Annie-Tated: Keith Richards for Louis Vuitton

While we are on the subject of the Photek Softlighter, I thought it fitting to run a BTS video of Annie Leibovitz shooting Keith Richards in a hotel room for Louis Vuitton with that same light mod.

She uses the Softlighter a lot—along with a voice-activated light stand who damn-well better know what she is thinking before she says is out loud. (I'd put money on that last part.)

Fully annotated video—and the final photo—after the jump.

First 20 secs: Propping the set. Really wish we had more of this.

0:34 Richards to Annie: "Where do you want it, baby?" (These two go way back -- Annie toured with The Stones in '81 and produced an amazing set of photos.)

0:39 She doesn't tell him how to sit, she shows him how and where to sit. Only has so much time -- and attention span -- to work with. I'll give her this: Every time I watch her, she is remarkably efficient. With respect to subjects' time, at least. Money, not so much.

0:42 "Just show me where to park the carcass." True fact: Jim Fixx, author of The classic The Complete Book of Running, died at age 52 of a heart attack following his daily run. Keith Richards, 66 as of this writing and with way heavier mileage, is still kicking.

0:50 Keith is already running the shoot, or so he probably thinks. Move and pose. Move and pose.

1:12 Of course, every one of those move and pose shots will look contrived. Time for a change-up -- change the venue. "I'm just gonna try one more thing…"

1:20 Now move him back to where you really want him.

1:47 Stroke the ego: "This is so great. This is so great. This is so beautiful…"

2:00 Maybe we could change one little thing. "You don't have to pose … when you are playing the guitar, when you are doing that … it's the best stuff." Indeed.

2:20 And out. Kisses all around. Applause -- always applause. Just like on your shoots, right? Dollars to donuts there is an Assistant in Charge of Starting the Applause. Without fail.

2:25 Rembrant is thus conjugated into an adjective. Style points to Keith.

2:29 Pause it here. Here is a pic with no post. Cell phone video of a monitor, sure. But still, you can see pretty much what is done in camera and what is done afterwards.

The photo is built on the light from the Softlighter and the ambient room lamps. Nothing else. Would you have had the nerve to light a Louis Vuitton shoot of Keith Richards using only a sub-$100 brolly box? I wouldn't.

(© Louis Vuitton / Annie Leibovitz. Click the pic for bigger version.)

And yes, that light is walking itself around intuitively. The post production will always pull much more out of the photo. She always seems to have a celebrity in front of her lens. And then there is the whole gazillion assistants thing.

But the truth is that Annie Leibovitz creates her own weather. She is great with her subjects. She is great at the bedside manner, the broaching of an idea, the tenacity to stick with it and the stones (so to speak) to do whatever it takes to make the picture inside of her head.

I love her photos, even if they really are giant collaborations. And I love being a fly on the wall in these YouTube'd shoots. More, please.

She has been a visual compass point of mine for 20 years, and I have probably learned more over time from studying her than from anyone else.

Damn shame about the money management thing. Her brain has just never been wired to deal with money.

But I still love her photos.

(Tweet Annie and Keith)


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Blogger AMorris said...

It was nice to hear Robert Johnson playing in the background.

June 11, 2010 12:23 AM  
Blogger xNBSx said...


Thanks David!

June 11, 2010 12:52 AM  
Blogger morgan eddington said...

the suitcase isn't in the final image...

Just noticed that.

You should do the one that she did for Queen Elizabeth.

June 11, 2010 12:53 AM  
Blogger Elisha said...

Video + Breakdown = Gold. I watched the video, read your post, and watched it again. And again. As you said, it takes a lotta balls to shoot Keith Richards for Louis Vuitton with one little diff'd umbrella.

I found it interesting that she wasn't afraid to get the Softlighter in the Shot & deal with it later. In the sake of valuable time and capturing the moment, she didn't compromise her composition.

Great stuff, looking forward to seeing you in PDX.

