Inspired by the Portraits of Irving Penn

Photo: Tennessee Williams. New York, 1951. (By Irving Penn)

Photo: Tennessee Williams. New York, 1951. (By Irving Penn)

Irving Penn made in the early fifties a whole series of portraits of celebrities at a small table in his studio in New York. Quite typical for most of these character portraits is that the model looks straight into the camera without revealing any emotion. He used a setting where the main light illuminates relatively harshly one side of the face while the background is lightened predominantly behind the part of the face that is in the shadow.

Irving Penn’s setup at the table resulted in some extremely effective portraits. I would love to learn from these and make some myself. As a first step I have to decide how I will organise my studio lights. In the below lighting diagram you can see what I will start with as an experiment. Key thing in this is that I will need to learn what kind of light modifier to use on my main light. I expect that I will start with a small soft-box or beauty-dish, but these will render mush softer shadows. I guess I just have to find out. 

Lighting setup that I will use for a series of portraits inspired on the "table portraits" by Irving Penn. (The diagram was created with The Online Diagram Creator by QH Photography.)

Lighting setup that I will use for a series of portraits inspired on the "table portraits" by Irving Penn. (The diagram was created with The Online Diagram Creator by QH Photography.)