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GIZMODO Shooting Challenge: Steal

Bruce Springsteen "Born in the U.S.A." redux
"Born in the U.S.A." redux by Christopher John Sztybel

GIZMODO  ran a pretty cool “Shooting Challenge” called “Steal”. Recreate a well-known photograph. I love this sorta stuff! When the “Steal” contest was announced, I thought of a few pop culture photographs that have both a commercial value as well as artistic merit.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this entry, results are in for the Shooting Challenge. Very happy with the results. Such cool submissions!)

The original composition I stole from was the “Born in the U.S.A.” album cover (photographed by Annie Leibovitz) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Born_in_the_U.S.A.

"Born in the U.S.A." original
"Born in the U.S.A." original by Annie Leibovitz

The artwork for “Born in the U.S.A.” has always stuck out in my mind. I am a huge fan of Annie Leibovitz. Especially her more simple compositions. The message behind the album title (and title track) should be noted as a remembrance of the men and women who have served the United States in both popular and unpopular wars. My dad served in the Vietnam War and I thought this would be a great iconic photograph to emulate.

Set design

  • One white t-shirt
  • One pair of blue jeans
  • One red baseball cap (Thanks for letting me borrow the hat, Vin!)
  • One large American flag
  • One male model

The American flag was clamped to a fence (You can get an idea of the setup by taking a look at the photo to the right.) Since my remote for the camera was dead, I had to get creative with focusing the lens. The The setup for my "Born in the U.S.A." photographtrash can in the backyard was placed approximately 2 feet in front of the fence. Then I focused on the trash can. Then I removed the trash can from the scene and replaced it with Ralph’s chew toy. A little rubber doughnut to be specific. The doughnut was my standing marker. After pressing the shutter, a 10 second timer would give me just enough time to get into position.

The project would have been a lot easier with another person helping me. Oh well!

Lighting setup

I did my best to replicate the lighting from Annie’s original photograph. I couldn’t find much detail on her original shoot, so I did my best to emulate her setup.

  • Sunrise
  • Canon 7D onboard flash
  • Canon 430EX
  • Canon 580EX II

Shooting information

  • Model: Canon EOS 7D
  • Exposure: 1/250 @ f5.0
  • Focal Length: 50mm
  • ISO Speed Rating: ISO 200
  • Lens: EF 50mm f/1.8 II


I made it a goal to strictly limit the post-processing techniques to those of a photographer back in the mid-1980s. Photoshop did not exist. Although I shot digitally, I used an extensive amount of dodge/burn techniques to emulate the methods of that era.

As always, please check out the rest of my photography