Annie-Tated Video: Leibovitz Shoots Rihanna for Vogue

Oh hey, it's time for another fully annotated Annie Leibovitz BTS video—this time featuring the lovely and talented Rihanna, shot for Vogue.

Hit the jump and follow the bouncing ball to see what we can learn with a little close examination. Annotations follow, below…

Your Annotated Rihanna BTS Vid

00:09 -- Damn, it's windy today.

00:23 -- Totally controlling the environment here. The wind is from a can (or, rather, a large-ish fan) and the crappy midday light is being blocked from Rihanna with a giant shade umbrella. This is not the light source though, this is just to create shade.

00:29 -- Ooh, I like this. Just pick up a shovel full of fine dirt and let that fan turn it into ambience in the background. I say "in the background," because I am pretty sure they don't wanna be pelting her with that stuff.

00:31 -- Okay, there you go. Nice wide shot. Make that two, huge umbrellas to shade her. Then the key is at right (looks like a Softlighter) and a raaather large Octa at left for fill. You know, just like you use. There's also another, far more serious fan. Holy crap. Maybe off of a B-52 or something?

(On a related note, I just found out my Vagabond Mini Lithium will power my electric leaf blower, if at a lower speed. Budget location win.)

00:49 -- And here's your pic:

00:53 -- Hmm… full-blown sun, no protection and a beauty dish pushing from the same direction. Why would you do that? Because you are gonna overpower the sun with the better, aim-able dish. You keep continuity with the ambient light and still get to keep attention on your subject. This is mostly big-light stuff.

Also, the dish is socked. This turns a beauty dish into a circular soft box. No shape to the beam, just radiates. Thus it is throwing a wide beam to over-light the weeds in front right along with Rihanna. If you have some white nylon and elastic, this is cheap and easy to make.

01:07 -- Here's what it looks like. Note the dish is keyed directly to the direction of her face, right on the nose. But it matches the compass (if not vertical) direction of the sun. Glamour light, with a logic consistent with the surroundings:

01:17 -- The key here is on a stick, held by an assistant. Leibovitz does this a lot. Both versatile and variable. Key will follow the face, and from the direction her face is looking. As Rihanna moves, the key will move, too.

01:25 -- More wind on the leaves, too. Looks cool:

01:29 -- Another soft-light-on-a-stick as a key. Looks like a Profoto Batt-Pac powering the whole thing. For all of the gear Leibovitz carts around (or, has carted around for her) she is very simple and confident with her lighting. Human-held soft light, balanced beautifully with the ambient. She is in her wheelhouse here. I would note that Rihanna appears to be crawling around in snow, but Leibovitz is on a comfy blanket. Priorities, people.

01:33 -- On the light balance: just a little kiss of light here. Not nearly as much of a push as in the other pics. Almost looks like it is not there, but you'd definitely miss it if it weren't:

01:41 -- And finally here's the cover shot, as seen up top, happening. Video is filming from Leibovitz's camera left, so don't be fooled by the relative light direction. This brings together a few things from above: Umbrella shades the sun on Rihanna; wind machine blows dirt to clean up the background and socked dish as key light from slight camera left.

01:42 -- Rihanna is in the umbrella's shade here, with no apparent fill light. So this will be a hard lighting ratio, and coming from near on-camera. Very glam. (Photo up top.)

So, as usual with Leibovitz, several cool tidbits to learn if you are willing to watch closely. Not much subject interaction on this one (really love those, personally). But if you want more of that you can check out the annotated BTS of her Keith Richards shoot. Good stuff there.

All photos ©Annie Leibovitz/Vogue. Click on any pic to go to the Rihanna Vogue article.


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Blogger Benny Profane said...

As usual, Annie doesn't credit her retoucher(s), who seem to be responsible for a lot of the final results in that Vogue layout. It's all about Annie, again.

October 22, 2012 8:46 AM  
Blogger Stuart Little said...

@david - Its usually Annie's #1 Assistant Nick Rogers that VAL's the key/fill light. Have you ever noticed that on the pole there is a remote "chimping" screen, so that Nick can see what the shot is like without having to move from his position? I spotted it in another documentary where she was shooting Daniel Radcliffe and you just get a glimpse here as well. Cheers Stu

October 22, 2012 9:11 AM  
Blogger Rogerio Reis said...

