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Inspired By: Irving Penn

11 February, 2021

Inspired By: Irving Penn

Learning from the great photographers and designers is a fantastic way to improve your skills, and this week we’re going to dive into the world of master photographer, Irving Penn.

Most renowned for his black and white portraits and fashion images, Penn’s dedication to his art, and incredible attention to detail means that his portfolio will be a source of inspiration for anyone interested in photographing people for generations to come.

The Irving Penn method

Initially working for Vogue to help prepare the magazine’s cover art, it soon became clear that Irving had the gift of real vision, so the editor asked him to start taking those photographs himself.

He developed a love for natural light portraits, often constructing a temporary studio on his fashion assignments to utilise the light he found. His background as a painter was clear in his work – his images showed a strong understanding of form and composition, plus a very clear desire to draw the viewer in. In fact, Irving often said that his real client was not the magazine or subject, but the viewer of the image. This is clear when we look at his portfolio and see how engaging his work was.

Learning from Penn

There’s so much you can learn from a master like Penn, but we’re going to focus on a couple of key points:  

Natural light is beautiful! – Learning how to take portraits with studio lights and small flashes is a lot of fun, but never discount available light. Irving set up his shooting space and studios with an abundance of windows in order to use the light effectively at different times of the day. With the high ISO capabilities of modern cameras, it's possible to shoot stunning indoor portraits using window light, so give it a try!

Isolate the subject – Context in a photograph is great when you’re shooting environmental portraits, but Penn wanted to isolate the subject as much as possible in order to focus the attention of the viewer. He tended to either shoot on plain white or grey backgrounds or crop in really tight on his subject, which made for intensely intimate portraits that draw the viewer in. 
Irving Penn may not be as well known as some of the great portrait and fashion photographers, but the accessibility and drama of his work make him one to study and learn from – whatever your standard! We hope that after reading this you’ll be inspired to shoot some portraits in his style… and send them to us to be printed on canvas for your wall!

11 February, 2021


frame next to a house plant
framed photo by the bedside
framed landscape painting on the wall
framed picture next to a quill
holding a framed painting