Top Banana–Deconstructing a Photo Illustration

Originally shot on Fujichrome 100, this is one of the few photo illustrations I shot while at the newspaper which I liked.

Maybe it’s also because it won a 1st place award. Details of which elude me now.

I remember just eating a whole lot of bananas. Must have downed at least 20 or 30 by the time I was done.

Shouldn’t complain. At least I wasn’t working for a paper south of the border where the top seller in the produce department is Jalapeños peppers or onions?

    Toughest part:

  1. Come up with a concept.
  2. Shopping and hunting for props
  3. Scaling all the elements, simple set construction
  4. Execution

Mind you, this was done quite a few years before there were digital cameras.

Photoshop was around but in its infancy.

I knew little to nothing about it.

So I was holed up in the basement studio figuring out how to make a banana’s peel look like arms.

One end is gaffer taped to the peel, the other to 2 piano wires which protrude straight out of the blackened background.

The peeled banana is staked on a makeshift stand which sat on a box to resemble a stage.

The miniature chairs where the squash,  broccoli, strawberry and tomato sit were lit from below.

The ambience of the stage was completed with some Christmas decorative lights in the top.

Steps 1 and 2 were simple enough.

Step #3 was the toughest. I had to find vegetables that was the right size and scale. Those chairs were very small. Find the right size strawberry, squash, tomato etc took a lot longer than I anticipated. Then I had to figure out how to secure the banana peel.

If you look closely at the peel on the left, you can make out a piece of gaffer tape sticking out from the banana.

Camera: Nikon F5

Lens: 85 mm

Dyne lite studio strobes.

Props: miniature chairs, squash, tomato, strawberry, lime, Christmas decoration lights and of course, the banana.

Lighting the banana was a lot harder than I expected because it is so white compared to the rest of the scene.

I finally had to use a combination of a honeycomb and a snoot to narrowly focus the light on just the top of the banana and nowhere else. Earlier attempts didn’t work because the light would spill all over and light too much of my fake stage.

I remember trying 2 ways to make the exposure:

  1. Timed exposure for the Christmas lights first 1/2 sec @ f 11. Then with shutter still open I fired the flash lighting the vegetables on the chairs 2 times. One pop of the flash gave me f5.6, so twice gave me an exposure of f8 for the vegetables.
  2. Finally I fired the flash over the banana once for f11.
I left the set in place and made sure no one disturbed the placement while I ran test rolls immediately in the film processor.
By the time I got the exposure I wanted, the banana looked pretty sad.
So I had peel another one and tape the peel to the piano wires each time.
This was a major pain, but a worthwhile effort because it gave me a greater appreciation for the technical aspects of photography long before the days of photoshop and compositing and layers.
If I had to do it over, I would have:
  1. added some “stage lights” in front of the little white chairs.
  2. checked to make sure the gaffer tape wasn’t showing
How about you? What would you do differently?

4 thoughts on “Top Banana–Deconstructing a Photo Illustration”

  1. The banana illustration was a lot of fun. But it was a whole lot of work for at least 2 days.

    I have a made a few picture books but those are just personal family albums.

  2. Thanks Carolyn,
    For commenting and your kind words. I’m not the most creative person, but I can execute if I have a good concept.

    Of course with “layers” available in photoshop, this is so old-school.

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