Either in Physics or in Photography, whenever there's a phrase "overpower the sun", it is a cool article. Thanks.

October 22, 2012 9:20 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Yeah, because everybody else credits their retouchers...



October 22, 2012 9:59 AM  
Blogger Ramón said...

When you shade your subject, like in the video, means that your frame is "limited" to that shade area? Otherwise can´t you get weird (maybe undesireble) exposure differences?

October 22, 2012 10:51 AM  
Blogger marco said...

I don't particularly like the resulting photos. She's ridiculously posing. Where's Annie's legendary nonconformity?

October 22, 2012 11:20 AM  
Blogger stefano giovannini said...

Rhianna looks definitely anorexic on that cover. the head out of proportion with the rest of the body... she looks unnaturally skinny....

October 22, 2012 1:23 PM  
Blogger Allen Russell said...

Interesting that the video shows creative risk taking shots, then the cover ends up being a very boring setup shot.

October 22, 2012 1:32 PM  
Blogger Rogier said...

Nice enough images, certainly very professional, but overposed and canned and generic-looking. Rihanna and Leibovitz both appear to be phoning it in. These could have been shot by any one of dozens if not hundreds of competent glamour photographers. Nothing memorable here, nothing that punctures the spoiled-popstar facade.

October 22, 2012 2:14 PM  
Blogger jim "shu" carroll said...

thank you for showing us how this was done. there are things to learn here. like the absurdity of using the title "superstar" for someone 24 years old. talented? definitely. lucky? assuredly. OVERBLOWN like this whole production? no doubt.

even the photographer, who has definitely earned the moniker unlike her talented young subject, appears to be a bit full of herself with this one. whatever happened to "less is more"?

October 22, 2012 2:48 PM  
Blogger Peter Tsai said...

David, another cheap and potentially free BD sock tip is from a car shop that sells/mounts rims. On nicer wheels they put these huge white shower caps (white with elastic) over the rims to protect the paint finish...

October 22, 2012 4:05 PM  
Blogger Mike Mitchum said...

The landscape oriented shot with the black dress would have made a really nice cover IMHO. There's drama in that shot; from the style of the dress, to the pose, to the light, to the "help" that the environment is given in the way of dust in the wind. Granted, the cover needs to be portrait orientation, but though I think it works better as is, I still think the image is strong enough to hold up as a crop in portrait orientation.

Just my 2...

October 22, 2012 4:19 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


On the other hand, a search for Rihanna superstar does have 18,000,000 results...

October 22, 2012 4:36 PM  
Blogger mike falasca said...

I hoped to see Annie !!

October 22, 2012 7:15 PM  
Blogger jim "shu" carroll said...

@david - if you are saying that 18,000,000 hits is the definition of a superstar, i got some kittens playing pianos for you. ridiculous.

there was a brief period of time in our history when the term meant something. now it is ubiquitous and therefore meaningless. YOU impact the artistic world more than she does. so i guess you are an UBER-star. congratulations.

October 22, 2012 7:55 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

Not citing it as a definition. Just saying that in the aggregate, there is a tad more weight to the other side of your argument.

October 22, 2012 8:10 PM  
Blogger Addison Geary Photography said...

00:09 Impressive burst rate for any strobes let alone a big battery powered pack.00:14 looks like there is some kind of small rectangular gadget attached to the left side of Annie's camera. 1:22 Warm light hits the side of Rhianna's face as if coming from a modeling light or gold reflector.1:43 Clearly shows Rihanna sitting in the shadow of the umbrella and Beauty dish on a stick. If Nick does have a chimping screen how is the image being transmitted? You can use Capture Pilot in Capture One but Annie isn't tethered. Canons 6d has Wi-Fi but I doubt she'd she shoot with it. Maybe Canon loaned her a mystery prototype!

October 23, 2012 11:10 AM  
Blogger DonatoGreco said...

@ Stuart Little
looking at the Redcliffe Annie's shooting video, at 02:14 looks like the remote is indeed a touch screen operated by the assistant. It could be a remote for the flash power settings, as a Prophoto Air new interface for iOS or Android, more than a remote screen to review Annie's taken pics.

October 24, 2012 6:17 AM  
Blogger ken said...

