Annie Leibovitz | Portraiture


Without a doubt Annie Leibovitz has to be one of the most famous and influential photographers of all time. Born in 1949 in Connecticut she spent her youth travelling with her family to different countries because her father was a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force. Leibovitz was introduced to the arts by her mother who had a passion for music, dancing & painting. She began showing her creative side whilst taking photographs at an early age around the military bases where they were stationed during the Vietnam War.

Leibovitz originally wanted to be an Art Teacher, she studied painting at the San Fransisco Art Institute but later changed her Master to Photography. It was after this that she graduated and returned to the U.S. that her career as a portrait photographer began.

51vdxxrfuol._sx389_bo1,204,203,200_Portraits can be drawn, painted, carved, photographed or in any other way that creates a likeness to them, their personality or mood.

In an article by Kathleen Francis in The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, Fourth Edition, she states that a portrait is broken down into these three categories:


  • Captures the personality or essence of a subject. Not just a picture with a person in it. A “clinical” portrait might not attempt to reveal the soul of a person, but it still needs to capture something of that person’s uniqueness — or else it’s not a portrait.
  • Is staged. While portraits can be candid, even those tend to have some intentionality. The lighting, backdrops, and poses are important, even if they are ad hoc. (Or maybe especially when they are.)
  • Is commissioned. While this isn’t necessary in a literal sense, in a larger sense portrait photographs are made for the purpose. Someone — the subject, or the artist, or some organization — wants a portrayal of a certain person (or group of people). Even a street portrait of a stranger can fit, based on the photographer’s intention.


Leibovitz portraits over the years can fit into all of those categories but without a doubt she has an incredible ability to highlight a part of a person’s character. She started out as a staff photographer in 1970 for the Rolling Stone Magazine then became their Chief Photographer by 1973. She held this role for 10 years shooting 142 covers, to list a few – John Lennon, Ike & Tina Turner, Meryl Streep, Fleetwood Mac, John Travolta, Bob Marley:



During her time with the magazine she toured with the Rolling Stones. It was her job for which she was paid to photograph for the magazine and their agenda, some were staged but most of them were documenting the life of the Rockstars.

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In this interview with Charlie Rose  Leibovitz talks about her time on the Tour, she was immersed in what was going on in their career and found it extremely hard to get off ‘The Tour’ when it finished. After battling a drug addiction she attended rehab, ‘The Tour’ had become her life so when that ended she really struggled. She says she had no life outside of taking pictures so she needed help to break free and build a life in order to carry on with her career.

During Leibovitz time with the Rolling Stone magazine her assignments gave her the opportunity to photograph famous actors, bands and artists and was known for her bold and quirky style. It wasn’t until 1980 when she became a photographer for Vanity Fair that she had more free rein and decisions surrounding the assignments she was given. During this time she became well-known for her controversial portraits, she loved being in control and pushing the boundaries, being able to reveal parts of the celebrities personalities that hadn’t been seen before. This resulted in the articles and shoots that she was involved to stand out in publications and Leibovitz becoming a celebrity in her own right… not that she likes being called a celebrity!

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Her first book – Photographs, 1970 – 1990 was a way for her to look back and reflect on her assignment work over the first 20 years being a photographer.


She was given some advice by Bea Feitler, Art Director for Ms Magazine at the time, which was the inspiration for putting this collection of photographs together as a book:

You will learn the most from looking back at your work and by looking back you will discover how to go forward

Bea Feitler

In 2005 she released her second book –download

A photographer’s Life: 1990 – 2005

This book very different from its predecessor, it contains her assignment work alongside personal photographs that give an inside look into Leibovitz life during those 15 years. This includes photographs of her loved ones throughout the most difficult period of her life documenting the extreme highs and lows that she went through. ‘ I don’t have two lives, – Annie Leibovitz writes in the Introduction to this collection of her work from 1990 to 2005. -This is one life, and the personal pictures and the assignment work are all part of it’

