Sponsored by

Trending Now: Molly Cranna’s Graphic Goods

Posted by on October 23, 2017 | Photographer Interviews

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.


Chocolate bars photographed for Playboy. Photo © Molly Cranna

And it’s a style she still experiments with in her unassigned work. In a personal image (below), 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.”


A personal image of a tube of lipstick that experiments with pastels and shadows. Photo © Molly Cranna

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.”


A tube of lipstick photographed for Maison Margiela Fragrances. Photo © Molly Cranna

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 (below), 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.


An unassigned image of a eyelash and curler. Photo © Molly Cranna

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.”

–Mindy Charski

This article has been excerpted from “Trending Now: Graphic Goods” (PDNEdu, Fall 2017). Read the full article in the digital edition.