If you’re looking for some words of wisdom from one of the greatest editorial and portrait photographers of the last fifty years then you’ve come to the right place.
Below you’ll find the best Annie Leibovitz quotes from interviews, documentaries and book excerpts to help take your photography to the next level.
To learn more about Annie Leibovitz’s photography, working process, and her incredible career, then we highly recommend reading our article Annie Leibovitz: Life Behind the Lens
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On to the quotes…
Annie Leibovitz Quotes On…
In this day and age of things moving so, so fast, we still long for things to stop, and we as a society love the still image.
I went to school at the San Francisco Art Institute, thinking I was going to become an art teacher. Within the first six months, I was there, I was told that I couldn’t be an art teacher unless I became an artist first.
I don’t have a single favorite photograph. What means most to me is the body of my work. The accumulation of photographs over the years.
When I take a picture, I take 10 percent of what I see.
What I learned from Lennon was something that did stay with me my whole career, which is to be very straightforward. I actually love talking about taking pictures, and I think that helps everyone.
I’m more interested in being good than being famous.
You think you know something, and you realize you haven’t really been looking that close yet.
Photography’s like this baby that needs to be fed all the time. It’s always hungry. It needs to be read to, taken care of. I had to nourish my work with different approaches.Annie Leibovitz
I no longer believe that there is such a thing as objectivity. Everyone has a point of view. Some people call it style, but what we’re really talking about is the guts of a photograph. When you trust your point of view, that’s when you start taking pictures.Annie Leibovitz
You have trust in what you think. If you splinter yourself and try to please everyone, you can’t. It’s important to stay the course. I don’t think I would have lasted this long if I’d listened to anyone. You have to listen somewhat and then put that to the side and know that what you do matters.Annie Leibovitz
What has stayed true all the way through my work is my composition, I hope, and my sense of color.
I’ve learned to create a palette, a vocabulary of ways to take pictures.
As you get older, you have different tools, and you learn to use photography differently.
I feel more like a creative artist using photography because there’s – the digital work is so interesting now. It’s come to that. I have had many different stages of photography – there are many different ways to take photos. But I feel now I’m in that stage of my life where I use the camera, you know, in that way.
Ideas for Photos
You don’t have to sort of enhance reality. There is nothing stranger than truth.Annie Leibovitz
Somewhere in the raw material was the nucleus of what the picture would become. It could be simple. There’s a case to be made that the simpler the idea the better.
I don’t mind doing something obvious. I’m not looking for the ultimate image, the ultimate essence of someone. The chances of that happening are far and few between.
I don’t try to over-intellectualize my concepts of people. In fact, the ideas I have, if you talk about them, they seem extremely corny and it’s only in their execution that people can enjoy them…It’s
something I’ve learned to trust: The stupider it is, the better it looks.Annie Leibovitz
I read their poetry and I started to think how interesting it would be if I could show what their poems look like, what they were writing about. It was part of the portrait. And it was a significant beginning. I find myself now trying to crawl back to this kind of work. You look back at your work – to learn what you should do to go forward.
Annie Leibovitz Quotes on the Work
The cover is not a photograph. I mean you might as well be doing advertising; it really is designed to sell the magazine.
As fantastic as it is to have ‘Vogue’ and ‘Vanity Fair’ as places to work, I don’t often get to shoot the kind of things I like to photograph in the way I like to photograph.
I’ve always cared more about taking pictures than about the art market.
Those who want to be serious photographers, you’re really going to have to edit your work. You’re going to have to understand what you’re doing. You’re going to have to not just shoot, shoot, shoot. To stop and look at your work is the most important thing you can do.Annie Leibovitz
It’s like sitting in a room with ghosts. You go through your pictures and you think about what that shoot was like, who that person was, what that meant, that time in your own life.
When I’m asked about my work, I try to explain that there is no mystery involved. It is work. But things happen all the time that are unexpected, uncontrolled, unexplainable, even magical. The work prepares you for that moment. Suddenly the clouds roll in and the soft light you long for appears.
Photography is not something you retire from.
As I get older, the book projects are – liberating is one word, but they really are me.
One of the great things about being an older person is that I am very aware of the scope of the work and the historical sense of it. It’s bigger than me.Annie Leibovitz
When you are on assignment, film is the least expensive thing in a very practical sense. Your time, the person’s time, turns out to be the most valuable thing.
When you involve people, they come out, you see them, you get to see their sense of humor.
I shoot a little bit, maybe two rolls, medium format, which is 20 pictures, and if it’s not working, I change the position.
Having a studio is a little like having a fancy car; it doesn’t help you take better pictures.
I was scared to do anything in the studio because it felt so claustrophobic. I wanted to be somewhere where things could happen and the subject wasn’t just looking back at you.
Coming tight was boring to me, just the face… it didn’t have enough information.
I use music when I shoot. In the beginning, it camouflaged my inability to talk to people. But the music on a shoot isn’t just background. It raises the mood, sets the tone. The right music at the right time elevates the situation. Music can make or break a shoot.Annie Leibovitz
What I end up shooting is the situation. I shoot the composition and my subject is going to help the composition or not.
A lot can be told from what happens in between the main moments.
A very subtle difference can make the picture or not.
Photography is very limited. It’s an illustration of what’s going on. Basically, you’re never really satisfied.
As I became more experienced, I began to understand that someone who is being photographed can work for only so long and you shouldn’t belabor the situation. Something is either going to happen or it’s not going to happen. What does happen a lot is that as soon as you say it’s over, the subject will feel relieved and suddenly look great. And then you keep on shooting.