Leibovitz’ 6 figure day fee might seem hefty but she has been through great lengths to get to where she is now. Between 2000 – 2007 she gave birth to her first  daughter, lost her life partner to Leukemia, her father passed away with lung cancer and then her mother died. The pressure of dealing with losing them and not being great with money landed her in $24 Million dollars of debt. After securing a large loan, selling properties, art and lots of legal battles later she managed to pay her debt and retain the rights to her work. That period of her life may have been the lowest but at the same time she achieved great things:

  • In 2000 she was deemed a Living Legend by the Library of Congress,
  • In 2009 she was awarded The Royal Photographic Society’s Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship in 2009
  • And with the help of a surrogate, welcomed twin girls in 2005, whom she named Susan and Sam in honor of her lover and father.

In 2007 after the release of her second book she became the first American to be invited to photograph the official portraits of the longest reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth.

The preparation for this half an hour shoot took 3 weeks to prepare, researching previous monarch portraits, their outfits, the settings and how they were lit and posed. On the day of the shoot, Leibovitz had 11 assistants and lots of equipment with her. In an interview with the Telegraph – Women: New Portraits Leibovitz reflected on her time with the Queen during the shoot.

“I told the Queen how much I admired Cecil Beaton, and that I was modelling the picture after his, and she said: ‘You must make your own way, dear.’ She was mad at me for taking in so much equipment. Apparently the Queen has this other photographer who only comes with one paper bag of stuff. She likes her so much she helps move the furniture! I love that.”


Even in the presence of the Queen Leibovitz appears calm and focused, almost as though it’s no different to any other shoot that she’s ever done. She even asked the Queen to remove her tiara so it looked ‘Less dressy’ which The Queen didn’t seem too happy about. It obviously didn’t do too much damage because she was invited back to photograph the Queen again in 2016.



Like in most of the portraits Leibovitz takes out on location, the subject is part of a bigger picture. The surroundings that are included tell so much more about the subject, the time that they live in, the job that they do, sometimes there is a frame within a frame or there’s a scene of activity that gives depth and reality to the picture. They appear to me  almost as if they were a Still from a movie.

Examples of this can be found in her latest book – Annie Leibovitz Portraits 2005 – 2016, this inspiring book is the weight of 10 books, It’s a showstopper that I will treasure in my Photography collection forever.

Most of the photographs are 2:3 landscape ratio. She lights her subjects using strobes and soft boxes in a way that enhances and doesn’t interfere with the ambient light of their surroundings whether it’s shot inside or outdoors and the result is a very natural looking image. This takes me back to an interview that she had with TimesTalks:

When asked about her photographs being ‘un-varnished’ Leibovitz seemed to struggle with a clear answer to what she was being asked. What I think by that term is that perhaps she means they don’t look like they have been over-processed in Photoshop. Which with the limitless possibilities there are these days in post production, many photographers are much better photo manipulators than they are photographers, whereas Leibovitz spends more time getting it right in camera with the soft lighting and subject position in the frame resulting in the image ‘appearing’ more real.

In reflection she says that she thinks the body of work is strong, not the individual pictures, but the accumulation of the book is important.

One of the things that I am drawn to the most in Leibovitz work is the power she has to build the connection with her subject and the camera. Although it is something that she says should not be the sole responsibility of the photographer, it has to be a collaboration. In many of her images, the look in her subject’s eyes, more often than not, dominates the narrative of the image. People often call eyes the windows to the soul, Leibovitz demonstrates a great power in the connection she gets with her subjects and the camera.


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As a portrait photographer myself I know how important it is to get the model relaxed before any photographs are taken. When working on the cover shoots for Kookie Magazine, we’ve had a couple of confident girls that just oozed personality from the start and others that you needed to talk to and find some familiar ground with first before any photographs can be taken. There’s no script for this either, it usually results in me making an idiot of myself so they can see they’ve got nothing to be nervous about.


In an interview with Michael Schacht he describes his gentle approach which is similar michael-schacht-lead-image-hollywood-reporter-chicago.jpgto my own and probably most photographers.  “It’s a vulnerable thing being photographed. It’s not abnormal for me to sit and chat with people for 20 minutes before I photograph them. I’m timing myself; I am watching for a look in their eye… Once I see it, I know we are ready to start photographing.” Like with Leibovitz it is about the human connection.


The eyes are the place one looks for the most complete, reliable, and pertinent information” about the subject. And the eyebrows can register, “almost single-handedly, wonder, pity, fright, pain, cynicism, concentration, wistfulness, displeasure, and expectation, in infinite variations and combinations.

Author and Artist Gordon C. Ayma


In a study titled –  ‘Why we tend to show our left side in pictures’ it claims that most people turn their face to the right to show more of their left side.

Looking at historical portrait paintings and photographs there was around 60% of the subjects were turned to the right, showing the left side of their face. Sam believes this favoritism for the left side of people’s faces, or a subject’s natural tendency to highlight that side is related to the part of the brain responsible for its use.  He explains that the left half of the body is controlled by the right half of the brain which is also responsible for emotion and communication, making it more pleasing to look at and more likely to convey emotion.

Many people commented under this article, some claiming it was utter rubbish and others totally backing the theory.

That ‘left brain, right brain’ stuff has already been disproved. Old world myths still persist, so please do your research.

I’m not sure about that. I’m by no means a neuroscientist, but from what I’ve read neural crossover is a very real thing. Check out the corpus callosum — if someone is missing this structure they can draw a circle with one hand while simultaneously drawing a square with the other. Certain regions of the brain are responsible for certain activities. For example, the rhombencephalon (sometimes called the hindbrain), located just above the spine is responsible for many of our base functions. While I haven’t studied the anatomical structures referenced in this video I don’t think the conjecture requires too much of an intellectual leap. Plus it was meant to spark a conversation. Thanks for your input!

It’s because the majority of the world read words from left to right and as a result we naturally read images in this direction too. Therefore the brain more easily accepts the face or portrait reading into the face as opposed into the back of the head. It is also the most common direction of lighting into still life subjects in many of the old masters paintings. Much of my work is shot the same way although not necessarily intentionally, other times the environment you are shooting in dictates the direction your subject faces


Either way, Leibovitz may follow other historical techniques like Rembrandt lighting but when it comes to posing she occasionally has them facing towards the left side of frame but it’s not something I see a lot in her work. More often they are positioned straight on to the camera or facing towards the right side of the frame.

“I no longer believe that there is such a thing as objectivity,” she once said. “Everyone has a point of view. Some people call it style, but what we’re really talking about is the guts of a photograph. When you trust your point of view, that’s when you start taking pictures.”

Annie Leibovitz


When asked if Leibovitz had a life philosophy – “Not really. Work hard, be with your family. It doesn’t really add up to anything I’d embroider on a pillow,” she laughs. “I try to be home for dinner, but I’m not there enough. I sometimes feel I’m still fumbling, getting it wrong, but I make my way.”

So it’s endearing to know that even on a day rate of between $100,000 and $250,000 that she still has simple goals to work hard and make sure she is home for dinner to spend time with her family!


Leibovitz is an inspiration not only because she is one of the most well known female photographers carved in history but also as an incredible female role model and educator.

She has photography classes available to purchase online, these are similar to many other photographers that I follow like Kelly Brown and Sue Bryce. You can purchase single classes or pay yearly to access everything. Every year I invest in education, workshops that are related to my photography or building my business. This is so important, especially for ideas and inspiration. I hope to one day be able to pass my knowledge on and become an educator so having the opportunity to learn from the best photographers such as Leibovitz who has spent her whole life in the industry is such a privilege.

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As I get older I understand my role in it all, the power of the body of the work; it has such a weight, a story.

Annie Leibovitz






(1) The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, Fourth Edition. Michael. R. Peres.













Over the past 3 years I have been running my photography studio alongside studying for my Degree. My portfolio has grown and my business has had an incremential growth in clients and profit. I’m proud to be the cover photographer for the internationally seccessful KOOKIE Magazine which was launched in December 2017. A quarterly publication for young girls inspiring greatness over appearance and unrealistic values. I’m also grateful to have received a Highly Commended Award by The Society of Wedding & Portrait Photographers in April this year. This Newborn Image was part of a Fine Art Triptych created for my Degree Exhibition.