June 11, 2010 12:59 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

I loved this too. People hate on her so much, but I think she has always made fantastic photographs. Bottom line.

I love that she's using the softlighter too.

June 11, 2010 1:26 AM  
Blogger OaklandMisfit said...

Man, Annie is good. Her skills seem to have soooo much less to do with photography, and soooo much more to do with people interaction.

You can see her in the video talking with the assistants, then with Keith, making him do what she wants him to do... It's Keith-frickin'-Richards, and he's just going with it. Annie is good.

Was it Dan Winters who said "once you have the lighting stuff down, the limitation becomes your voice"? And Annie doesn't seem to have reached this limitation yet.

So much to learn from the greats...

Thanks for the vid, very cool!

June 11, 2010 1:38 AM  
Blogger djthuro said...

Just when I was starting to feel I needed to go out and buy a bunch of studio lights. Thanks Dave this video was awesome. the picture turned out remarkably well. I guess it goes to show how much more I need to learn.

June 11, 2010 2:11 AM  
Blogger Dave Hodgkinson said...

And she still cut off the headstock of his guitar.

I have a fat book of her early music stuff which rocks. Her later stuff has been awful at times (Lavazza, the Queen), too post-processed.

But, I picked up her "at work" book and then watched the DVD. Respect. She knows she got lucky and works damn hard. As you say, shame about the management.

This is nice low-tech work. Aside from the flunkies of course.

June 11, 2010 2:40 AM  
Blogger Michael Plaxico said...

Mr. Hobby, you kick all forms of ass. Much love and respect. Question: Does the Photek Softlighter work with monolights without modification?

June 11, 2010 3:31 AM  
Blogger Sfondry said...

This is just an amazing example of what can be done with a single light + modifier and some accurate post prodocution

June 11, 2010 3:46 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

"-- along with a voice-activated light stand that damn-well better know what she is thinking before she says is out loud."

That would be a TAL (thought activated light stand) not something you find in many strobist bags and apparently an item that is quite hard to find.

June 11, 2010 3:48 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

"Would you have had the nerve to light a Louis Vuitton shoot of Keith Richards using only a sub-$100 brolly box? I wouldn't."

Haha. I'm glad she did.

June 11, 2010 5:17 AM  
OpenID corkap said...

Great post. Bought, read and frequently dip back into her book Annie Liebovitz At Work. Very informative, entertaining and readable. And great photography! Thanks

June 11, 2010 6:51 AM  
Blogger FOOTOOBLOOG said...

"Would you have had the nerve to light a Louis Vuitton shoot of Keith Richards using only a sub-$100 brolly box? I wouldn't."

I would. Simple is often better, especially when you have a big star in a nice environment. This shot wouldn't have benefited from 4 rim lights. Save that for when you're trying to show off your awesome technique to your flickr buddies.

What I was surprised with is that she shot this with an ordinary 35mm DSLR. No 60MP digital back on a Mamiya or Hasselblad. I guess she figured she didn't need the ridiculous resolution and preferred to use something lighter and faster.

June 11, 2010 6:59 AM  
Blogger ftir said...

Very interesting result.

The mix of ambient and strobe is amazing. She was able to create a fantastic atmosphere. (I can suppose from DOF + light level mix that she maybe worked at higher ISO).

I'm wondering though how the subject surroundings are not affected by the softlighter. I would expect such spill control would be possible only by a softbox/ softbox + grid.

Could you perhaphs share your insight that would maybe explain why she chose the softlighter instead of another modifier?

Thanx in advance,
Fotis T./ Athens - Greece

June 11, 2010 7:28 AM  
Blogger John said...

Cool link, David. I think the Photographer's "bedside manner' is one the things I find most hard to develop. While I tend to find Annie a bit perfunctory in the way she wrangles her subjects, at least verbally, there's no question she was at ease with Keith in this shoot.

June 11, 2010 7:39 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks for this David, very interesting indeed!

