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The art of photography takes decades to master. But, you can speed things up when you learn from someone like Annie Leibovitz. Her Masterclass provides a great insight into the mind of one of the world’s best photographers.
The chance to learn from a true master of photography
The best thing about masterclass.com’s courses is the fact that you really are learning from the experts. That is certainly the case with Annie Leibovitz’s Art of Photography masterclass.
Since the early 1970s, she has produced fantastic portraits of the stars of music and film. Her work is globally recognised as being the best. She has produced dozens of iconic photos like the one she took of John Lennon and Yoko Ono just hours before he was murdered.
In 1991, she became the first woman to hold an exhibition at Washington’s National Portrait Gallery. Whether you are simply a fan of her work or interested in improving your photography skills, you are sure to enjoy this fascinating masterclass.
Portrait photography does not confine you
I have to confess that I am not much of a photographer. So, the thing that attracted me to this masterclass was the chance to gain an insight into how Leibovitz produces her unique portraits.
So, I was surprised to hear that Annie does not really consider herself to be a pure portrait artist. She has resisted being put into that box throughout her career. As she explains her work includes other elements. For example,
I love the fact she believes that the idea you can capture the identity of a person in a portrait is baloney. As she says everyone has multiple identities. Throughout her course, she really gets you thinking about how to capture the truth of the person you are photographing. She walks you through using photos to tell a story and photographic series to showcase the different aspects of the person you are photographing.
The format of Leibovitz’s masterclass
Like most of the masterclass teachers, Annie speaks to actual students during her video-based course. She does this to help you to better understand
But, much of the time she speaks to the camera and uses her own photos to demonstrate the points she is making. I liked this because it enabled me to learn more about the people she had photographed.
However, she does not rely on this method of teaching. Instead, she spends quite a bit of time talking about the photos she has taken. By doing this she manages to convey a lot of information very quickly. I really liked this approach.
Also like many of the other teachers, Annie includes assignments in her teaching material. But, instead of putting them in the workbook, she usually explains them at the end of each video. This is a better way of doing things.
I also liked the fact that most of her assignments were easy enough to implement in a couple of hours. That approach makes it far more viable for you to actually go away and do them to cement what you have just learned.
What makes a great photograph?
Annie’s answer to this question is simple. Practice. The more you work, the better you get.
The more you do this, the more you are ready for anything.Annie Leibovitz – Teaches Photography Masterclass
Using concepts to create interesting photos
When Annie first started her career, she worked the same way most of us do. She took lots of shots.
But, at some point in her career, she started arriving at shoots wanting to tell the story of the person she was shooting. To come up with ideas, she took her research into her subjects to the next level.
When you take the course, look out for the story of why she ended up photographing Whoopi Goldberg in a bath of warm milk. That anecdote perfectly illustrates how to use concepts to create iconic photos.
How to edit your photographs
Knowing what you have got is vital if you are a photographer. If you cannot pick out the best shots you can easily overlook something important.
Part of doing this is looking back at your work. You need to make some sense out of your body of previous photos.
Doing that helps you to get a sense of how you work and which of your images are the stand out ones. Unfortunately, once again Annie is a bit light on the details in this part of the course. She basically gets you to look over her shoulder for a few minutes, while she re-categorises some of her previous work. For someone who actually wants to learn how to edit their photos, this would be a frustrating experience. However, things do start to make more sense, later in the course, when she covers this subject in a bit more detail.
Working with light
However, the section on working with light does go into a bit more detail. Annie explains how she uses natural light to guide her. It is a very simple and practical tip. She explains how to take a photo that looks natural and do so using just a couple of tools.
Photography is the study of light. I use natural light as my teacher.Annie Leibovitz Photography Masterclass
How to work with your subject
Your subject needs to be open to being photographed. They need to be able to trust you. But, that does not mean that it is your responsibility to put them at their ease. However, there are some things you can do to help them to feel more comfortable. During this part of the course, Annie explains the following:
- How to share your ideas and results with your subject
- How to keep the session short enough
- How to establish a rapport
- When to give up and reschedule another session
How to grow your skills fast
One of the most helpful videos was the one about photographing people that you know. As Annie pointed out this is one of the fastest and easiest ways to gain experience. But, you need to understand what approach to take when doing this. In the video, Annie explains the best way to learn fast and avoid common mistakes.
Annie Leibovitz photography case studies
The case studies are perhaps the best part of this course. There are 3 videos in which she takes this approach to the lesson. They are:
- Angels in America photoshoot for Vogue Magazine
- Photographing Alice Waters
- Digital post-production
They provide a fascinating insight into how Annie approaches her projects. I found that I got far more out of these videos by making notes as I watched them. However, once again they are quite light on facts. If feels more like you are watching a documentary of how Annie works rather than an instructional photography course.
Transitioning into digital photography
Annie started her career working with black and white film. When digital came along, she did not jump straight into that world. It was interesting to hear why and how she made that transition.
Leibovitz’s photography workbook
As you can see from my general masterclass.com review, each course comes with a workbook and the ability to get your questions answered directly by your teachers. Annie’s course is no exception.
In fact, it includes a pretty good workbook. Not everything in the course is in there. But, all of the assignments and exercises are.
There is also a full photo index. All of the shots Annie refers to while explaining various aspects of photography are included at the end of the workbook. Personally, I found printing them off and referring to them while listening to and watching the videos to be very helpful.
How good is Annie Leibovitz’s masterclass?
I think you can see that I really enjoyed taking this course. But, this is probably largely because I am a bit of a fan of her work. If I was hoping to pick up technical tips about photography, I suspect I would have been pretty disappointed. Unfortunately, Annie’s course is a bit light on this kind of detail.
However, overall I would still recommend this portrait photography course to budding photographers. For many people, watching someone else work is actually a very good way to learn and pick up new ways of doing things.