What type of lighting does Annie Leibovitz use?

Annie Leibovitz focuses on using as much natural light as possible, mixed with some ambient studio lights, if necessary, for her photographs.


Annie Leibovitz is well-known for her unique style of portrait photography and has photographed many celebrities throughout her career.

Much of this signature style is characterised by her use of natural and ambient lighting in portrait photoshoots.

Why Annie Leibovitz is so well-known

American photographer, Annie Leibovitz, is most well-known for her quirky and unique photography style.

When she started her career at the age of 21 as the photographer for Rolling Stone magazine, she quickly started photographing celebrities such as John Lennon and through the years, she has captured many others like Bruce Springsteen, Kim Kardashian, Serena Williams, Keith Richards, and many more.

She is known for her characteristic painterly style and dramatic portraits that often feature a single subject and crisp colours. Many photographers endeavour to replicate this aesthetic in their photographs.

What type of lighting does Annie Leibovitz use?

The signature Annie Leibovitz style of photography is characterised by the fact that she tries to use natural light as much as possible in her photographs.

When there is not enough natural light available in a given setting, Leibovitz tries to use minimal studio lighting to shine on the subject from the same angle that the natural light was coming from, to make it feel more natural and give the light a softer tone.

Her studio lighting consists of ambient lighting, such as a single light, small key light, or strobe light. This way, the photograph has the same ambience and mood of the actual setting on the day and does not end up looking unnatural or artificial.

Leibovitz also diffuses the ambient lighting that she uses for her photography to give a softer, more natural look.

Besides the actual lighting, there are also other aspects of lighting that Leibovitz incorporates into her photography techniques for how she sets up this lighting, and her approach to photography in general which helps to achieve her signature portrait photography style.

Aspects of lighting that Annie Leibovitz considers in her photography

The attention on using natural light as far as possible is clear in Leibovitz’s photographs, but there are also other lighting aspects of a photoshoot that she considers.

These aspects are as follows:

Aspect Description

Low light

Leibovitz has been known to shoot in lower lighting conditions than you would expect, especially if she is using a digital camera.


This low lighting also means low exposure, which can be helpful when you are retouching images,


Leibovitz keeps the ambient lighting to a minimum in order to keep the ambience of the photograph and to keep her photography kit light and compact.

The setup of lighting for Annie Leibovitz’s photography

Though lighting is highly specific and unique to every location and photo, photographers who have tried to imitate Leibovitz’s signature lighting style in their photography have discovered a few ways to recreate the lighting conditions in her photographs.

One of the most important factors is to get your light as close to the subject as possible. The closer the light is to the subject, the softer the light is and the less harsh shadows you will have in your portrait.

To capture the same ambience and softness that Leibovitz does in her work, it is best to try and mimic what the lighting would look like if your subject was placed directly in front of a window.

This means the light should be diffused and even, and it should wrap around the subject’s face.

What approach does Annie Leibovitz take to photography?

Leibovitz is known to have a storybook style to her photography. She ensures that her photographs end up appearing this way by seeing herself as telling a story with every photograph that she takes.

This involves a lot of preparation and planning and Leibovitz often creates storyboards for photographs or photoshoots with her clients, months before the photograph is actually taken.

After the photographs are taken, Leibovitz makes use of digital technologies to remove and add elements to her photographs, or to just refine the look and lighting in the photograph.

Final thoughts

Annie Leibovitz has made a name for herself as one of the most notable photographers when it comes to celebrity portraits.

Her signature lighting style, using a lot of natural light and some ambient lighting, encapsulates her approach to lighting, her setup, and her approach to photography in general.