Penny de los Santos and Creative Live

by Robyn on May 16, 2011

I spent this last weekend with Penny de los Santos. She taught a three day seminar on food photography, culture and how to be the best photographer you can be. I signed up a couple of months ago to participate in an online class being given with the premier food photographer of our time – Penny de los Santos. creativeLIVE had teamed up with Penny to provide the world, yes the world, an opportunity to have her teach a three day intensive course about what she does for a living, online, free for anyone who wanted to watch, and was interested in hearing about how she does what she does. How could I not participate?

I love rock music. I’m a child of the 60s, 70s and one of my idols is Annie Lebowitz, the photographer who has photographed every rock star known to mankind. Penny de los Santos is the food cultural equivalent of Annie Lebowitz. She has worked with National Geographic and most recently, with Saveur Magazine photographing the culture of food world wide. Who would miss the opportunity to learn from either of them? Not me. So even though we were also celebrating our 36th wedding anniversary this weekend, I was glued to my computer from 10 to 5 each day for three days. And, it was worth every minute.

From the moment Penny began, she did not waste a minute of our time. I love that she understood the importance of her subject. She has the same passion for sharing her knowledge almost as much or possibly more, than she has for her photography. She talked about her camera and lenses as her tools. No, actually as her second language, to communicate what she sees when making photographs around the world. Her photographs convey a sense of culture and community that bring you into the subject as if you are there yourself. Penny de los Santos taking photographs of food for magazine lay out

She began with the basics. Always ask yourself where is the light? Light makes the photo. Then ask yourself what kind of photo am I making? What story am I telling? Take your time, allow the subject to develop. Wait. The story is there, wait for it. It will come to you. Give a sense of place in your photos, don’t forget the details, make a portrait. Use color, but use it wisely.

Penny interviewed her editor at Saveur, James Oseland, for us. He spoke about what Saveur’s mission was. What they looked for in photographs. She also interviewed their designer, Larry Nighswander. Larry shared how to critique a photo. His, interview could be a week long class for any photographer. His information was almost as valuable as Penny’s techniques and tools.

What I enjoyed most about this class was Penny’s willingness to take us along on her journey as a food photographer. We saw a glimpse into her mindset when taking photos. She shared her thoughts as she chose the pictures to make. We heard her frustrations, and changes, and adjustments to a situation revolving around a “shoot”. She gave her knowledge to each of us. Would we listen? Would we learn? I know I did. I was well fed at that table this weekend. I will hear her voice whisper to me as I set up a shot: “what story are you going to tell”?Picture of a platter of sliced oranges, lemons, limes and pomegranites

That’s clearly a miniscule portion of what she taught. She gave us a piece of herself. She shared intimate stories from her life. She only asks us to do one thing: Do what you love. If you’re not, why not? If you are interested in seeing the video recorded throughout the three days and participate in this same class, go to creativeLIVE’s website and purchase the seminar for $149.00. You’ll have the same experiences that I did. You may learn different things than me. But I guarantee you will be well fed for certain.

Disclaimer: creativeLIVE has no idea who I am. They did not pay me to add a link to this seminar. I feel it is of value to any photographer and that’s why I’m adding the link to my post.


John Wiley May 22, 2011 at 9:54 am

Very nice post, Robyn! I’m still “digesting” all the info Penny shared. She is definitely a role model for all photographers, regardless of their “specialty”! In fact, she’s a role model for all people, period!

Robyn May 17, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Thank you Ethan! Yes, there was a point I even carried my laptop into the, well, maybe I just shouldn’t divulge that. ;o) It was a really good workshop!

Ethan May 16, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Happy 36th anniversary! Like you, I was glued to my computer for 3 days. I simply couldn’t walk away from Penny. You summed up the experience perfectly, she did “give us a piece of herself”

Robyn May 16, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Wouldn’t that be a great dinner! It definitely was a over flowing weekend of knowledge. I will hear her voice when I’m shooting in the future for sure.

Kim May 16, 2011 at 5:35 pm


My cup runneth over with what I learned over the weekend. Thank you for a lovely recap!

Someday… somehow, I’ll make it up to Penny. She’s on my Top 10 List of people (dead or alive) I’d want to have at my dinner table.


Robyn May 16, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Thank you Paula! It was a great weekend of learning. And, thank for the anniversary wishes!

Paula May 16, 2011 at 11:49 am

First of all, belated Happy Anniversary! Best wishes for many, many more wonderful years together.

Secondly, how awesome for Penny de los Santos to do this weekend seminar all for free and how wonderful for you to have been able to take it all in.

Lovely post!

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