Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography in Her First Online Course

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Dolly Parton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barack Obama and family, Bruce Springsteen, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Gates, Queen Elizabeth II, Lady Gaga: name someone who has risen to the very top of the zeitgeist over the past few decades, and Annie Leibovitz has probably photographed them. Her images, in fact, have often come to stand for the images of her subjects in the culture: when we think of certain celebrities, we instinctively imagine them as they appeared on a Leibovitz-shot cover of Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair. Safe to say, then, that she knows a thing or two about how to take a picture that makes an impact.

The people at online education company Masterclass have now packaged that knowledge in “Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography,” a course that joins their existing lineup that includes Helen Mirren on actingSteve Martin on comedyWerner Herzog on filmmaking, and Herbie Hancock on jazz. For a price of $90 (or $180 for a year-long pass to all of their classes), Masterclass offers a package of workbook-accompanied video lessons in which “Annie teaches you how to develop concepts, work with subjects, shoot with natural light, and bring images to life in post-production.”

The early lessons in “Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography” cover subjects like memories of her own development as a photographer to discussions of her influences and her view of the medium itself. Later on, she gets into the real-life case study of shooting chef Alice Waters for Vanity Fair, digital post-production, how to come up with the right concept (ideally, so her career has shown, one just strange or daring enough to get people talking), and how to work with your subject. “There’s this idea that in portraiture, it’s the photographer’s job to set the subject at ease,” Leibovitz says in the class trailer above. “I don’t believe that.”

Few aspects of Leibovitz’s method have drawn as much attention as the way she handles her subjects,  which tends to involve both developing enough of a relationship with them to gain some understanding of their inner lives and putting them in situations which, so she has studiously learned while getting to know them, may lie a bit outside of their comfort zone. Few of us will ever have that much face time with a photographer like Leibovitz, let alone enough to ask her in-depth questions about the craft, but if you suspect you might find yourself one day in a position to photograph the next Caitlyn Jenner, Mark Zuckerberg, or Kim Kardashian — or someone more important to you personally — the strategies explained in her Masterclass course will surely come in handy.

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Related Content:

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School of Visual Arts Presents 99 Hours of Free Photography Lectures

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Ansel Adams, Photographer: 1958 Documentary Captures the Creative Process of the Iconic American Photographer

Hunter S. Thompson’s Advice for Aspiring Photographers: Skip the Fancy Equipment & Just Shoot

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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Comments (5)
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  • Brian says:

    I don’t understand why this is being featured on open culture, the content is behind a hefty paywall. $90/$180 is far from free.


    That makes me laugh sorry, how can you teach photography?
    A simple camera and a little curiosity are enough.
    Besides I don’t like A.L!
    But I LIKE your site. Very interesting.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS from France♣

  • René says:

    Sorry but no.

    Just like to write is not enough to have a laptop and an idea.

    Photography has rules: light, colors, contrast, angle, etcetera.

    To became a Photographer without training it will need hours and hours and hours and again hours and hours and hours of practice.

    And sometimes it will be not enough.

    Here we have a famous photograoher teaching, just like there are famous writers that give lessons, or painters etcetera.

    But have you ever noted that there are faculty courses in cinematography, writing, painting and so on.

    And we are talking about Photography as a profession (either artistic or clerical) not photogaphy as a hobby.

    I love to take photos of my pets, and buildings etc etc.. … just like I love to write comments, still I’m far from a photograper or an opinionist.

    And as usual the fact that you don’t like something doesn’t imply that that something is unuseful or wrong o whatever. It only means that you don’t like it.

  • Linda Grishman says:

    Not true. You do need a few pointers; not many but a few. Most of all a good eye. Most people look at the subject matter only. So if someone is standing in front of a pole and the photographer snaps the shot. The photo will reveal it as a pole growing out of the subjects head. Move the subject away from the pole or any other thing that would detract from the photo.

  • doh says:

    You clearly are in that percentage of people who think that your phone’s camera does the job for you and it’s “dslr quality” lol

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