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you think the image has been worked in post. Also when the final image is shown on screen is that a reflection on the display or is the softlighter actually visible in the shot?

Thanks again!

June 11, 2010 7:47 AM  
Blogger JLykins said...

That's how you work a shoot. She's a master... I swear...

June 11, 2010 7:59 AM  
Blogger Matti Vaittinen said...

Thanks for the good post.I have also been a fan of Leibovitz for some time and watched her youtube videos :) Got her "at work" book and red it too.
It's great how she uses just that one light as you mentioned too.Simple and yet the photos look really great.Video of her shoot with P.Diddy and Natalia Vodianova on a train is really great too.Shame they removed it from youtube.

June 11, 2010 8:30 AM  
Blogger Phil Ball said...

Im distracted by the color temp differences between the softlighter and the ambient lamps. I wonder why she chose not to gel her light - maybe she wanted the artificial look?

My immediate thought would not be to use such soft light on him, but that probably makes me cliche (old guy with wrinkles, hit him with hard light to make them stand out)

June 11, 2010 8:40 AM  
Blogger John said...

I have to agree, in that a I am a huge Annie fan (regardless of her money mgmt skills). I especially love her big group shots. She definitely has an underrated skill with her subjects and lights things in a way that looks like it could be available light ...that is cool.

If I'm not mistaken, there's also a pretty cool BTS video where she is shooting Sean Connery for Louis Vuitton and again she's just using the Softlighter balanced against daylight. I definitely need to start experimenting with mine more.

June 11, 2010 8:53 AM  
OpenID javiergarciarosell said...

Love how you let us see the "inside" of this video, thanks for that David, really appreciate it.

Regards from Seville.

June 11, 2010 9:02 AM  
Blogger Craig said...

I wonder if she also had small strobes hidden in the lampshades of the table lamps since their color temp matches the Softlighter. The video seems to show the normal yellow glow of incandescents, so I don't think she gelled or replaced the lamps' bulbs. Of course, she also could have gelled the key, but the depth of field seems to indicate a fairly small f/stop, which would have driven her to use a pretty slow shutterspeed (in the sub 1/15th range) or high ISO.

June 11, 2010 9:11 AM  
Blogger Thats Not Right said...


Your blow-by-blow is a great lesson in the people skills of a shoot. Thanks for dissecting. BTW, the licks Keith was throwing out were pretty tasty, too, no?


June 11, 2010 9:22 AM  
Blogger Gene Schilling said...

Love the details in the shot, the guitar case, the various beverages, the spyglass, etc. Don't like the chopped guitar head :-)

June 11, 2010 9:32 AM  
Blogger Sunita said...

So well and truly said! To me her portraits give an insight into the person's soul and I love how she creates different moods in different settings! Thanks for the post!

June 11, 2010 9:34 AM  
Blogger Street said...

Great stuff! Love how you break the video down.

You can see the whole LV campaign here, supersized:

June 11, 2010 9:38 AM  
Blogger News said...

Very nice clip. I'm her fan too!
I've read Annie toured with the Stones in 1975 (instead of 1981).

June 11, 2010 9:50 AM  
Blogger Mark n Manna said...

Does she owe you money,too, Mr. Hobby? :-)
Annie's work is stellar. That's about all that really matters.

June 11, 2010 9:55 AM  
Blogger Scott E. Detweiler said...

Great post. I love her stuff as well and I guess she creates a target of skill to which we can all aspire.

June 11, 2010 9:58 AM  
Blogger skhuynh13 said...

Hi, David!

Thanks for the post. Do you think battery-operated speedlights have enough juice to power the Softlighter?



June 11, 2010 10:01 AM  
Blogger D. Travis North said...

Very new to the strobist mentality, and so I'm not very good (yet) at dissecting photos and 'behind the scenes' shoots like this. I agree...Leibovitz is inspiring and I have always admired her work. But I would have been lost without your commentary. I appreciate your dissection of the shoot - I learned a lot more than if I watched it alone.

