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Design & Style

Annie Leibovitz’s 5 Essential Tips For Indoor Photography

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 3 min read

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Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography

Indoor photography comes with its own unique set of challenges, from how to set up indoor photography lighting to operating within an enclosed space. Luckily, Annie Leibovitz’s tips for shooting indoors can help all levels of photographers master their shoots:



Annie Leibovitz Teaches PhotographyAnnie Leibovitz Teaches Photography

Annie brings you into her studio and onto her shoots to teach you everything she knows about portraiture and telling stories through images.

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Annie Leibovitz’s 5 Tips For Shooting Indoors

Whether you’re an amateur shooting on an iPhone or a professional commercial photographer, here are some great tips from Leibovitz that will help improve your indoor photoshoots.

  1. Natural light is your friend. One of Leibovitz’s main lighting tips is to emulate natural light as much as possible in her indoor photography sessions. She uses ambient light and adds a small key source of light on her subject, usually in the direction the natural light source is coming from. Don’t add too much light: adding too much indoor lighting or artificial lighting to a room will often take away what the natural light offers.
  2. Beware of shooting in low light. With digital photography, you can get away with shooting in a lower amount of light, but shooting in too low light changes the image and can sometimes ruin great photos. Even if you’re shooting with a powerful DSLR, low-light can make your photograph diverge from the ambiance of the actual setting of the photograph, and no amount of photo editing in Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom or other post-processing software can replicate it.
  3. Start working at the beginning of the day. One of Leibovitz’s simplest photography tips is to start working at the beginning of the day. She doesn’t like to wait for the “golden hour” at the end of the day. Though that may indeed end up being the best light, she likes to start working in the early morning, when she has soft light and the option to work longer if she needs to. Sometimes you’ll have direct sunlight, but Leibovitz favors working on overcast days, when she will mix the strobe with flat ambient light. Shooting at a different time of day and allowing the natural window lighting situation to change can provide you with a variety of different lighting looks for your photoshoot.
  4. Make your subjects feel comfortable. Often, the success of portrait photography has nothing to do with lighting techniques or white balance. The most important thing is to make sure the subject you are photographing feels comfortable. The camera flash can be intimidating. While Leibovitz feels that some discomfort might make the picture more interesting, in general, she finds that her subjects relax after a few minutes. Trust and respect are important. For instance, checking the back of the camera frequently to look at the picture might seem rude, unless you show the subject what you are looking at too. If you’re experimenting with different angles or new light bulbs, show the subject so they know things are looking. Making the subject stay for hours will not help things either. If things aren’t going well, it is better just to schedule a follow-up photo session. How you conduct yourself is going to affect the shoot. Talking alone with the subject off camera is the best way to establish a fruitful rapport. Then when the shoot gets going, you can go back to your role as an observer.
  5. Examine old work. “Looking back” is a lesson Leibovitz believes is invaluable. “You’ll be surprised,” she says. “There will be something there you didn’t expect to see.” Examine the contact sheets from the last time you did a shoot indoors. Sometimes, you’ll notice old mistakes, like motion blur or harsh light that wasn’t properly cut by diffusers. Maybe in your old work, your depth of field or shutter speed made your subject out of focus. You can learn from all of your old work, which will help you know how to better pictures in the future.

Want to Become a Better Photographer?

Whether you’re just starting out or have dreams of going professional, photography requires plenty of practice and a healthy dose of patience. No one knows this better than legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz, who has spent decades mastering her craft. In Annie Leibovitz’s MasterClass on photography, she reveals how she works to tell a story through her images while providing valuable insight into how photographers should develop concepts, work with subjects, shoot with natural light, and bring images to life in post-production.

Want to become a better photographer? The MasterClass Annual Membership provides exclusive video lessons from master photographers, including Annie Leibovitz and Jimmy Chin.

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