In June 2018 it was time to celebrate because I was able to start paying myself a wage, it’s a token payment but if the objectives that I have set myself for this academic year work, then I hope to double that by this time next year. My returning client base has increased with continued great feedback and I’ve managed to hold my place at the top of the Google search engine when looking for ‘Newborn Photographer Wrexham’. Also feature on the first page when other keywords like ‘Wedding Photographer, Family Photographer’ are used.

My three main objectives for this year in Locating Practise and Practise and Application are focused on taking my business to the next level.

  • Create images for competitions – During the 1st Semester:

    – Harry Potter styled newborn image that I have been requested to do for a client. For this I will need to make and source props taking inspiration from Kirsty Mitchell and her Wonderland series to create a setting in the style of a Harry Potter scene. (Image –

    – I will also be creating 2 Alice in Wonderland themed images | One portrait & One Composite. Inspired by artists like Brooke Shaden & Kirsty Mitchell

  • Learn how to market & sell to my ideal client
  • Increase my prices

These objectives will involve investing time and money in workshops to learn how to improve in these areas. The 4 workshops that I will attend in the first semester are:

Paulina Duczman Fine Art Portraiture (28th November 2018) – Paulina is an award winning portrait photographer so I have chosen this workshop to improve my photography & editing skills to help me create images for competitions. She will cover planning, styling, lighting, posing, getting the models connection with the camera, shooting & editing. I also need to understand the theory of portraiture and practising popular lighting techniques like Rembrandt (Image – with reference to photographers such as Paulina Duczman & Annie Leibovitz who are renowned for this style. I will also research galleries and find out which competitions and categories are best suited for my work, studying previous winners and the criteria the judges are looking for.

In Person Sales (29th November 2018) – This workshop will be held by Maggie Robinson covers how to correctly price and sell your work. Increase your average sale and sell more wall art. Having your images displayed as pieces of art in clients homes is a constant advertisement of your bespoke service and products to anyone who see it.

The Creative Newborn Studio (December 2018) – International Award Winner Julia Kelleher teaches how to hone your creativity to stand out in the Newborn Photography Market and create unique images. As newborn photography is the service that I want to promote the most, this workshop will help me to explore a more artistic approach to my photography.

Marketing Strategies for Newborn Photographers – International Award Winner Julia Kelleher covers collateral identity, branding & marketing with a purpose, booking, selling, the experience, customer service & the product. During this I will be researching how other award winning photographers who offer a bespoke portraiture price their services and look at eventualy locating myself within their price range.

These workshops not only improve my skills but they are important networking and research opportunities. By spending time with other local and international photographers it helps to keep me locate my practise in the current photography market. (Image

During the Advanced Professional Practise module in the second semester and leading me into 2020 I will be looking to bring together everything I’ve learnt over these past 5 years to either set up my own photography workshops (Image – or find a role in education…. and keep following in the footseps of the masters…. always 🙂


2018 – 2019 Proposal

Reaching New Heights


This year I plan to concentrate on building my business, what makes me different and finding my target market with the main objective of increasing my prices. The work I plan to make will be continuation of last year, creating bespoke portraits and building on the knowledge that I have learnt so far. I will be creating images specifically for competitions, aiming to gain awards which I can use to lift my status and justify the reason for raising my prices.

I would have liked to spend some time learning more about film, as this is another service that I would like to offer. I am interested in learning how to create short films that work alongside my photography. Particularly influenced by storyteller artists such as Ivan Monagas, his photography & videography skills blow me away and I love his videos with attention to the music, transitions and sounds:

To start focusing on videography now it would require more financial investment, education and time outside of my business, something that I don’t have any of at the moment. Running my photography business alone has increased in difficulty over the past 2 years as my client base has built. The photography is only a tiny percentage of the work, the rest is spent on editing and then around that there is the planning, meetings, admin, ordering, packaging & delivering, advertising, cleaning.. the list goes on! Work & family life is totally off-balance with having to spend on average 60-70 hours per week and not even earning minimum wage once all the studio costs, insurances etc are paid. As much as I would like to devote my time to learning something new it will be detrimental to my current situation so I have made the sensible decision to focus on the services that I currently offer and optimise those. Also, I will be looking at ways to speed up my editing workflow so that I can spend less evenings and weekends working and balance out my family time better.

