In this review, we’ll see if the Annie Leibovitz MasterClass on photography lives up to its promises and delivers a course worthy of your investment.
Annie Leibovitz, the world-renown photographer, tells her students:
Take the camera, go out in the world. Find a way to tell a story that means something to you.
I, like many folks nowadays, think of photography as setting our camera phones to “Auto” and slapping on a filter to make pictures look more artsy.
However, it’s clear that, to professional photographers, there’s a lot more that goes into a shot. There’s lighting and composition and f-stops and color dynamics at play. It’s enough to keep people away from exploring photography as an art anyone can do.
But does this MasterClass demystify the process?
In this MasterClass review, you’ll learn:
I went into this MasterClass with little experience with cameras and thinking that, if I could somehow shoot a photo without relying on the auto settings, I would have learned a valuable skill.
However, I left the class feeling a bit short-changed. For someone looking for inspiration to pick up photography as a hobby, this is a terrific entry point. For someone looking to hone their skills, I recommend looking elsewhere.
Is the Annie Leibovitz MasterClass on photography worth it? It depends on what you’re looking for. Let’s dive in and see if it’s a fit for you.
Quick Q and A
Yes. MasterClass charges a yearly subscription to access all of their courses. Jump to the pricing section to learn more.
The Annie Leibovitz MasterClass on photography is 3 hours and 4 minutes long and spans 15 video lessons.
Yes. If you cancel within 30 days of purchase, MasterClass will issue you a full refund.
Not really. If you are just purchasing a MasterClass subscription specifically for the Leibovitz class, it’s not worth it. However, with 80+ other courses to take, it’s worth trying.
About Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibovitz is a portrait photographer with work encompassing Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and Washington’s National Portrait Gallery.
She is famous for photographing well-known celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Lady Gaga, and Kim Kardashian as well as world figures such as the Obama family, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates.
One of her most famous photographs is a nude John Lennon hugging Yoko Ono, taken only 5 hours before Lennon’s death.
Leibovitz has been described as having a “crisp and well lighted” signature style.
What does this MasterClass promise?
“I’m not a technical photographer,” Leibovitz begins her MasterClass, “I try to keep things as simple as possible.”
As I ventured into this MasterClass, I noticed off the bat that there isn’t a “Big Promise” that Leibovitz is trying to hit. The MasterClass page simply says she will, “teach you everything she knows about portraiture and telling stories through images.”
The class doesn’t promise to turn the student into a professional photographer, nor does it promise to help the student build a photography portfolio. In keeping with her simplicity, Leibovitz just wants to share what she knows.
Personally, I didn’t take this MasterClass to dabble in photography, I wanted to learn skills I could carry with me for the rest of my life. So to me, MasterClass is making the following promise: Annie Leibovitz will teach you to tell better stories with your camera.
Did Leibovitz live up to her promise? Did she meet my expectations? I’ll cover that at the end of the review (skip ahead if you want to find out). But first, let’s talk about what’s probably on your mind…
How much does Annie Leibovitz’s MasterClass cost?
Annie Leibovitz’s MasterClass is available to those who purchase a MasterClass subscription.
It depends on what you are looking for but MasterClass has three annual membership plans to choose from: Individual ($180 per year), Duo ($240 per year), and Family ($276 per year). Every plan comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
MasterClass pricing has varied over the years (at one point they sold memberships for single classes), however, this three-tiered model appears to be around for the long run.
The price may seem steep, however, the subscription gives you access to all 90+ MasterClass courses, including Jimmy Chin’s Adventure Photography course.
Plus, you have to remember that each MasterClass is someone’s lifetime of work distilled into well-organized and enjoyable video content. In other words, if it turns out the Annie Leibovitz MasterClass isn’t for you, chances are you’ll find other MasterClasses you do enjoy.
MasterClass Alternatives—If you are looking for more technical photography training, it might be worth looking into popular Udemy courses such as:
• Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2020
• A Beginners Guide to Managing a Photography Business
• Adobe Lightroom: up your content game
• The Authentic Portrait Photography Toolkit
• The Basics of Photography Course
• Basics of Film Photography and Developing
• Lightroom CC Masterclass Beginner guide for Photographers!
What is included in the Annie Leibovitz MasterClass?
Here’s a rundown of what you are getting with the Annie Leibovitz MasterClass.
|Runtime:||3 Hours 4 minutes|
|Reviews:||4.7 out of 5 ⭐️|
|Lessons:||15 video lessons|
|Materials:||One 44-page class workbook|
The runtime for this MasterClass is a hair over 3 hours, which was a bit brief compared to some other MasterClasses I’ve taken before. I preferred watching the course at 1.5x speed, which means I finished the entire thing in about 2 hours.
But overall, the length of the course felt right. Although, there possibly could have been more technical explanation, which seems to be a common complaint from other students who have taken the course. (I explain more in the Things I Didn’t Like section.)
This MasterClass comes equiped with a 44-page class workbook. The workbook contains reviews of each lesson as well as links to other resources (outside of MasterClass) and assignments to practice your photography.
It’s important to note that your assignments will not be reviewed for feedback by Leibovitz or the MasterClass team. They are there for your benefit and are a great launching point for discussion in the community forum. Speaking of which…
Finally, like every MasterClass, this one comes with its own community forum — The Hub, where you can interact with fellow photography students. The Leibovitz page is active with other passionate learners and is a great resource to receive peer feedback on your photography.
As a bonus for CR Readers, I dug around the community forum and found this unlisted YouTube video of a Q&A session with Leibovitz:
About the structure of the class
Annie Leibovitz’s MasterClass is divided up into 15 video lessons with an average run time of approximately 12 minutes per lesson. However, the video playback buttons offer you the ability to watch the course at 1.5x and 2x speed.
