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Early in her career, photographer Molly Cranna
was shooting creepy teeth-related objects she
had bought from eBay when magic happened.
The images came to life when the Los
Angeles-based photographer injected some
hard light, a big dose of color and a little humor.
“It was unexpected to have a bunch of dentures
[against] pastel pink with this hard shadow and
to be so blasé about something so potentially
disgusting,” she says.
Over time she has continued to explore the
power of color blocking and defined shadows.
She often uses these techniques in product
work for editorial and commercial clients like
Sephora, Target, Tory Burch and WIRED.
And it’s a style she still experiments with
in her unassigned work. In a personal image,
Cranna paired a tube of pink lipstick with green
and blue squares, each casting its own long
shadow against a light taupe background. “I felt
[the shot] was interesting and took it outside of
a realm that I had never seen with cosmetics,”
she says. “And I thought it just made the pink [of
the lipstick] really beautiful.”
The picture exemplifies her use of color
theory as a way to “ground” images that
predominantly feature pastels.
Hard shadows, meanwhile, not only help
modernize product shots, but also add a
graphic component. “You can bring in a second
character with the shadows,” she says. “They
become another element in the photo.”
Cranna, who also shoots portraits, likes to
personify products. “It helps me figure out
how to position them so they have the most
energy,” she says. “I never place anything in the
frame and just think, ‘Now I’m shooting a pair
of glasses.’ I try to [ask]: ‘What are they doing?’”
In a shot of an eyelash curler, for instance,
she imagined the tool gripping an eyelash like
two people holding hands. Likewise, if objects
are all facing the same way, she might imagine
they’re looking at a shooting star.
Professional strobes help Cranna get
her shadows while on assignment, but she
sometimes turns to speedlights for personal
work. “I’m a proponent of those as the hardest
shadow you can get,” she says. “A lot of students
already own those, so they’re great to play
around with.” Sometimes she brings in a second
light for fill if the shadows are too dark.
Cranna’s formal training include a bachelor’s
degree in film production from the USC School
of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles and a summer
program in fashion photography at the School
of Visual Arts in New York City. She keeps her
visual style fresh by paying attention to color
trends in fashion and experimenting with
swatches in her own work. She stays inspired
with color in another way, too: “I can’t walk
down the street without scrutinizing everything
I see,” Cranna says. “It drives me kind of crazy,
but it’s all good. I like it.” EDU
by MINDY CHARSKI
Molly Cranna powers still lifes with color and shadows.
THIS PAGE: Cranna’s clean and meticulous styling and lighting, seen
here with a tube of lipstick (left) and eyelash curler (right).