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The great Irving Penn salad still life experiment (part one…)


~This is the seventh post in a series running through the month of June 2009 in which I attempt to post once a day for the month.~

Irving Penn was a photographer who shot during most of last century. He created the style that is now ever-present in Vogue and Vanity Fair, the Clinique ads that everyone knows, and has been emulated by I’m sure countless photographers.

I have photographic aspirations. Not huge ones. Just making photos that are a little better than average. Maybe even a good one or two. The problem with those kinds of aspirations, or any aspirations I suppose, is that you start learning things. And once you start learning things, you start thinking that you’re doing it WRONG.

Which can really mess with your desire to keep doing new things. It’s hard floundering around, knowing you’re not really doing it right, but not knowing how to do it right. Which got me thinking – what if I just try to copy someone I like? Like Irving Penn? He’s not my favorite photographer, but he did very good work, and a lot of still lifes, and that’s really what I want to do here anyway. Phood Photography. Still cheesecake with curd…

To that end, I present my first attempt to recreate Irving Penn’s famous “Salad Ingredients” pictured above. There are many problems with my photo, not the least of which are the angle of the light, the props themselves, and my fine-ass reflection in the spoons. I’m there are many more – if you find them, let me know.* Making lots of mistakes, and seeing them, is the only way I’m going to get any better…

Stay tuned for part two.




* If you have any criticisms/comments (I’d prefer if they were honest yet kind), I’d love to hear them.  Getting better in a vacuum is slow work.

One Comment

  1. joe says:

    There’s no better photographer towards, you’ve started out right by studying a master!

    But in the interests in improving your work I’d suggest the following:

    First off I’d think a little more about the items you’re using. What’s so striking about Penn’s lettuce is that the center is very flower-like. Also, the bright center is a nice starting point for your eye. The dark leaves give a lot of nice contrast to help it jump out at you and pull you in.

    If you’ll notice, he’s lined the yellow olive oil, yellow shopped garlic and yellow lemon all along a line that curves down and to the left. That brings your eye around the photo. So compared to yours where the brightness of the lettuce is on the left, in your photo the eye stops at the darkness of the lettuce leaves.

    It also looks like he’s using much fresher ingredients. His lemon is so much more striking than yours. The same with the vinegar, darker and deeper.

    If you’ll notice, his little piles of salt etc are randomly placed but are also scattered, a really interesting contradiction. Nothing falls off the frame like your salt and pepper.

    Lastly, there’s a subtle difference in his camera angle and yours. His feels like he’s a little higher and a tad past 90 degrees. It’s almost like they are attached to a wall (although clearly shot from above). It gives the items an interesting tension because it’s such an unusual vantage point. You might want to experiment with that idea. Yours is shot more like you walked up to a table and are looking down on it. Very natural but without the upfrontness (if that’s even a real word haha) of Penn’s.

    A great start though! Keep up the good work!

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