- Portrait Photography
- Creating Concepts
- Working With Light
- Studio vs. Location
- Working With Your Subject
- Case Study: Angels in Ameria Photoshoot
- Photographing People Who Are Close to You
- Looking Back at Your Work
- The Technical Side of Photography
- Student Sessions
- Case Study Part 1: Photographing Alice Waters
- Case Study Part 2: Digital Post-Production
- Photographic Influences
- The Evolution of a Photographer
If you are absolutely brand new to photography, Lessons 3 through 6, 8, and 10 are the crux of “learning how to be a photographer.” If you already have some experience, then the remaining Lessons will sort of fill in the framework of all the technical skills you’ve learned.
The case studies (Lessons 7, 12, and 13) were interesting but didn’t offer any practical takeaways for students. That said, it was cool to see Leibovitz in action. During the video lessons, she is so calm and deliberate, but on the set, you can see how she takes control and gets the shot that she wants. Again, the case studies are interesting but worth skipping over if you are strapped for time.
Lesson 11 is filmed entirely with a group of students, I found this lesson to be a bit of a dud. Leibovitz spends time reviewing the work of current student photographers. On the surface, that may sound cool, but I found the lesson lacked any key takeaways.
Side Note: One aspect of the class that I found to be helpful were the “Assignments” at the end of each video lesson. Leibovitz would read off something for you to practice that you just learned in the lesson. For example, in the “Working With Light” lesson, Leibovitz asks the student to find a subject and take their photo in the same spot but at three different times during the day: the morning, the afternoon, and the evening. A simple, yet important assignment for students to get hands-on experience.
Finally, the class wraps up with an interesting takeaway by Leibovitz. She says, “When you actually decide to be a photographer, it’s such a different experience. You can be really creative artists using photography. I’m never tired of going to work. I’m going to take photographs. It’s an adventure.” As I’ve said, this course lacks the technical explanations of photography, but it is chock-full of inspiration.
My fast-track lesson plan
Although 3 hours of video lessons isn’t a huge time commitment, I created a fast-track collection if you are looking for an abbreviated lesson plan. In just over 60-minutes you can watch these lessons, grab a camera, and have a decent idea of what to do with it. I found these lessons to be the most impactful and beneficial to helping me learn photography.
Course Reviewers 60-Minute Lesson Plan
Key Things I Learned
I really wish I could list off a stream of new skills I learned during this MasterClass, but as I’ve mentioned, there wasn’t a whole lot there. I did glean some helpful tidbits that I outline below, but besides that, I still need to study up on photography.
Below are a few key learnings that stood out during the MasterClass:
- Keep things simple. You don’t need an expensive lighting kit. Use natural light as much as you can.
- Portrait photography is about telling the subject’s story. Make sure you understand your subject.
- There’s no written rule that says you need to set your subject at ease. “I don’t believe in setting people at ease,” Leibovitz says. It helps make interesting photographs.
- When in doubt, play music during a photoshoot.
Things I liked about the Annie Leibovitz MasterClass
Leibovitz is a talented photographer. The photos showcased throughout the class are beautiful and captivating.
The stories she tells about some of her most famous photos are interesting and there is something captivating hearing an artist talk about the behind-the-scenes of their craft. I found this MasterClass to be completely inspiring, and it hasn’t deterred me from learning more about photography.
My favorite quotes from Annie Leibovitz’s MasterClass
It’s hard to say what is a good photograph. It’s so connected with what feeling you have for it. Your picture depends on what’s in it. And it has nothing to do with the technology.LEsson 2 – Portrait Photography
All the work I’ve ever done, the ideas emulate from that person.Lesson 3 – Creating Concepts
Photography really is the study of light.Lesson 4 – Working With Light
I think that when you start to build up too much equipment, you’re just dead. You can’t move, you can’t pivot, you can’t change your mind.LESSON 4 – WORKING WITH LIGHT
I think that a rite of passage for any photographer to really photograph the people that will put up with them. The people close to you. It will probably be the most rewarding work you do.LEsson 8 – Photographing People Who Are Close to You
Things I didn’t like about the Annie Leibovitz MasterClass
This one shouldn’t be a surprise by now: lack of technical demonstration.
Maybe I misread MasterClass’s promise, or maybe I went in with too high of expectations. However, I was hoping for a MasterClass similar to Gordon Ramsay’s where there is a bit of discussion followed by a demonstration.
My biggest complaint about this MasterClass is still the same, I hardly learned anything new about photography.
Does the class keep its promises?
Sadly, this MasterClass did not keep its promise, in my opinion. Leibovitz even mentions at the start that she is not a technical photographer, but I was hoping to see at least some hands-on examples where she walks through some of the important settings on a camera. She doesn’t do that at all.
The case studies and student discussions were interesting, but again, they didn’t offer any practical takeaways I could use as a new photographer.
Finally, Leibovitz is undoubtedly a talented photographer. After 45 years of doing this, the basics are so instinctual to her. She’s a great photographer but perhaps not a great MasterClass instructor.
Is Annie Leibovitz’s MasterClass worth the money?
Yes if you…
- Are more interested in concepts and ideas than technical details
- Are a diehard Annie Leibovitz fan
- Want a heavy dose of inspiration, but don’t want to be drowned in
details or technical matters
- Are looking to pick up photography as a hobby
No if you…
- Are looking for more technical teachings on photography
- Want to improve your photography skills
- Aren’t interested in learning about portrait photography
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that it depends on what you hope to gain from this MasterClass. If you want to dabble in photography as a hobby, this class is full of inspiration to get you started.
However, if you are looking to hone your skills or learn new ones, I recommend you pass or look into other MasterClasses.
If you’re interested in learning more, here is a trailer to the class: