I was so excited when I heard that Annie Leibovitz would be speaking at the London Literature Festival this year! I've admired her portrait work for many years and was really eager to hear her speak about photography.
The event was on October 22nd at Southbank in London. Annie presented all the portraits which she chose to be published in her latest book, Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005 - 2016. It was fascinating to hear how quickly the book was pulled together and how originally Annie had decided the final portrait in the book would be Hillary Clinton in front of the White House. Sadly that wasn't to be! Annie talked about each of the portraits and shared insights into how or why she had shot in a certain way.
The main points which really stuck out for me were real photography tips that I will definitely be keeping in mind. Here are some of my favourites:
- On being asked what the best advice Annie had received on photography: If you need to get closer to a subject use your legs, not the lens. I really agree with this. Using a prime lens myself has really improved my photography as I can't rely on a zoom function but actually, have to move and get into the position in order to capture the best angle.
- Study the work of great photographers like Brassai and Doisneau. Annie said just like writers need to read widely in order to develop their style, photographers need to view work widely.
- Look at your work retrospectively in order to learn, grow and move forward. Annie explained that compiling a book of her work always gives her the opportunity to do this.
- For portraits, Annie recommends shooting the subject in their environment. She believes that subjects and places hold their own history which adds to the story of the portrait.
- I found it interesting that Annie said she is all about the content not the technical. I was pleased to hear this as I really struggled with the technical aspect when first trying to learn photography. I think the best thing to do is just switch to manual mode and take photographs. In photography, it's the real world experience that is going to improve your work.
The new book Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005 - 2016 is available here
Annie gave a similar talk in New York as part of Times Talks which you can view below.