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)

"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