During semester one I will be creating 3 images to enter into competitions such as SWPP. One will be a bespoke Harry Potter styled newborn image that I have been requested to do for a client. For this I will need to make and source props to create a setting that will look like a scene out of the films.


I will also be creating 2 images using my children. There is several reasons that I plan to use my children, for one it means more time spent with them, something that I have very little of these days and this is affecting us all as a family so it’s important I do something to change that. Also, I have more options, I can shoot at times that are convenient to us. When relying on model calls there is a multitude of things that can get in the way of the shoot like being let down, or we don’t get the shots needed then a replacement would need to be found. At least with my children I have more options.

Inspired by films like Alice In Wonderland I will re-create stills from the movie with a contemporary twist to link them with our current modernistic lifestyles today.

I will be building on the knowledge that I learnt last year creating composite images, believable scenes with a magic or otherworldly twist. The images I want to create will be more Fine Art than Studio Portrait, to do this I will be learning how to style and edit for Fine Art as well as looking at finishes and framing that will suit my images.

In order to help me do this I have invested in several workshops for 2018/2019:

Fine Art Photography with Paulina Duczman

(28th November 2018)

Paulina Duczman –


IPS Sales with Maggie Robinson

(29th November 2018)

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The Creative Newborn Studio with Julia Kelleher

(Scheduled December 2018)


Marketing Strategies for Baby Photographers with Julia Kelleher

(Scheduled – January 2019)

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Every year I invest in extra education outside of University that is focused specifically around my business. These courses offer what I need for the objectives that I have set for this academic year. Paulina will be covering shooting and editing for Fine Art images and this is the level that I want to be creating images for competitions. What I hope to then learn from Maggie is how to sell my work, how to price it correctly and be confident in doing so. At the same time as improving my skills these workshops are important networking and research opportunities. By spending time during workshops with other local and international photographers it helps to keep me locate my practise in the current photography market.



The Art Of Strategy

Before I started to look at my business strategy I searched the internet for any helpful advice regarding photography businesses.

In an article by – 5 Keys of a successful photography business strategy I condensed the information to these main points:

  • Have a clear product/price list. Clients need a clear idea of what’s available to them and how much it costs. Time is money – your prices need to reflect everything that goes on in the background. Hard costs are easy to calculate. Investment of human time in product creation, marketing, and selling the work must also be incorporated into product price in order to operate profitably. Photographers make money when they are taking and selling pictures. Overlooking the time spent interviewing clients, editing, presenting work, post processing, retouching, printing, framing, assembling albums, updating social media and marketing easily translates into long hours for low profit. Build a team. Outsource. Focus on working profitably.
  • Quality – You have to offer a service and product that they can’t make themselves. Be the best you can, your art has to stand out and be worth the price you put on it. Key points in developing visually distinctive imagery are education and practice. Impactful presentation of visually distinctive imagery builds perceived value.

    Where and how clients see your work is integral to how they perceive the value of it.

    The higher the price, the more image marketing contributes to perceived value. For instance, one expects Costco to be cheap and Neiman Marcus, expensive. The compared visual appeal of each store is image marketing, from the brick and mortar environment to the ads placed in magazines. Develop your image marketing to reflect what you do in an appealing manner to your studio’s target market.

  • Network the target market – To attract your target market you have to know everything about them – where do they live, what’s their job, their hobbies etc. Then direct you marketing around these things. Re-marketing, look at how your competitors advertise, if it’s solely through social media then do something different like a physical mailing piece
  • Creative Implementing of incoming technologies – Stay up to date with technology updates and systems, are there any that you can use that will save you time and money.
  • Reputation for quality & service – The perfect outcome for this would be: The client enjoying the experience, feeling satisfied that they received what they expected and at a price they perceived as good value. They are looking forward to their next session with you and are eager to talk about it with family, friends and social media which could lead to more bookings.

