

Assignment of a Lifetime
An acknowledged master of advanced photography techniques, her most famous assignment collided with history. In December 1980 she was contracted by Rolling Stone to photograph former Beatle John Lennon, who was making a musical comeback at that time.

In what became one of Pop culture’s most defining images, Leibovitz instructed Lennon to remove his clothes, and lay near wife Yoko Ono, who Leibovitz instructed to remain clothed. Leibovitz snapped the photo while standing over the pair and looking down at them.

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Leibovitz captured Kim and Kanye’s engagement. (Image: Annie Leibovitz for Vogue)

Lennon loved the shot, telling Leibovitz that she had fully captured the essence of his relationship with Ono.

He made Leibovitz promise the photo would appear on the next cover of the magazine. She shook his hand in agreement and the session ended. Only five hours later, Lennon would be shot dead while returning from a recording session, sparking international mourning.

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Leibovitz’s most famous photo graced the cover of Rolling Stone, with former Beatle John Lennon lying next to his wife Yoko Ono. Now regarded as one of the most iconic images ever captured on film. (Image: Annie Leibovitz for Rolling Stone)

True to her agreement with Lennon, the picture ran on the January 22, 1981 cover of Rolling Stone, becoming an instant sensation because of its bold honesty and riveting emotion.

Make Your Mark in Photography!
There’s a great professional future waiting for someone with a photographer’s natural instinct for shooting great photos. All you need is some practice and expert guidance from amazing photographers. That’s what kids and teens get at Digital Media Academy photography and graphic design tech camps.

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The world needs creative photographers like the great Annie Leibovitz. DMA can show you how.

In DMA’s summer photography courses, the instruction is tailored for different age groups, so kids as young as 6 can enjoy the summer experience of their lives, just like the teens (12-17) get to have.