Thank you for bringing it to us.

June 11, 2010 10:10 AM  
Blogger henk said...

awsome picture!

June 11, 2010 10:17 AM  
Blogger Debbi_in_California said...

Love the setup they did... skulls on the scarf covers for the room lamps. Tea service behind him, orange juice on the night stand to the left. Looks like he really stayed in that room! Nice video find!
Thanks David

June 11, 2010 10:23 AM  
Blogger Robin Cook Photography said...

I want to know what strobe she's using. ???

June 11, 2010 11:33 AM  
Blogger Loren Callahan said...

Great Post! My question is how in the heck is she dialing down that Profoto head? Mixing the ambient she has with that powerful strobe??? Or is Annie using something that sounds like a Profoto but has a lot less kick???

Let me know cuz I wanna know....


June 11, 2010 11:57 AM  
Blogger Frank said...

Interesting how she draped something over the lamps to prevent them from becoming blown out hightlights.

June 11, 2010 12:21 PM  
Blogger Ian Coble said...

Thanks David. Great post!
Particularly like your commentary on her interaction with Richards and what she does to guide him to get the shot she's envisioning. I think most people come off as pushy when they do this, but she has a certain finesse to the way she does it.
Thanks for the post!

June 11, 2010 12:24 PM  
Blogger Erin Johnson said...

Thank you for this fabulous video! Maybe you could have someone do the same for when you set up your next shoot? Books & blogs are great but it makes more sense to me when I can pretend I'm there. This really helped a lot! Thanks again!!!

June 11, 2010 12:25 PM  
Blogger Christian Louzan said...

Does anyone know what size softlighter Annie is using? Definitely a 60 or a 46. Looks a lot more like a 46 to me. Any ideas?

June 11, 2010 12:26 PM  
Blogger Christian Louzan said...

Does anyone know what size softlighter Annie is using? Definitely a 60 or a 46. Looks a lot more like a 46 to me. Any ideas?

June 11, 2010 12:27 PM  
Blogger Alexander said...

David, as we probably all have learned so much from Annie, couldn't the strobist community find a way to help her out financially?


June 11, 2010 1:15 PM  
Blogger photez said...

There's a lot of processing on this photo and I guess it's few photos blended into one. Check out the spacing between model and suitcase on the sceen vs. on final photo. Also look at the left side (containing lamp, part of suitcase etc), which is not visible on screen - so either it's zoomed or missing.
Of course, photo showed on screen may not be the same as final one and my whole theory can be piece of ... Anyway, thanks for the movie!

June 11, 2010 2:34 PM  
Blogger NtoKB3 said...

Thanks David! That was a great post. I've watched that BTS vid a bunch of times before, but reading the play by play from a seasoned pro really helps with the insight gaining...

As noted above, a lot of work goes into her released images... much more on advertising shots like this than on the editorials she shoots for Vanity Fair and Vogue, but that's normal, especially for advertising work. The final in from this shoot is clearly a composite of Keith on the bed and then another, more put together, shot of the room. You can tell by comparing the screen shot in the BTS vid against the final shot. The color is now balanced, the suitcase appeared, guitar case disappeared, and the perspective totally changed vis-a-vis the walls of the room. We don't get to see much of Annie's shot SOOC, and I think that lends to the popular misconception that she's less talented than she is.

btw, the above comments are the most gentle I ever seen online when photographers get to talking about Annie.

June 11, 2010 4:14 PM  
Blogger Alan Blakely said...

Like watching the work of most great artists, this shoot appears deceptively simple. One has to consider that the real work was done before Mr. Richards ever appeared on set.

What we didn't see was the process of setting up the room design, designing the lighting style, fussing with exposure balance, coordinating assistant's roles, multiple test shots of a "stand-in", etc.

The reason that she's so at ease with her subject is that she's done the hard work beforehand.

June 11, 2010 5:29 PM  
Blogger James said...

Alan, I suspect a lot of work was done after Keith left as well. ftir noted the DOF - I don't think there's any way Annie hand held the ambient part of that shot and got that DOF. I'm guessing that after she was done her assistants rolled out the tripod, layed out the extras on the guitar case, cleaned out the background and shot her ambient for her. Then it's off to the incredibly talented digital artists that do her post for her...

Not that I'm knocking her people skills at all. She got a great shot of KR, but her shot would have been a very different beast to the final image. Not worse, maybe better, but certainly different.


June 11, 2010 9:28 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Pavlica said...

This video was fantastic and we can see not everyone is perfect in life, if its not money its something else. Everyone does things that hurt themselves it could be ice cream at 3am or crack, the point is she if fantastic in what she does and I too would not only like to see more videos of her working but you also. Props to both of you for keeping it fun.

June 11, 2010 11:13 PM  
Blogger Tim Grey said...

Hey, your hero Platon uses the Photek softlighter for celebrities and heads of state on a regular basis... on film. stones +1

June 12, 2010 9:42 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

Someone commented that the strobe sounded like a Profoto. Any idea about what the head actually is? It sure looked light-weight enough the light stand didn't have to wrestle too much...


June 12, 2010 9:57 AM  
Blogger Myron said...

Exquisite, its good to see the smoothness in the production, everyone was in their natural zone of comfort, uncontrived, relaxed, a fine art production. One light or multi? Loved the black pirate skull scarf draped over the table lamp, great mood maker. Lighting so natural I forgot they were there.

You be there, Hanging with Keith, on-the-road again, at some generic hotel.

Associate that experience with a product<--seals the deal, close the sale.


June 12, 2010 3:22 PM  
Blogger Mi said...

"Would you have had the nerve to light a Louis Vuitton shoot of Keith Richards using only a sub-$100 brolly box? I wouldn't."

Got to love Annie. She's a living legend. Enjoyed reading, thank you Mr Strobist.

June 12, 2010 6:03 PM  
Blogger Tsukasa said...

I would like to understand which flash head she might been using.

June 13, 2010 6:44 AM  
Blogger said...

Don't forget at 1:30 Annie makes the comment "it's a little too dressy" - alluding to her shoot with the Queen of England a year or two ago.

June 13, 2010 12:38 PM  
Blogger jphphotography said...

Unfortunately I'm at work and can't watch the video, I actually had to google "Softlighter" to see what you were talking about ;) I recently picked up two knockoffs for dirt cheap from Steve Kaeser's website. I have a review on my blog if anyone is interested

Please keep the BTS shoots coming, coupled with your commentary they are a wealth of info for us!

June 13, 2010 7:17 PM  
Blogger info said...

>With respect to subjects' time, at least.
>Money, not so much.

LOL you are the most worstest
loved the video

June 13, 2010 7:27 PM  
Blogger Don Giovanni said...

One thing for sure... that light coming from the bathroom isnt natural. My guess is she had an umbrella bounced into the roof at an angle close to the door to give that kinda shadow.

the cloth over the lamps was genius though

June 13, 2010 11:52 PM  
OpenID Mike said...

As far as I know, the root of her financial troubles was the real estate Susan Sontag left her. She got hit by the taxes as the two of them weren't legally married. One more reason for same-sex marriage, I suppose. That's not to say that she hasn't trusted some untrustworthy people in her career and that the budgets for her shoots aren't enormous. There's video on Youtube of Anna Wintour whining about Annie's budget control.

She's said in interviews that she's not a great people person and that that's not her talent at all as a photographer. I would agree with that. Of course, by this point she's got an enormous amount of experience and Keith R is an old friend anyway, so it's no surprise if they look comfortable. On the other hand, I could easily imagine a lot of the celebrities responding well to someone who's to-the-point, as they must get tons of people being overly sugary with them.

June 14, 2010 5:31 AM  
Blogger Aaron said...

"thought-activated lightstand".

June 14, 2010 11:12 AM  
Blogger Nate said...

I read the write-up about the softlighter.

Is it really that different from the Paul C Buff PLM with the diffuser?

June 14, 2010 11:12 AM  
Blogger Alonzo Riley said...

Shame about the money management? That's the MAIN reason I connect with Annie and why I love her.

June 14, 2010 1:56 PM  
OpenID rwalkerphoto said...

Interesting video.

As for the comments about cutting off the headstock on the guitar, I'd suspect it might have something to do with this being a commercial shoot for LV, and not wanting to give Gibson Guitars any freebies.

June 14, 2010 8:45 PM  
Blogger Tim Grey said...

Loren, some Profoto packs can dial down to 3 w/s.

June 15, 2010 7:42 AM  
Blogger DPohls said...

Hi Dave! I'd really like to know how powerful was the strobe Annie used. Please!!! I'm so curious. Greets from Mexico City. PS I love your blog!

June 15, 2010 8:50 PM  
Blogger David said...

To all of the people asking me what strobe was used. Um, I was not there.

June 15, 2010 9:48 PM  
Blogger Manas Saran said...

This was such an awesome video. Loved the speed with which the got the shot. Totally agree that she gives a lot of importance to the client's time.
I absolutely love her work!

June 16, 2010 9:03 AM  
Blogger someone (not) famous said...

i'm puzzled that there is no window light in the final photo. exposing for the ambient lights form the lamps would certainly NOT have that window be completely dark and you can clearly see in the video that it's daylight outside. either they changed something we didn't' see in the vid, or post production worked its magic...

June 17, 2010 12:18 PM  
Blogger someone (not) famous said...

okay...after closer look at this vid versus the final shot....i'm leaning towards a composite photo. he was put into the room which was shot at a different time. at no point in the video does that guitar case have a tea cup on it. the chair behind the bed to the left has a bunch of crap on it during the entire video...not seen in the final image. and then there's the window light which mysteriously disappears even though she's exposing for the ambient light. they either did major touch ups to the things in the room or this is a composite....anyone else have a guess?

June 17, 2010 12:24 PM  
Blogger du .r. said...

What is the software she is using for tethering?


June 21, 2010 2:37 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

I am pretty sure there are two lights - one in a softlighter (black back, but flat white front) and another in a brolly umbrella with white on both sides, and a bowed out front - which is not a softlighter. You can see it in the beginning of the video and the end of the video.

My guess is that the softlighter is brought in close to light up his face, and the other umbrella brolly is a room light.

Also, I don't see the suitcase on the bed during the video -only the guitar case. But the video is edited - and I am sure the shoot lasted more than 5 minutes. It might have been 20 minutes.

June 22, 2010 3:56 AM  
Blogger Tom Meyer said...

hmmm. Minimal gear, personal contact, simple lighting concept, understated post production, and a great portrait that captures an intimate moment cut from (what looks like) real life. It seems so different from... well, never mind... t

June 23, 2010 12:30 AM  
Blogger D. W. Palme said...

I was just enjoying the clip so much that I really was not paying much attention to exactly what was being said.

I am glad you added the dialogue to the post, it forces me to pay closer attention, or at least emphasizes that I should pay more attention...

June 25, 2010 8:21 AM  
Blogger Cesar Barroso said...

HI, David,
Just learned about your blog through Craig Shearman.
Would you be so nice to answer my question: Is Annie using a speed light or a heavier strobe? Do you happen to know which one is it?
Thanks in advance for your answer.
Cesar Barroso


July 22, 2013 11:55 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

If I don't publish the question, it doesn't really make sense to answer it, no?


July 22, 2013 1:25 PM  
Blogger Cesar Barroso said...

You are right, I was not trying to pass info to you.
Can you please answer it now?

July 22, 2013 4:59 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

I did answer you. It's cleverly hidden inside the parentheses.

July 22, 2013 6:09 PM  
Blogger Cesar Barroso said...

Thanks, David.

July 22, 2013 11:59 PM  

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