Annie Liebovitz Photography Masterclass

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By Tara Cawthra

Annie Leibovitz, a world-renowned American portrait photographer known for her work at Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair magazine, provides an introspective overview of her career and how she approaches her work as a photographer.

Amongst other things, in this Masterclass you’ll learn about how Annie creates concepts, works with light, handles her subjects, directs her shoots and what she values as a photographer.

4.38 of 5 stars 0 reviews
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This course taught me a lot about Annie Leibovitz’s photographic style, and her approach to her work. Although it did not teach me anything technical that I didn’t already know, at the end of it, I walked away inspired. It was definitely an explorative view of her conceptual work and pushed me to think about my personal approach to work in terms of the concept behind it and the story-telling (not just the aesthetic) aspect it entails.


  • Hands-on, thought-provoking assignments.
  • An extremely inspirational course.
  • Breaks away from the bounds of technicality and focuses on conceptual work and the thought process behind photo shoots.
  • You get to see a first-hand perspective of Annie’s art direction style while shooting in the case studies included in this Masterclass.
  • You don’t need expensive cameras or equipment to partake in the assignments.
  • You are not taught about the technical side of photography.
  • It is more of a conversation/documentary-style interview about photography than a course on teaching photography.
  • There isn’t much content on post-production editing, which I personally would like to have seen more of.
  • It is quite a short course (15 lessons and about 3 hours of video content in total) for $90.


  • You are not taught about the technical side of photography.
  • It is more of a conversation/documentary-style interview about photography than a course on teaching photography.
  • There isn’t much content on post-production editing, which I personally would like to have seen more of.
  • It is quite a short course (15 lessons and about 3 hours of video content in total) for $90.

Things to consider before buying this Masterclass:

This Masterclass focuses on thought-processes and conceptualization rather than technical skill and is therefore more of a conversation about photography rather than a lesson on how to use a camera and edit images. So, if you’re a beginner looking to learn about the technical side of photography, spending $90 on this Masterclass may not be the right choice for you.

With this being said, I found this course extremely valuable. Although there are hundreds of YouTube tutorials teaching you how to use shutter speeds and aperture in the right manner, this course gives you a first-hand perspective of storytelling through photography from one of the most iconic photographers of our time. This Masterclass truly captures the essence of Annie’s conceptual work and inspired me as an amateur photographer to get up, grab my camera and play.

A great advantage (and something to bear in mind if you’re toying with the idea of this course) is that you do not have to have multiple cameras or expensive equipment to take part in Annie’s assignments – she believes in simplicity and learning how to ‘see’ as a photographer rather teaching yourself to operate a fancy camera.

Presenting the Annie Leibovitz Masterclass:

This Masterclass includes 15 lessons (that total just over 3 hours of video content), a downloadable workbook, and the option to partake in, and potentially interact with Annie in ‘office hours’.

Annie Leibovitz’s Masterclass promises to “teach you her philosophy on photography” – how Annie believes in concepts and storytelling rather than using the best gear or having technical expertise. I certainly believe that this Masterclass lived up to its initial descriptor as Annie takes you on an explorative journey of her approach to this creative medium. You are taught about how she works with subjects, photographs those that are close to her, conceptualizes her shoots and looks back on her work (and the work of others) to draw inspiration.

Lesson 1: Introduction

In the introduction, you are exposed to some of Annie’s most iconic portraiture work while she speaks through what photography means to her. She states upfront that she is not a technical photographer, and although she doesn’t like labels, self-classifies as a portrait photographer as she believes this style of photography gives her conceptual leeway. This sets the tone for the course as it soon becomes apparent that Annie will spend her lessons discussing her thought processes and conceptual approach to her work rather than how she goes about actually using a camera.

Lesson 2: Portrait Photography

In this lesson Annie asks ‘where is the line?’ in photography, explores what it means to ‘capture’ a person and touches on what makes a great photo.

A reoccurring topic in this Masterclass (that’s introduced in this lesson) is what Annie refers to as the ability to ‘see’. She believes that true talent comes from experience and practicing over and over again. This is something I resonated with, as I tend to focus on my editing abilities, and trying to create the perfect setup, rather than recognizing that photo moment.

Lesson 3: Creating Concepts

This lesson was probably my favorite as Annie spoke through her conceptual formulation process and how her initial ideas to often change on the shoot. In this lesson Annie also discusses her biggest conceptual breakthrough and the photos that what she calls ‘foundational’ to her conceptual work. I was unfamiliar with both of these images and was therefore really interested in the process of how she came about getting those particular shots.

Lesson 4: Working With Light

Annie tosses the notion of equipment aside and emphases the importance of natural light in this lesson. So much so that she tells you to use natural light as your teacher. Annie recommends keeping your kit small and mixing natural light with only one key strobe light in a way that enhances the natural light you’re working with. I was really surprised to hear this, as when I think of a big name like Annie Leibovitz, I always think of big production sets, and lots of staged shots to create the quality of work she does. In this lesson Annie also discusses what time of the day she prefers shooting at and the fact that she despises clear, sunny days due to the harsh natural light created.

