Who Shot It Better? Jennifer Lawrence: Annie Leibovitz or Mario Testino

Who Shot It Better? Jennifer Lawrence: Annie Leibovitz or Mario Testino

The highest paid actress in the world, Jennifer Lawrence, is well-known for her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games series and Mystique in the X-Men movies. But she’s also garnered four Oscar nominations and won a Best Actress award for Silver Linings Playbook. And this month, she becomes the first actress to appear on the cover of Vogue twice to celebrate the magazine’s 125th anniversary.  

A perfect time to make a photographic comparison. Vamanos!

Annie Leibovitz was on a boat with JLaw cruising by the Statue of Liberty at sunset for this shot.

When it comes to Leibovitz’s work, it’s hard to tell what is in-camera and what has been composited. But we can deconstruct this much: There is a very soft keylight camera right. It might even be a strip light given the lack of spill on the railing – but given the evenness of tone, it’s likely to be heavily retouched. There’s no motion blur in the water even though the sun is low in the sky, suggesting a high ISO. The perspective doesn’t look ultra-wide, and since Lady Liberty is in focus, we’re probably stopped down on the aperture. The lights in the base of the statue are balanced with the sunset – I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it seems improbable, so we’re likely seeing the effects of some heavy retouching.

The composition is quite nice, and I like JLaw’s pose and expression. The red satin looks great! We should also point out that this is a very atypical Vogue cover, which is almost always a tight studio shot. But in truth, Leibovitz is often tapped to photograph actresses for Vogue covers, and those shots tend to be environmental.

Let’s compare this to Mario Testino’s cover from 2013.

Whereas Leibovitz is known more as a portraitist, Testino is known more as a fashion photographer, and the cover aesthetic certainly reflects this categorization. There is a very shallow depth-of-field. The reflection in her eyes seem to show a gridded softbox. Her big pupils suggest strobe vs natural light. I love the warm tonality. Her hair and make-up look fantastic.

Verdict: I’m a sucker for a good environmental portrait, so I’m siding with Leibovitz. But the more I analyze the photo, the more I’m turned off by the retouching. How can her right hand be illuminated while the railing has essentially the same luminance on both sides of her? I don’t expect a cover shot to be devoid of retouching, but sometimes I miss the honesty of Leibovitz’s early work.

Also, I might like Peter Lindbergh’s Vanity Fair cover better…

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 2 comments for this article
  1. Jason Bleecher at 2:46 pm

    I love the drama of Leibovitz; the flow of the dress is nice which is very had to perfect. A technical discussion of this portrait should include the cyan flesh tones which really don’t seem to balance nicely with he background. While the warmth of the Testino image feels right, the lighting on the Leibovitz images is generally unmotivated which makes it seem wrong. The cyan cast also kills the red of the dress which may have been the intention since it’s supposed to be a twilight shot. I, personally, like to shift things to the cooler side (unlike my mentors who always complained about that with me) but bluey-looking flesh tones are a tough sell.

  2. Nancy at 2:02 pm

    Absolutely Peter Lindbergh’s. It’s a good compromise between the fashion, attitude and environment of the Annie Leibovitz with the (relative, for a cover) natural look of the Mario Testino, which is pretty but overall less interesting. I wish there wasn’t as much tendency these days to err on the blue/cyan side for everything, but Lindbergh’s isn’t terribly cold.

    As much as I love the pose & composition of the boat/Liberty photo, the level of retouching/illustration is unappealing. I don’t even dislike all photo illustration even if it’s not my style, but I don’t like this as JLaw looks too jarringly cut and pasted because of the flatness of the boat railing.

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