“Annie Leibovitz At Work”

One of my favorite photographers is Annie Leibovitz and I had the chance to read this book during a recent vacation. I enjoyed the non-gloating tone of the book even though it featured amazing work. Some of it very iconic and familiar in pop culture. She describes what drove her to pick up a camera and how it’s important to shoot with a passion for the subject matter. Although she does describe some of the equipment she has used over the years, the main message is connecting with the subject.

In my opinion that is what lacks in almost every photo I consider to be bad. Instagram is great, but I’ll be damned if half the photos on there aren’t of the same exact Friday night over and over. Do yourself a favor and pick up “Annie Leibovitz At Work”. It’s an easy read, but it’s full of great stories about what inspires an artist.


Mamiya 645 PRO medium format camera

Mamiya Leaf logoI sold a couple of my Holga cameras and made way for a Mamiya 645 PRO. I’ve never shot with a Mamiya before and tomorrow I’ll be taking some shots at a wedding with it. Here’s to success!

My decision to buy a Mamiya was due in part to reading Annie Leibovitz’s “At Work” book while on a recent vacation. She had kind words to say about her equipment of choice. If Mamiya is good enough for artists like Annie Leibovitz and Herb Ritts, then Mamiya is good enough for me.


A Real Honor Regarding My Photography

This is something I did not expect. My cousin posted this yesterday about “Bring Your Daughter To Work Day”. She brought her daughter Grace.

“They were asked Whom They Most Admire…. And ummm this is what Grace drew….
My Cousin Christopher…. Because she feels she would like to pursue photography and bring out her inner artist in the future….
I thought it was very cool….”

CRAZINESS! I get so wrapped up in making sure I love my work and a nice result of that is others do too. It’s a huge compliment that someone would recognize my work like that. It’s important that my work strikes a chord with the younger generation.

Always strive for perfection, but know when it cannot be attained. Keep snapping away with your camera, Grace. See if you can convince your parents to get you a small camera to shoot black & white film. I still develop my own black & white film at home. Working in a darkroom will help you further appreciate the power of a single photograph. Keep having fun with whatever you choose to do!

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