There is a myth that the portrait photographer is supposed to make the subject relax, and that’s the real person. But I’m interested in whatever is going on. And I’m not that comfortable myself.
Sometimes I enjoy just photographing the surface because I think it can be as revealing as going to the heart of the matter.
I personally made a decision many years ago that I wanted to crawl into portraiture because it had a lot of latitude.
When you go to take someone’s picture, the first thing they say is, what you want me to do? Everyone is very awkward.
In a portrait, you have room to have a point of view. The image may not be literally what’s going on, but it’s representative.Annie Leibovitz
I’m pretty used to people not liking having their picture taken. I mean, if you do like to have your picture taken, I worry about you.
In a portrait, you have room to have a point of view and to be conceptual with a picture. The image may not be literally what’s going on, but it’s representative.
My early childhood equipped me really well for my portrait work: The quick encounter, where you are not going to know the subject for very long. These days I am much more comfortable with the fifteen-minute relationship than I am with a life long relationship.
Getting to Know your Subjects
When I say I want to photograph someone, what it really means is that I’d like to know them.Annie Leibovitz
A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people.
Irving Penn said he didn’t want to photograph anyone under 60, and I think there is some truth about it.
I’ve never liked the word ‘celebrity.’ I like to photograph people who are good at what they do.
I think self-portraits are very difficult. I’ve always seen mine as straightforward, very stripped down, hair pulled back. No shirt. Whatever light happened to be available. I’d want it to be very graphic – about darkness and light. No one else should be there, but I’m scared to do it by myself. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time.
The whole idea of a self-portrait is strange. I’m so strongly linked to how I see through the camera that to get to the other side of it would be difficult. It would be as if I were taking a photograph in the dark.Annie Leibovitz
As much as I’m not a journalist, I use journalism. And when you photograph a relationship, it’s quite wonderful to let something unfold in front of you.
All dancers are, by and large, a photographer’s dream. They communicate with their bodies and they are trained to be completely responsive to a collaborative situation.
When I started to be published I thought about Margaret Bourke-White and the whole journalistic approach to things. I believed I was supposed to catch life going by me – that I wasn’t to alter it or tamper with it – that I was just to watch what was going on and report it as best I could. This shoot with John [Lennon] was different. I got involved, and I realized that you can’t help but be touched by what goes on in front of you.
At my Rolling Stones’ tour, the camera was a protection. I used it in a Zen way.
I gave up on being a journalist – I thought having a point of view was more important than being objective.
When I started working for Rolling Stone, I became very interested in journalism and thought maybe that’s what I was doing, but it wasn’t.
I realized I couldn’t be a journalist because I like to take a side, to have an opinion, and a point a view; I liked to step across the imaginary boundary of the objective view that the journalist is supposed to have and be involved.Annie Leibovitz
Nature and Landscapes
Nature is so powerful, so strong. It takes you to a place within yourself.
I wish that all of nature’s magnificence, the emotion of the land, the living energy of place could be photographed.
Nature is so powerful, so strong. Capturing its essence is not easy – your work becomes a dance with light and the weather. It takes you to a place within yourself.
There are still so many places on our planet that remain unexplored. I’d love to one day peel back the mystery and understand them.
What I am interested in now is the landscape. Pictures without people. I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually there are no people in my pictures. It is so emotional.
I went to Yosemite as an homage to Ansel Adams. I could never be Ansel Adams, but to know that’s there for us – there’s so much for us in this country.
Cameras, Equipment, and Lighting
When you are younger, the camera is like a friend and you can go places and feel like you’re with someone, like you have a companion.
When I was younger I did things with a camera I would not do by myself. I went down to the docks in San Francisco and asked a fisherman if he would take me out on his boat. I would never do that without a camera.
The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.Annie Leibovitz
If I didn’t have my camera to remind me constantly ‘I am here to do this’ then I would have eventually slipped away I think. I would have forgotten my reason to exist.
I still need the camera because it is the only reason anyone is talking to me.
Very much like everyone else, I’m using what’s out there now and learning how to use it. Like everyone else, I sometimes go too far… There’s a little too much [digital]hanky panky with this stuff and I want to try to bring it back.
By the time you’ve negotiated the tripod, you’ve lost the moment. Something’s changed.
My key light is often a single strobe. A single umbrella. I like the simplicity of that. The strobe empathizes the direction of the light and illuminates the face. The rest of the picture can be lit with natural light. But you have to be prepared for a backup fill light. A light that usually comes from the direction of the camera.
You place the strobe so that it follows the direction of the natural light. You try never to fight the natural light by coming from another direction. Adding strobe to the natural light outside makes a daylight studio. When you’re working inside, you try to remember what natural light looks like and see if you can re-create it. I’ve never been able to make a strobe look as beautiful as natural light.
The Print and Photography History
I love having the photograph in my hand. I love looking at the photograph. I love looking at a box of photographs. I just love the still photograph.
I’m a huge, huge fan of photography. I have a small photography collection. As soon as I started to make some money, I bought my very first photograph: a Henri Cartier-Bresson. Then I bought a Robert Frank.
I fell in love with the darkroom, and that was part of being a photographer at the time. The darkroom was unbelievably sexy. I would spend all night in the darkroom.
I love photography. And I just eat it up. I feel like I’m an encyclopedia, you know, inside.Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibovitz Quotes Final Words
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If you want to learn more about Annie Leibovitz’s photography and read more quotes from the master photographer, then check out our article Annie Leibovitz: Life Behind the Lens
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