Penny De Los Santos Food & Culture Photography Workshop

Macaroon Tart From SuperNatural Everyday

After a month of very impatient waiting, the Food & Culture Photography workshop taught by Penny De Los Santos on began today.  I sat down, pen and notebook in hand, to learn from one of the best.  Penny has this amazing ability to bring people and food together in a photograph, weaving a story while also teaching us about our connections to one another.  Her photographs are incredible.

I took pages and pages of notes during today’s lecture.  In case you missed it I want to share my favorite tips from today’s lesson.

Food & Culture Photography

  • Capturing something horrible or devastating is easy, capturing hope and joy in uncertain times is the challenge.
  • Self assign personal projects.  You will probably never be paid to do your dream assignment so just do it yourself as a personal project.  Follow your passion.
  • Tell the stories around the food.  Give a sense of place & purpose.
  • Get to know the people you want to photograph.  Spend days or weeks with them.  Then they will be comfortable with you photographing them.  It’s a process of developing a relationship.  You are there to tell their story.  Explain your process so they know what to expect.
  • Focus on the people.  It’s about capturing the connection between the people and the food.
  • For every story try to capture an establishing shot, the details, portraits, major themes, the food, and the space/location.
  • When out taking photos of people ask first.  Dont pay for photos but maybe buy something they are selling.  Support this person you want to photograph.  Operate from an honest place.  You want to tell their story.  About why they are there doing what they are doing.  Most people want to tell their story.  Dont photograph someone who doesn’t want to be photographed.

Interview with SAVEUR editor James Oseland

  • Saveur shoots real food and stories from an anthropological perspective (being an anthro major in college I love this!)
  • Get to know what is going on in an environment.  Respect and love your environment.  Become part of it.  Get to know people and the story will show itself.  Honor the subject.
  • Leave your ego at the door.
  • Process of meeting editors.  1.  Take lots of pictures. 2. Look over your photos and see if one looks like a Saveur photo or a Bon Appetite photo, ect.  Gather 5-6 Saveur-esque photos and email them to James or to Penny and ask them for their opinion.  Ask to take them out to coffee and show them prints of your best work, work that would fit their magazine.  This works with editors at lots of magazines.
  • Always study other magazines.  What is it about the photos that draws you to them?  What emotional reaction do you have when you see the photo and why?  What about the picture elicits that reaction?  Try to emulate those qualities you admire in your own photographs.

Foundations of Food Photography – Penny De Los Santos

  • use natural light, real food, beautiful ingredients, best light you can find, and props that have character.
  • What makes a great photo?  Light, color, composition, beautiful subjects, appetizing food.
  • Food is very graphic.  You want to accentuate the graphicness.
  • A lot of food looks great when shot from overhead.  Also a vertical orientation rather than horizontal works best in food photographs.
  • Dont get too close to the food or use too shallow DOF.  We want to know what the whole thing looks like, not just one crumb of it.
  • Change up your angles, shoot the subject from all sides & angles.
  • Use color and composition to bring life into the photograph.
  • Go for color, composition, graphic elements, and light in your photographs.  Try to use 2-3 of those words in every photo.
  • diffused side light is great light to photograph food.
  • make your food look like a human has interacted with it in some way.  Make it real.  Change how its plated if you need to.
  • Try to shoot the whole cooking process.
  • Ways to photograph a dish: Change camera angle, change lighting, edit the food, show the food being prepped, or the meal being eaten.
  • Practice all the time.  Its the only way to master this.
  • Make photographs, don’t take them.  Be an artist.

Notes from the interview with Larry Nighswander- Director of Photography at Saveur Magazine

  • Look at magazines & movies and study how a story is put together.  How visuals are used to introduce a storyline.  How they introduce place and people.
  • Often editors will want to see all of your RAW unedited shots.  Even the crappy blurry ones.  This helps them to understand your photographing process.
  • The eye will always go to the brightest spot in the photo.  Make sure that is not in the background.
  • Think about composition and how you can enhance the natural beauty of the subject.  Also use color in the same way.
  • Attention to detail is the difference between a professional and an amateur.
  • Less is more, is there anything extra in the photo that doesn’t add to the story?
  • Every photograph needs to be technically excellent, have compositional creativity and be useful editorially.
  • Make sure your foreground, mid-ground and background all add to your story.

Business Practices – Penny De Los Santos

  • to succeed you must be able to adapt
  • do what feeds your soul.
  • Twitter and Blogging are very powerful tools in the food photography world.  Use twitter to make contact with people you want to get to know.  People you want to work with or for eventually.
  • Be a good person, be workable/ cooperative, be able to listen and follow through.
  • Dont let $$ dictate your business.  Do projects because you are passionate about them not because they will or will not make you money.
  • When you go looking for editors be ready to take an assignment.  Have a strong set of pictures.  Send the editor an email.  Buy them coffee.  Always buy the coffee.  Show them your portfolio.  Ask opinions.  Be open to learning.  Meeting in person is always best.
  • Continue pounding the pavement and reintroducing yourself to editors.  Develop relationships with them.  One day one of them will hire you.
  • Only put your absolute favorite photos in your portfolio.

Well those are my notes.  There is lots of useful information there but that’s not everything.  Penny will be continuing her workshop tomorrow with live photo shoots and critiques.  Hope to see you there!

Author: Melissa

I live in the high desert outside of Los Angeles in southern California with my 14-year-old daughter and my 6 yr old son. I love to help people, which is why I am a teacher! I find so much joy in helping others create a life they love. This little blog is about food. Growing it, cooking it and eating it! I hope it inspires you to try something new and stretch yourself!

8 thoughts

  1. WOW! Awesome notes!! You SO must have been the girl all the sick kids asked to copy notes from!!! Maybe it’s that your love of food photography and anthropology are simultaneously colliding and rocking your world! Great post either way! Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

  2. Very detailed notes! I may have to refer to this page, and often! It’s been a great two days, hasn’t it? Can’t wait for tomorrow!

  3. Thank you, thank you for your great notes! I tried to take notes, also, but sometimes I would get caught up in just listening and forget to write. This will help fill in the blank areas in my notebook.

    Those three days with Penny were an incredible experience. We were so lucky.


  4. I really enjoyed reading this. I love photography and I’m always trying to learn more about it. This has given me some very helpful advice. I’m excited to put it into practice. I ran across your blog today and I wanted to say how beautiful your photos are! I’ve been enjoying browsing through your posts.

  5. This was great! Thank you for sharing your awesome notes. It’s helped me rethink my photographs. Very helpful! So glad I stumbled across your lovely site.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s