Lesson 5: Studio vs. Location

In this lesson you come to learn how little studio work Annie actually does; she far prefers shooting on location because she likes observing and seeing a story unfold that she can capture. Annie also discusses the fact that portraits are such a difficult thing to photograph because she doesn’t think that one photo can truly sum up a person. Another reason she prefers location over studio is because she believes location shots assist her in getting the most naturalistic portrayals possible. This is something I somewhat agree with as although studio work can be controlled, it often appears somewhat staged.

Lesson 6: Working With Your Subject

In this lesson Annie touches on the notion of having to put your subject at ease, checking your photos on the shoot, having a presence in the subjects’ space and the ability (or lack thereof) for a subject to be comfortable and to fit into a given environment.

Lesson 7: Case Study: Angels in America Photoshoot for Vogue Magazine  

I really, really enjoyed this lesson! Annie and her crew were filmed on location while doing a shoot for Vogue, and you could just see the magic come to life. I really loved watching Annie interact with her subjects and direct the shoot. It was all so relaxed, yet extremely composed.

Lesson 8: Photographing People Who Are Close to You

This lesson focuses on Annie advising those of us watching to photograph those around you. This comes with many reasons, including the comfort that the subject feels in your presence, but she said that this is act is what she considers to be a rite of passage in a photographer’s career.

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Lesson 9: Looking Back at Your Work

Annie strongly believes in looking back at your work. After a shoot, take the time to look (and learn) from the photos you’ve collected. Not only for editing purposes, but she advises that this process makes your future work more interesting because sometimes you capture what you didn’t expect to or have a different perspective once you’ve looked at these shots again.

Lesson 10: The Technical Side of Photography

I expected this to be a turning point in the Masterclass, as I was still under the impression that some technique would be taught, however, Annie gave an interesting personal account of how she transitioned from film to digital.

Lesson 11: Student Sessions

In this lesson Annie speaks to some students from San Francisco Art Institute (where she studied) about their work, and how she learnt how to ‘see’. I quite liked the assignment from this lesson – Annie recommended getting a few photographers together (yourself included of course) to view and comment on each other’s work on a regular basis. I think this will be a challenging, but constructive task.

Lesson 12: Case Study Part 1: Photographing Alice Waters

In this lesson Annie takes us through the process of conceptualizing a shoot with Alice Waters. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about how she finds inspiration and does her research behind both her subject and the concept she has in mind before going into a shoot. I also enjoyed learning about how she uses music to aid a shoot – and the fact that this music is tailored to the subjects’ preferences as opposed to her or her teams.

Lesson 13: Case Study Part 2: Digital Post-Production

Annie sits with an editor to touch up the chosen Alice Waters photo she’d taken in the last lesson. Although it resulted in a very carefully crafted final image, I think there was an opportunity here for her to relay some more technical information or insights. It became apparent in this lesson that Annie definitely has a clear image in her mind and that she will edit an image until it is an exact replica of what she had envisioned.

Lesson 14: Photographic Influencers 

This lesson touches on some of Annie’s photographic influencers like Henri Carier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Richard Avedon, and Diane Arbus. Annie spoke through exactly what she appreciated about each of these influencers, and how it is they inspired her in different ways.

Lesson 15: The Evolution of a Photographer

In the final lesson Annie discusses her journey (and evolution) as a photographer. Interestingly she also discusses how it was she actually got into photography and how she learnt most of what she knows by doing and experimenting. Annie also touches on a photo she believes has influenced her greatly; a photo of her mom’s family on a boardwalk, and how this photo subtly crept into her early work.

Social proof

There have been mixed views of this Masterclass. I think this may be due to the fact that some people signed up thinking that Annie’s lessons would be more technical in nature. I still think this course is worthwhile though… especially from a conceptual perspective!

Alternatives to this Masterclass

Portrait photography courses:

If you’re looking for something for a course that details the technical side of portrait photography, you may want to have a look at Scott Robert Lim’s ‘Portrait Photography Fundamentals’. This usually retails at about $99 but includes 61 video tutorials. Here is a link to this course if you’d like to check it out.

I personally haven’t taken this course, but I have read some great feedback about it by beginner photographers who are playing around with portraiture.

A free online portrait photography course from that you may want to look into is this one:

Portraits with Simple Gear

An obvious benefit of this course is the fact that it’s free, but more importantly, it offers lessons on lighting, working with subjects and post-production editing on Photoshop. A huge advantage is that this course does not require much gear (much like the assignments in Annie Leibovitz’s Masterclass).

For those of you who are more intermediate than beginner, you may be interested in having a look at this course:

Creative Portrait Photography

It comes at a small cost, but this course delves into more conceptual and stylistic portraiture work. This is similar to Annie’s course in the sense that it focuses on storytelling, however, it is more guided than conversational.

If you’re looking to really invest in portrait photography (and possibly make it your specialization of choice), you could look at doing a longer term online course like from an institute like the New York Institute of Photography. This will cost a pretty penny, but it will probably be worth your while looking into:

New York Institute of Photography

General photography courses:

For a great online course that’ll teach you the technical basics of everything you need to know, the iPhotography Course comes highly recommended by two photographer friends of mine. Here’s the link for it if you want to read more (reviews can be found on their site):



All in all, I would recommend this to any creative looking for some insight into conceptual work, and inspiration to go back to the basics and push the boundaries of their respective crafts. It was a pleasure letting Annie take me through her thought process and the way she approaches her work as a photographer.

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