Annie Leibovitz Painterly effect lighting

Started Dec 28, 2008 | Discussions
TimFeak
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Annie Leibovitz Painterly effect lighting
Dec 28, 2008

I am a long term fan of Annie's work especially her later more constructed environmental portraiture.

I have read quite a lot on her background trying to work out how she creates the sort or painterly effect expemplified in her portraits of Queen Elizabeth.

I know from her book "At work" that she now uses profoto lighting gear. I can see she is balancing natural light against strobes often underexposing the natural light to create brooding skys and backgrounds. But the softness of the light quality on the subject, the smoothness of transition from soft highlight to shadow and the total absence of spill from these lights anywhere else in the scene is baffling.

She creates a look where light seems to radiate from the subjects in a way that you see in renaissance oil paintings.

Does anyone have any ideas as to how this is achieved?

Tim

TimFeak
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Annie Leibovitz Painterly effect lighting
In reply to TimFeak, Dec 28, 2008

Is no one interested in how to create beautiful images?

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jugglervr
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Re: Annie Leibovitz Painterly effect lighting
In reply to TimFeak, Dec 28, 2008

TimFeak wrote:

I know from her book "At work" that she now uses profoto lighting
gear.

A light is a light. don't even look at the brand unless you're looking for an effect other than "this head fills up an umbrella with light", such as "this head can annihilate sunlight at high noon at 50 feet" or "this head has such a short duration that it can stop a bullet". As long as you've got enough Ws out of your light, the brand means bupkus. you could fill a softbox with disposable camera flashes wired together and get the same light you'd have gotten from a profoto.

I would expect Annie to have used a gridded (or flagged), huge softbox for the shots with the queen. When BG is under, the subject will naturally seem to give off light. Also, I'd bet a good deal of post was done for the images. She wasn't shy about including digitally stitched files in the book (and even admits to cutting the queen out to paste into a garden scene), so I would expect that the majority of the effect is from post.

anyone have any "before" shots of the queen from Annie's session?

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Eugen Nedelcu
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Re: Annie Leibovitz Painterly effect lighting
In reply to TimFeak, Dec 28, 2008

There was a making-of video on youtube and featured on Strobist. They took the video off youtube but the entry on the strobist is still there - http://strobist.blogspot.com/2007/12/annie-and-elizabeth-minute-by-minute.html

As far as I can remember, one of the photos of Queen Elizabeth was done with natural light and a large Photek umbrella box or octabox.

I guess there is some special retouching recipe at work in Annie's images.

You can get some sneak peaks here too - http://www.236.com/feed/2008/04/30/queen_elizabeth_pwns_annie_lie_6220.php (there's an octabox at 00:19, a diffusing screen at 00:24)

Guess there are more videos on the web as Annie Leibovitz got the Queen angry

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TimFeak
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Thankyou so much
In reply to jugglervr, Dec 28, 2008

Hi

thanks for a quality answer - of course the actual light producing object has little to do with the end result it is the modifiers, distance, position etc that have the effect.

I notice the use of an umbrella box quite a bit in clips of her work. Has anyone got any views on the pros and cons of these. Is it just a softbox with a round instead of square highlight? or are there any other advantages?

You are right about there being some post production work as in her book "at work" she says she shot the stormy garden background separately the night before.

The painterly look seems to come from the dynamic range of the image being really well controled (at least partly by the lighting). Is it likely that some sort of post production technique is used to further smoothout highlights and shadows

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sidelight
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Re: Thankyou so much
In reply to TimFeak, Dec 28, 2008

I've seen the portrait of the Queen. She is lit by natural light from a large open window which fills much of the room. There is probably a bit of fill. There is no magic to this effect. Whenever I've used a mix of natural window light with a little fill it always looks great as well. It's hard to beat. Again, I don't think there is a lot to understand here. Yes, I'm sure she (her assistants) measured the light levels in all parts of the scene and adjusted fill to suit to avoid deep shadows. But most of that quality was due to the natural light. You would easily be able to replicate it.
--
David

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LensEnvy
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Video of Queen Elizabeth photo shoot
In reply to jugglervr, Dec 28, 2008

jugglervr wrote:

anyone have any "before" shots of the queen from Annie's session?

No "before" shots, but here's the full video...
http://strobist.blogspot.com/2007/12/annie-and-elizabeth-minute-by-minute.html

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jugglervr
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Re: Video of Queen Elizabeth photo shoot
In reply to LensEnvy, Dec 29, 2008

gah. copyright takedown!

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jugglervr
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Re: Thankyou so much
In reply to TimFeak, Dec 29, 2008

TimFeak wrote:

I notice the use of an umbrella box quite a bit in clips of her work.
Has anyone got any views on the pros and cons of these. Is it just a
softbox with a round instead of square highlight? or are there any
other advantages?

it'll give a very even spread of light leading up to the subject, instead of the somewhat hard falloff (along the floor) that occurs with a softbox. It's different from a shoot-thru umbrella in that it contains all the backspill light, so you don't light up a whole room.

