Behind the Scenes - Annie Leibovitz Photographs a Lincoln Continental Campaign

Even though she doesn't have a professional portfolio website, her name is widely known. Annie Leibovitz has done yet another nice shoot. This time it is for a Lincoln Continental campaign. Her style is very distinctive — both working with the subjects, lighting, and post processing. Although her lighting is simple, many photographers find it hard to achieve such a look. There are details that are not obvious if we look only from the technical side of her work.

The secret of Annie's work is mostly in the way she directs the people she photographs. You can always get her lighting and post processing right but posing is harder than most of us think. Annie's attitude is always friendly towards her subjects. Watching her behind the scenes videos leaves an impression she's a close friend with everyone on set, especially with the people that are photographed. They are always cheered up and encouraged by her. This greatly contributes to the final look of her images. You can retouch imperfections, you can color grade the image, but you can't fix expressions. That's what she's best at — directing.

Lincoln Continental BTS - Annie Leibovitz directing on set
Lincoln Continental BTS - Annie Leibovitz directing on set

The Gear

There's a lot we can learn from the video above. In this video she uses Nikon and Hasselblad camera bodies. In other videos she's seen using Canon bodies and Phase One backs (not sure what's the digital back on the Hasselblad here). Obviously her images do not depend on the camera brand.

Lighting is achieved with Profoto power packs and Elinchrom Rotalux octagonal softboxes.

How She Uses Light

You can see on several places large diffuse umbrellas. They are used to diffuse the available sunlight. Clouds can do a pretty good job too but you can't control them. Shooting with the sun coming out from the clouds and then hiding back is pretty tough, because you always change your camera settings to have consistent exposure of the environment. Using those umbrellas can help to have more control over the lighting on the subjects. See that she is lighting from the same direction the sun is shining. This helps to sell the "non-lit" look of the images.

Lincoln Continental BTS - Annie Leibovitz - using diffuse umbrellas
Lincoln Continental BTS - Annie Leibovitz - using diffuse umbrellas

Shooting with flash through windows can be also tricky because the light may bounce back from the window as if it were made of glass. That's why they position the softbox as close to the windshield as possible so no light is lost.

Lincoln Continental behind the scenes with Annie Leibovitz shooting the car interior
Lincoln Continental behind the scenes with Annie Leibovitz shooting the car interior

Look at the result. Beautiful:

That's Continental, photographed by Annie Leibovitz
That's Continental, photographed by Annie Leibovitz
From the video footage the next part of the photoshoot has its background heavily lit but the sun. She's using a medium format camera which has a great dynamic range. This means there's lots of information in the file so dialing down the highlights and taking up the shadows is possible without sacrificing the image quality.
Lincoln Continental behind the scenes with Annie Leibovitz photographing three men
Lincoln Continental behind the scenes with Annie Leibovitz photographing three men

 

Retouching in the final image is really seamless. You can see a little bit from the original sun lit scene in the reflection on the top of car. However it doesn't bother me because the result looks great. So are the rest of the images from the campaign.

That's Continental, shot by Annie Leibovitz
That's Continental, photographed by Annie Leibovitz

 

That's Continental, photographed by Annie Leibovitz
That's Continental, photographed by Annie Leibovitz
That's Continental, photographed by Annie Leibovitz
That's Continental, photographed by Annie Leibovitz
That's Continental, photographed by Annie Leibovitz
That's Continental, photographed by Annie Leibovitz

[via Lincoln]

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47 Comments

Anton Lenke's picture

Looks like a 100MP Phase one back on the Hasselblad. I'm curious why she's simultaneously using Nikon and Hasselblad, presumably a 36MP and 100MP difference? Speed of work in certain locations? Thanks for sharing!

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Yes, a 100MP Phase One back indeed.

However, I don't have an answer why she switches cameras. She is photographing the same scene with both cameras. I saw that on several occasions. Probably they want to have a choice between the different camera results in terms of depth of field and dynamic range.

dusko pilic's picture

Throw in a Sony A7_ to the mix too

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Nice catch!

Brian Reed's picture

That would be a good question to ask Annie if we ever get the chance to meet her. As Tihomir pointed out, I too have seen several photo shoots done by Annie and she always shoots with various camera bodies ... DSLR and Medium Format bodies. :-) Guess it all depends on the final output requirements.

Thank you for sharing the video and the write-up. That was fun. I wish we could see more stuff like this here on FStoppers. :-D (*hint, hint, hint ... LOL*)

Anton Lenke's picture

It might be output requirements, it might be artistic, it might be test driving, it might be to show gearheads and fanboys that focusing on the gear to get the results is foolish :)

Chris Adval's picture

Client demand for 100mp images. You give 100mp images. Of course the SonyA7 though is not near 100mp but its 42mp. Not sure if them sony images are for the client or for her own personal collection, who knows, but I know Art Directors/Creative Directors demand very certain minimum resolutions intentionally.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Client's demands are usually pretty clear before the photoshoot, so they can gather the appropriate gear.

