Who Shot It Better? Star Wars Cast: Annie Leibovitz or Jesse Dittmar

Who Shot It Better? Star Wars Cast: Annie Leibovitz or Jesse Dittmar

As Star Wars: The Last Jedi barreled towards a jaw-dropping $450 million opening weekend haul, media coverage has reached its usual blanket intensity. As the canon has expanded, so has the number of characters integral to the storytelling, and therefore shooting a cast photo has become quite a feat. If you’ve ever tried photographing large groups (or attended a wedding), you know that something as simple as positioning and pose can make a huge difference in transforming an image from a yearbook photo into a masterpiece – plus the time to set up the shot can be mindnumbingly long. Let’s take a look at the contenders!

Photo by Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair

Annie Leibovitz is no stranger to the group shot, having been tapped many times to create massive photos for Vanity Fair. For Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Leibovitz placed 21 actors along with George Lucas in the shop of a soundstage. A partial blue background helps to clean up the image and provide a little pop. The lighting is soft and directional (left of camera) and provides a pretty even illumination across the frame. But Leibovitz is known to heavily composite and retouch her image, which begs the question, “How many frames made up this photo?”

Photo by Jesse Dittmar for The New York Times

Jesse Dittmar was tapped by The New York Times to create a cast photo during one of the movie’s press junkets. Dittmar describes in detail how the shot was construct in an interview with PDN. Exceeding the editorial budget, Dittmar spent a bit of his own money to construct a set and used 2 octabanks for his keylights, plus additional octas at the edges of the frame to handle the drop off.

PDN writes, “When the writer finished interviewing, Dittmar actually had 10 minutes with the cast….Using a Canon 5D Mark IV with a 24-70 lens, Dittmar shot a total of 42 frames.”

Speculation immediately started about the curious space in the center of the frame, and Dittmar would neither confirm nor deny that it was meant as homage to Carrie Fischer, who passed away last December.

The most obvious difference is that the characters are not in costume. Dittmar seems to use a wider lens than Leibovitz, which means less compression of the subjects (perhaps both an artistic choice as well as practical one given that his image only has 11 people). Adam Driver, for example, seems much larger than Oscar Isaac despite only being a few feet away.

Because the NYT has strict editorial rules concerning its photography, Dittmar wasn’t allowed to composite different shots to build the final image. Getting 11 press-weary actors to look at the camera and not blink at the same time is challenging to say the least.

Verdict: Dittmar. Jesse’s image is more creative (he built a set!) and I have a ton of respect for the fact that he couldn’t composite the image. Of course, the image feels more contemporary since it was shot recently, but it also has a more authentic and real feeling than Leibovitz’s image.


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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 10 comments for this article
  1. Bill Ferris at 9:56 pm

    Both photos perfectly capture the mood of the Start Wars mythology, at their respective moments in time. The Leibowitz portrait captures the youthful exuberance and optimism of the franchise. The Ditmar portrait captures a more mature and confident mood. Like any good story, Star Wars is not monolithic. It can begin with a simple phrase – “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” – but the story never really ends. It grows, evolves in unexpected ways and constantly reaches out to connect with a new generation.

  2. John Slemp at 11:53 pm

    Hey Allen!

    My guess is that the center space is more likely because the image will be run as a double-page spread, and the center space is for the gutter.

    But it’s just a guess…

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 4:27 am

      I’m no longer a print subscriber, but afaik, this image was printed in the paper not the magazine. I’m still rooting for the Princess Leia Hypothesis.

  3. Kenleigh John A Umali at 3:10 am

    I’ve been looking into Annie Leibovitz’s style recently but one thing I didn’t like was that it was heavy on compositing (obviously in some cases it’s necessary, and also that Annie uses only one light and shifts it over to lights the difference “segments) because I really wanted to learn and emulate her style but tbh I suck at Photoshop. I really gotta hand it to Dittmar. It really shows the work he put in to produce a shot that is, IMO, on par with Annie’s if not better because it was not composited.

  4. RA at 5:50 pm

    Neither displays much artistry- though I feel Leibovitz’s poses are a bit more interesting. Put up a few large Octas for flat boring lighting and snap a few shots of the cast distributed across the frame. Safe and boring. Maybe not easy to do much else in 10 mins with that many people- but I feel any technically competent shooter could have produced a similar image.

  5. Awkipintee at 1:03 am

    I’m a fan of Annie’s work but not this image, it’s a snapshot compared to Jesse’s capture. The lighting is beautiful and the moment expresses emotions from the entire cast in an understated, elegant manner…in my humble opinion.

  6. Erik Kellar at 12:15 pm

    I often think these comparisons are unfair. Two different ideas two different photographers two different sets of challenges. Annie’s has many more cast member in the shots something I truly hate having to handle because it starts to becomes form less, 11-vs 22. In Jesse’s I can see the ethos of Annie’s work.

  7. name at 10:23 am

    Leibowitz. It tells it’s star wars cast.
    Dimittar photo looks like it’s about theater group, or just some rich family that likes fancy group photos

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