@addison: 5D 2/3 with WFT (the new one is a terrible little brick but you can see that the camera is a 5 series with something screwed to the bottom early in the video); medium jpg to computer then out to peripherals.

@Shu: Stay in your lane homie. Might want to be one yourself before you start hatin' on household names...

@Strobist: Peter Yang interview. Please please PLEASE.

October 24, 2012 10:34 AM  
Blogger Rebecca Young said...

Thank you for this post. I appreciate the technical dissection of this photo shoot. The comments so far are all from men with very little on the positive side. The content of the video is about a woman who has had much of her personal life exposed and she continues to show bravery in the public arena. Ms. Leibowitz is doing her job, and yes they are extravagant shoots. But so what? Her game is a big one. Her subjects are evocative. Sometimes being superficial is what it takes to get the deeper message across.

October 24, 2012 3:53 PM  
Blogger Yves Salmon said...

Thanks David, always interesting to see how other people work. Starting out Ms Leibovitz was a big influence for me and I read her book 'At Work' in two days as until then I'd never been able to find anything about her process.

Whilst I agree the (finished) shots look "generic" and "dialed in" there is a client involved and gents it is Vogue USA. If you want a bit of 'exciting' buy Vogue Paris or Vogue Italia. And even they won't "puncture the spoiled-popstar facade"

October 24, 2012 6:00 PM  
Blogger Kit Walker said...

David, your site has provided so much inspiration for so many photographers, whether it be from your personal instruction or the dissection of other shooters photographs. Here again you have provided some wonderful information for us to take away.
It astounds me how some of the readers have changed from being grateful for any bit of information you provide, to feeling that they have become such extraordinary photographers themselves that we want to hear every whining criticism they have of others techniques, even of the greats such as Annie. When they have the portfolio to match, then I may lend them an ear.

October 25, 2012 12:20 AM  
Blogger jim "shu" carroll said...

@ken - you missed the point. note that my "hating" as you call it, is directed at the abuse of the language. as a photographer i'm a hack like most of us. in my appreciation of the use of our language, i occupy a strata that is a bit more rarefied - not that has much application in the blogosphere. that was the reason i took offense at the application of the term "superstar", and suggested it had become meaningless.

you are welcome to believe that being a household name is the pertinent criteria for super-stardom. you will always have lots of corporate-financed company.

October 25, 2012 5:31 PM  
Blogger NBPhoto said...

Keeping it on subject: About the object on the assitants stick. Why would he need a remote for the pack when it's clearly right by his side 24/7? I'm sure it'd be quicker to adjust a dial than unlock a phone and open an app..

Looks a lot more like a WFT-E2 on her camera. Check out This link from Canon EU. It's totally plausable she's using a 1Ds mk3 and he's checking the results via an ad-hoc wifi network on a smart phone via its HTTP feature.

October 26, 2012 2:04 AM  
Blogger Roy said...

Lovely? and Talented? used to describe Rihanna? know something i dont? ...

but honestly , Leibovitz has never failed at a photoshoot , always have been a fan .. always will

October 29, 2012 11:39 PM  
Blogger Takki said...

I can't watch the video - it has been removed because of copyright issues:

"Behind The Scenes - Rihanna..."
Das mit diesem Video verknüpfte YouTube-Konto wurde aufgrund mehrerer Drittanbieterbenachrichtigungen über Urheberrechtsverletzungen gekündigt.
Das tut uns leid.

October 30, 2012 10:50 AM  
Blogger Guillaume Megevand said...

Video removed. Too bad!

October 31, 2012 6:29 AM  
Blogger LANE STUDIOS Photography said...

Here's the link to the BTS video on vogue.coms site-

November 10, 2012 5:18 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Here's another version of the BTS video on youtube

November 14, 2012 2:32 PM  
Blogger Peter Dreamland said...

I love Annie Leibovitz, thanks for posting!

November 23, 2012 7:27 PM  
Blogger Arthur Laurent said...

I love that she still seems to believe in the "decisive moment," and makes exposures one by one. I've been at many shoots where the photog is always using one of the continuous modes (CL or CH), so afraid of missing "the" picture that they expose 10 or twenty almost identical frames in a row.

November 29, 2012 3:20 AM  

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