Annie Leibovitz's Lighting, from the eyes of a Photo Assistant

Annie Leibovitz's Lighting, from the eyes of a Photo Assistant

Assistants, aka "voice activated light stands", can be a wealth of knowledge and experience if you are fortunate enough to have access to one that's been around. It's not entirely unheard of, to meet an assistant that knows their lighting better than the photographer they are working for. If only one of them would create a blog about their behind the scenes exploits... wait a minute. What do we have here?
Melanie Mann is the author of a blog called: Confessions Of A Mad Photo Assistant, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Where she post really insightful articles, detailing the lighting set ups for shoots like the one below. But she doesn't stop there. She also promises to share with us "...the stories no one gets to hear from the view of the lowly photo assistant–from plucking the gray stress hairs off of your boss’s wife’s head to chatting with John Paul Jones about smoked salmon eggs benedict."
Melanie Mann:
"Tell me these aren’t the most stunning rendition of Disney art to date! LOVE! Alright before I start getting carried away and prattle on about how epic I feel these images are, let’s examine one…"

"Here is Queen Latifah portrayed as Ursula from the Little Mermaid. Amazingly I stumbled upon some behind the scenes photos of the set from different angles, so I think this diagram is a pretty good representation of the set up."
"The Breakdown:
To camera right, a large octobank shooting through a large diffusion panel toward the Queen. Two large strip banks on either side of the camera, low, illuminating the underside of the tentacles. Two large octobanks, one above and slightly behind the Queen camera left, and the other handheld by an assistant at 45 degree angle to Queen also camera left. Another large octobank is boomed overhead, an umbrella illuminates the background, and a reflector held by an assistant camera right. Quite an impressive set up! Understandably as there are several moving parts and awkwardly twisting tentacles. Overall beautifully soft soft illumination."



"Here’s a behind the scenes video you can see the whole thing in action:"

"How fun would it be to climb into that get-up!! And Queen Latifah makes the perfect Ursula! Beautiful lighting, amazing final image."
via [Confessions Of A Mad Photo Assistant]
I have to thank Corey for turning me on to this oh-so-fun blog. And if you get a chance you should too, by either: friending him on Facebook, following him on Twitter, or joining him on the Fstoppers Flickr group. Heck you should do them all.
From Kenn:
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LOL, nice find and nice plugs!

The assistant is holding a Photek Softlighter. Annie uses them all the time.


check out my kick A** photo blog folks! :)

actually, it's not a Photek. Annie does use one all the time, but this particular one is a Profoto Giant Umbrella Reflector ( ) that they have put a diffusion cloth over. She rigged this one up herself for whatever reason.

Great blog dude...

Massive lighting setup. Queen Latifah is great. 

lol, i read this backwards. "Lighting setup is great. Queen Latifah is massive" HAHA

As abundant as this setup appears, what I love about Annie Leibowitz, is how she keeps her approach simple. Basically, she used the big light sources to create one big wrap-around light source. One light could not have lit the tentacles properly. What an inspiring force she is, as well as this post! Thanks for posting it.

8 or so lights, a couple fans, a giant rubber octopus suit... simple... right ;-)

Simplicity is not measured by numbers, but rather by concept.

That should be a famous quote somewhere.

Sometimes i can't help but think if there is going to be that much post anyway then why the need for elaborate lighting and expense.

I am putting that one on Disney cause I totally agree.  If you look at the set and all the detail they put into it, like the charred, rocky surface the Queen is on and then look it at the final... meh.  Honestly I bet Annie's finals are far more compelling before the retoucher layered on the effects.  It's a shame really.

Ma's picture

Oh, look at that... Finally, a picture from Annie Leibovitz that I don't like, even the tiniest bit :P Then again, I really am more of her early work fan.
I agree with Crusty here, what a waste of money and talent this whole setup was! Sure, fun to play with, but did it serve the image at all? Queen Latifah's expression is really not here nor there, so you can't say that it helped her get in character or whatever. To create the whole scene digitally would be a challenge... But wait, don't you have people who already do that, Disney?
So, it seems like the whole point was have a BTS that shows how fun they are.
AND, to show us how to light quite a complicated set. Which is really nice of them.
Seriously tho, I think I just found my new favourite blog. Or second favourite :P

I seriously can't help but think "overkill", especially with the large scrim with the octobank behind it. I love Annie. Her work inspires me a lot. I'm honestly not really feeling the final image that got produced from this setup shot. I was expecting something MUCH more intricate. The tentacles in the final shot look fake, and like they were added in post. It's a shame to have such a GREAT production on set, but then have it PS'd away. Like Kenn pointed out... WHERE IS THE ROCKY GROUND? lololol

I agree with Ken. I'm also surprised they didn't use the rocky surface they created in the final composite. I guess the crashing waves to cover it up came from direction afterwards. Also, is there a link to a higher resolution version of the final composite? It would be nice to see some of the detail work. 

Joop van Roy's picture