They are probably wanting different images from different cameras so they work with the one that feels best. Obviously all images from those cameras will look great.

Chris Adval's picture

Thanks for sharing insight from the great Annie Leibovitz.

As for the "How She Uses Light". It confused me when you mentioned "Clouds can do a pretty good job too but you can't control them." which is true but with umbrellas it doesn't stop what hits the umbrellas which is still effected by the clouds going in and out, still need to adjust the settings with or without umbrellas.... I could see the umbrellas being very useful if they lose the cloud coverage on the subjects.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Umbrellas will have very little effect when the sun is behind the clouds. You are correct the sun will have effect over subjects' exposure unless they used black umbrellas.

The exposure difference under the umbrellas could be about 1 stop with and without direct sun. The exposure difference outside the umbrellas could easily be 2 stops. If she compensates that exposure using only her aperture, she's good to go. It will be a 1 stop difference with the ambient light which is fixable in post. I'd do that rather than trying to be a ninja changing 2 settings each time and missing a precious moment.

Brian Schmittgens's picture

I'm really shocked she just has assistants holding umbrellas instead of a large scrim. I'm assuming because it's a lot quicker and easier to reposition umbrellas on the fly.

Anton Lenke's picture

Easier to pack on a road trip :)

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

I also think it's because of easier handling and positioning, but let's not forget Annie usually shoots with wider angle lenses. Having C-stands with scrims is not an option because they will be visible in the frame.

Chris Adval's picture

But human stands won't be visible?

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

They are acting as human boom arms for this photoshoot.

Shun Liang's picture

human stands are photoshopped out in the post production, which you can see clearly in the two pics below, the first one is from the set, you can see the umbrella on the top to light up the Kristen Dunst and the girls' faces.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

On this photoshoot they knew the retouchers were lazy, so they used the umrbellas instead

Brian Schmittgens's picture

Well you don't have to use a c-stand with a scrim. Back when I used to work as a PA and grip, I'd regularly build 12' scrims to shade whole scenes. But like I said, I'm guessing between the gear, shot bags, and manpower to use them, it makes more sense on a shoot like this to use umbrellas.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Yeah, you are right. Obviously they wanted to go compact on the gear.

Looking at the last seconds from the video they don't usually fold back the softboxes but keep them opened right there in the car. That's why a large scrim is not an option. It can't fit in the car :)

John Flury's picture

This combination of scrim + strobe light makes so much more sense to me then JUST using a scrim. I mean I get it, diffuse the light with a scrim. But doesn't this also create some shade? So you'd end up with diffuse lighting on the subjects, but an overexposed surrounding environment. Never used a scrim before therefor I might be overestimating how much light is being "eaten" by the scrim...

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Scrims and translucent umbrellas (which is practically the same) are indeed making shade. That kind of material acts like a cloud that eats about 2 stops of sunlight. We have -2 on the subjects and 0 on the environment. If she lights the subjects with +3 stops brighter light and exposes for them, the result will be perfectly exposed subjects and -1 stop on the environment. That's what her images look like.

John Flury's picture

ok cool, thanks for confirming.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

One more important fact: Scrims and umbrellas are used to prevent the subjects from squinching. She can expose for them correctly, just by blasting them with 1 stop brighter than the environment. With scrims/umbrellas she's making it easy on their eyes.

Brian Carlson's picture

I love sitting backwards in the passengers seat of my car.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

And your dog driving.

Robert Davis's picture

Why use a sync cable from the sync terminal to the PocketWizard on the Nikon? Won't the hot shoe trigger it just as well?

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

I'm not sure if that's a Nikon D750, but in case it is here's the reason why:
https://fstoppers.com/originals/stop-fighting-hot-shoe-your-nikon-d750-1...

Another reason may be the misconfiguration with the Canon strap on the Nikon causing hotshoe problems :)

Robert Davis's picture

I think it's a D810. But yeah, that Canon strap is also a confusing touch.

In any case, I've ordered a short sync cable--that's probably all I've been missing in my portraits. :)

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Haha

Leonardo Ruberto's picture

Am I the only one who dislike the result?... :(

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Hah. It's called subjective judgement. Nothing wrong with that. I also have my more and less favored images from that series.

Alexis Cuarezma's picture

this was pretty cool. And I always love seeing BTS. But the whole thing felt like an Annie Leibovitz worship video. I like her work, I think she's great and has become a photography icon. But it's like whoever filmed/directed the BTS video told everyone who was interviewed to say something amazing about her. Did anyone else feel that way too or am I the only one?

