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:

Take a Free Course on Dig­i­tal Pho­tog­ra­phy from Stan­ford Prof Marc Lev­oy

Learn Dig­i­tal Pho­tog­ra­phy with Har­vard University’s Free Online Course

School of Visu­al Arts Presents 99 Hours of Free Pho­tog­ra­phy Lec­tures

1972 Diane Arbus Doc­u­men­tary Inter­views Those Who Knew the Amer­i­can Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Best

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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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.