Find ways of servicing clients that make them feel special during the time they spend with you. Follow up with a personal note, an email, a text – whatever is appropriate for your target market and be sure to include them in future advertising.

Deliver what is expected, or a little bit more, on time and in good condition.

Handle complaints promptly and in a manner that is fair to both parties. Be professional in all aspects of the business. Be ethical and honest. Never deliver a job that is less than your best.



In preparation for my proposal I have worked through these activities to build a strategic plan.


Strengths – Providing a good service, enjoyable experience and receiving consistent positive feedback, client referrals, good position in Google searches

Weaknesses – Marketing & social media, need to earn more and work less hours, offering too many services, I’m not producing the quality of work that I want to be.

Opportunities – Not aware of any opportunities at the moment

Threats – Other photographers providing the same service in the same area as me

What are my creative strengths?

  • I offer a bespoke service, open to ideas from clients and can work to a theme or brief.
  • Trained in newborn posing
  • Member of BANPAS, photography association for newborn & baby photographers
  • Experienced in Photoshop & Lightroom

Which strengths create value for my clients?

  • Bespoke photography & editing service creating unique images

Does this value translate into what I’m making?



What do I perceive to be my number one weakness?

Marketing to my ideal client

How can I best mitigate that weakness?

Research and get marketing advice

What other weaknesses need immediate attention in order to give my plan the best chance at success?

Focus and improve on the services that I have invested extra time and money in that I enjoy the most – Newborn & Wedding. Pricing for my ideal client and increasing my prices so that I can work fewer hours

What is the action plan for these weaknesses?

Get help with my marketing and enter competitions to try to receive awards. If I can advertise my services as ‘Award Winning’ I will be able to justify increasing my prices to the level of other local award-winning photographers. Only advertise the services that I want to be doing, try and filter out the ones I don’t enjoy.

What opportunities haven’t I considered?

  • Approaching local companies that are in the baby or wedding industry to discuss a referral scheme
  • Advertising my business (outside of social media)
  • Exposure – local papers, leaflets etc

What opportunities do my competitors seem to be capitalizing on?

  • Better exposure
  • Professional videos advertising their business
  • Referrals with other companies
  • Networking & building relationships

What are the 2 or 3 opportunities that back up my plan of action?

  • Enter competitions to try to gain an award
  • Contact local newspapers and enquire about a feature
  • Approach local companies to discuss a referral scheme


What are the threats to my plan?

  • That I don’t win any awards
  • More photographers locally start offering newborn photography and increase my competition
  • That I have to keep offering the services that I don’t enjoy so that I can cover my expenses – studio rent etc
  • I struggle to find clients
  • I get injured and can’t work

Out of the potential threats – what are the top 3 that could affect my business the most?

  • More photographers locally start offering newborn photography and increase my competition
  • I struggle to find clients
  • I get injured and can’t work

What is the worst case scenario?

  • I get injured and can’t work…..but hopefully that won’t happen! 😀



SMART objectives

Objectives for the next 12 months

  • Attend workshops to improve my photography & Photoshop skills
  • Enter competitions
  • Find ways to market my business outside of social media
  • Earn more – work less

Strategies & Tactics 

  • Attend workshops – Improve my skills. learn about fine art photography and what’s required by judges for competitions
  • Enter competitions – Look at past winners, get constructive criticism, find out what I can do to improve
  • Find ways to market my business outside of social media – local publications, galleries, Other platforms like LinkedIn, networking events
  • Earn more – work less. Try and reduce the preparation time before & editing time after shoots. Look at my packages, can I change anything to make more of a profit. Improve my IPS (In-person sales) when clients come to view their photos aim to up-sell, wall art etc. Adjust my pricing system in comparison to local photographers that offer the same service that I do.