I never liked my brolly boxes, probably because I never used them enough, but it fels like they threw light everywhere and were hard to control.

This was shot with 2 brolly boxes on top of each other (forgive the poor image quality):

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'I put the camera in 'P' for 'professional' and wrote what I wanted the camera to do on a sticky note under the batteries... Used the headlights from my car on the model and that did the trick...'

You can have it done (pick two): () good () cheap () fast. -Anonymous

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LensEnvy
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Re: Video of Queen Elizabeth photo shoot
In reply to jugglervr, Dec 29, 2008

D'oh! I checked the link, but didn't re-view the video. Drat.

Surely someone else has it posted on YouTube...

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Timberwolfpuppy
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Photoshop'd Queen Elizabeth
In reply to TimFeak, Dec 29, 2008

The Queen Elizabeth picture with her against a brooding, cloudy day lacks shadows and other details because Queen Elizabeth was photographed indoors then her image was cut out using Photoshop and then superimposed on the outdoor shot.

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jugglervr
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Re: Annie Leibovitz Painterly effect lighting
In reply to Eugen Nedelcu, Dec 29, 2008

Eugen Nedelcu wrote:

Guess there are more videos on the web as Annie Leibovitz got the
Queen angry

She refutes that in her book. says it was taken out of context.

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'I put the camera in 'P' for 'professional' and wrote what I wanted the camera to do on a sticky note under the batteries... Used the headlights from my car on the model and that did the trick...'

You can have it done (pick two): () good () cheap () fast. -Anonymous

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Paul Amyes
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Re: Annie Leibovitz Painterly effect lighting
In reply to TimFeak, Dec 30, 2008

When you look at paintings from the renaissance, particularly the work of Rembrandt, and then the later works of Vermeer it becomes immediately apparent they had a profound understanding of how light worked, but they also learned how to accentuate the effects as well using mirrors and reflectors to create more dramatic contrast ratios. The final piece is the fact that they used very high quality pigments in their paints to increase the saturation of the colours.

So take these lessons over to photography. Strong directional lighting with fill lighting in the order of 1:3 or more. Most photography students never deviate very far from 1;1 lighting ratios with the occasional foray to 1:2. This can be very flattering, and good for reproduction, but its so safe and boring. Want painterly get drama, shadow, contrast, modelling, shaping. Learn how to feather the lighting, use the penumbra and umbra of the light source ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umbra ). Add to this good saturated colour and an ability to expose for all this and you have got it licked. This can all be done as Rembrandt did it with large windows, blinds, mirrors and reflectors. The UK photographer Lord Snowden had a daylight studio built in London to produce these effects, very few of his studio portraits are artificially lit.

The ability to pre-visualise and then have the skills to make that happen are very important.

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TimFeak
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Thanks Paul
In reply to Paul Amyes, Dec 30, 2008

I really enjoyed reading your most intelligent answer.

I agree about the contrast ratio in the lighting drama is created by highlights and shadows. I have had some success with environmental portraits using small light sources at more dramatic angles to the subject this can be dramatic but is less flattering if your subject has less than perfect skin. What I love about the queen shots is the softness of the transition from shadow to highlight.

I guess she is pretty good at lighting or has someone working for her who is!

Many thanks

Tim

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JPP801
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Re: Annie Leibovitz Painterly effect lighting
In reply to Paul Amyes, Dec 30, 2008

Great Answer, Paul,

Paul Amyes wrote:

When you look at paintings from the renaissance, particularly the
work of Rembrandt, and then the later works of Vermeer it becomes
immediately apparent they had a profound understanding of how light
worked, but they also learned how to accentuate the effects as well
using mirrors and reflectors to create more dramatic contrast ratios.
The final piece is the fact that they used very high quality pigments
in their paints to increase the saturation of the colours.

Learn how to feather the
lighting, use the penumbra and umbra of the light source (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umbra ).

This is how Beauty Dishes work, using the central baffle to take out the umbra.

Add to this good saturated
colour and an ability to expose for all this and you have got it
licked.

This is where a good understanding of dynamic range, clipping points, etc and how to meter for it comes in.

Film will have a considerably wider dynamic range than most if not all, digital cameras.

This can all be done as Rembrandt did it with large windows,
blinds, mirrors and reflectors. The UK photographer Lord Snowden had
a daylight studio built in London to produce these effects, very few
of his studio portraits are artificially lit.

The ability to pre-visualise and then have the skills to make that
happen are very important.

Never a truer word said.

Plus, Annie Lebowitz has plenty of that very rare gift, "Talent"

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