Annie Leibovitz Explains the Story Behind Portraits of Queen Elizabeth II

World-renowned portrait photographer, Annie Leibovitz, 69, revealed the story behind the portraits she took of Queen Elizabeth II in honor of her 90th birthday in 2016. 

April 21 is Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday, which she typically celebrates privately with family. As a monarch, her birthday is observed at the Trooping the Colour parade in June — usually on the second Saturday of the month — with many of the British royal family in attendance. 

Annie Leibovitz on portraits of Queen Elizabeth II: ‘These were all her ideas’

“The most moving, important thing about this shoot is that these were all her ideas,” Leibovitz, a longtime photographer for Vanity Fair told the publication as part of the portraits’ accompanying cover story

HRH Queen Elizabeth ll greets photographer Annie Leibovitz at a reception for American based in England at Buckingham Palace on March 27, 2007.
Queen Elizabeth ll greets photographer, Annie Leibovitz, at a reception for American based in England at Buckingham Palace on March 27, 2007. | Anwar Hussein Collection/ROTA/WireImage

As noted in the article, the photographs were taken at Windsor Castle after Easter. 

Queen Elizabeth II appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair’s summer 2016 issue alongside her beloved dogs, Holly (Queen Elizabeth II is pictured holding her), while, left to right, Willow, Vulcan, and Candy stood at her feet. 

Queen Elizabeth II and her dogs on the cover of Vanity Fair in 2016 | Vanity Fair via Twitter

A quick note on Queen Elizabeth II’s pets.  

Vulcan and Candy are dorgis, a crossbreed Queen Elizabeth II created after a dachshund that belonged to her sister, Princess Margaret, mated with one of her corgis. 

Queen Elizabeth II is known for her love of animals, namely horses and dogs, but in particular the corgi breed. She began breeding them in 1949 with her first puppy, Susan. 

The leader of the British monarchy has since given up her hobby of breeding dogs but over the course of 50 years, she witnessed 14 generations of royal corgis.

Sadly, Willow and Holly have since died, leaving behind Vulcan and Candy, according to The Washington Post.

We digress…we can’t resist talking about pets. Back to the portraits of Queen Elizabeth II. 

One might think Leibovitz, a prominent figure in the photography industry, would have provided the concept for the photo shoot, but that simply wasn’t the case. 

Queen Elizabeth II and her daughter, Anne, the Princess Royal. | Vanity Fair via Twitter

“She wanted to be photographed with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren; her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh; her daughter, Anne, the Princess Royal; and her corgis,” Leibovitz said. 

And sure enough, that’s what portraits were taken and published in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday. 

Queen Elizabeth II with her five great-grandchildren and two youngest grandchildren. | The Royal Family via Twitter

Leibovitz probably had ideas of her own in mind but when Queen Elizabeth II says what she wants, everyone else’s ideas be damned. After all, it was her photoshoot. 

What Leibovitz created were four photographs that have an ease to them and don’t feel like a quote-un-quote official portrait. 

The photographer shared with Vanity Fair why she felt the portraits came out the way they did.

“I was told how relaxed she was at Windsor, and it was really true. You get the sense of how at peace she was with herself, and very much enthralled with her family,” she said. 

Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday portraits in 2016 didn’t mark the first time Leibovitz had photographed the leader of the British monarch. They met for the first time nine years earlier in 2007 for another series of portraits. 

See the 2016 portraits, here, and the portraits from 2007, here.