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

You've noticed it correctly. It's exactly an Annie endorsement video just like if you do a documentary on someone. In this case they use her personality to keep people watching and eventually buy a Lincoln Continental. It is not supposed to be an educational BTS but an ad for Lincoln. However we still can learn lots of stuff from it.

Joe Schmitt's picture

Overall a great video but the part that grinds my gears is how the guy said Annie set up a shot, didn't like it, and scrapped it. Discerning photographer? Or poor planning, execution, and lots of money/time lost? Takes me back to the reason we create storyboards before shooting movies. Outside of that it was good.

Daniel Bayer's picture

I think the main phrase here is "WE''ve set up a shot for Annie and she didn't like it". Maybe the ad/marketing team had an idea, set up and she didn't go for it. It happens all the time when you are working with a brand name like Annie is.

And even if it was her idea, maybe she saw something different in her head and changed her mind on the set. When you are established as Annie is you do not need to compromise your vision, for trivial as it may seem.

Alexis Cuarezma's picture

"and eventually buy a Lincoln Continental" that's where I don't agree. How many people here are buying a Lincoln Continental b/c of this video? how many photographers a buying one? IMO "Annie endorsement video" doesn't equal car sales. That would only work if it was an ad for camera gear. And yes, I agree on your last statement. One can always learn from watching someone work. The video is cool, like I said my main issue with it is it just plainly glories her too much for my taste.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Many of my clients, who are not photographers, love to see bts content. Some even want photos with gear visible in the frame. They don't care about the technical part but the fact they are surrounded by lots of gear makes them feel flattered. That is the reason, I think, Lincoln have created such kind of video. It would not work unless there were celebrities in it. They didn't use an automotive photographer. It is a marketing move.

Daniel Bayer's picture

I understand what you are saying. But there's a difference between branding and retail advertising.

This is branding. It's creating awareness for the brand/object and making it look cool for it's target demographic by associating themselves with a well known photographer. Plus, it generates word of mouth.

Down the road, maybe someone will buy this car for the image created around it. It's not a "buy know, look all my features" kind of advertising.

We are all surrounded by this kind of branding all the time and sometimes we don't even realize it.

Ahmed Gadou's picture

Thanks for sharing :)

I don't want to be odd!! but ordinary results, the only lesson here is how to control the light in such an environment. any more lessons? I could get what she is trying to say? what's the message?

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

The message is: "Annie is a good photographer and is friendly to the people she photographs. Here is some footage from the photoshoot. It happens to have several Lincoln Continental cars in the video, why not buying one?"

It's a Lincoln Continental commercial after all :)

Results may seem ordinary but when someone starts to do commercial work, and have a tough schedule, not so great lighting conditions, and high client demands, producing nice images is not that easy.

Anthony Tripoli's picture

For everyone debating on the "why is she switching between Hasselblad and Nikon"

If you pay attention, she primarily uses the Hasselblad on bigger, wider, further shots, and is using the Nikon primarily on the tighter shots.

Those bigger wider shots can double as larger ads, while the tighter shots are most likely going to be strung together in a series of photos for ads.

Furthermore the lens she is using on the Hasselblad appears to be the HCD 35-90mm which has a minimum focus distance of around 2 feet, thus making it more difficult to use in those tight situations, also the DOF fall off would be pretty drastic that close to a subject, and you would lose details of the car.

While clients do sometimes give requirements for resolutions of photos, this seems to be more of a practicality issue than anything else.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Those arguments are valid indeed.

She's been photographing the same scene (for example inside the car) with Hasselblad, Nikon, and Sony (as someone above noticed). Most probably she used an appropriate lens and aperture for those shots on a medium fomat camera. Or maybe she found the lens and camera weren't suitable for that type of shot but they already filmed that attempt :)

But as I said, I agree with your arguments.

David Apeji's picture

She's the ideal photographer for this campaign, having been introduced to photography during her own family road trips.

Mike V's picture

im always impressed with her images, great post!

Melissa Ann's picture

Interesting results in comparison to what I was expecting after watching the BTS video..... they're not bad. But they seem underwhelming. The third One looks like it was shot by an instagram photographer and an instagram filter was added. Random: the first one reminds me so much of Norman Jean Roy. He has a couple of photos just like that.

Nice, nevertheless.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

I also have my favorite and not so favorite images from the shoot. For me the most important part is they way people look and act in the photographs. As for the "instagram filter" looking results — yes, and probably because instagram filters were created after pros had such color graded results.

We also don't know how much Annie took the lead and how much the client in terms of images ideas.

Melissa Ann's picture

TRUE!