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.

Throw in a Sony A7_ to the mix too

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 :)

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.

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.

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 :)

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. :)

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

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