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CreativeLive: Food Photography with Penny de los Santos

I’ve reviewed the CreativeLive online class experience just after I took my first class – Zack Arias’s class on Foundations of a Working Photographer. You can read my review of CreativeLive here, in case you haven’t read it yet.

This weekend is another class: Food Photography with Penny de los Santos. I was drawn to the class originally because I have celiac disease and have a (very new) food blog dedicated to gluten-free food. It’s been languishing on a weekly link review as I’ve been trying to figure out how to take pictures of food WELL when I review it or make it to post on that blog. It’s been a bit of analysis paralysis, honestly. So I thought I would, from this class, get an idea where to start.

Instead this class, as of day 1, has been an interesting game-changer for me. Maybe it should be more like CreativeEpiphany 🙂

A bit of history. I’m a writer of both fiction and technical non-fiction for a living. I am and have always been very left-brain focused. I love words and I love creating a world with words and description. I took up photography as a hobby about 18 months ago in an effort to offset my extreme left-brain focus and I’ve focused a lot on nature and wildlife and some landscapes because I do love those subjects. I was diagnosed with celiac disease just after I took up photography but the two have always been quite separate in my own mind. About a month ago, I decided I wanted to give back to the gluten-free community and started my gluten-free food blog: Celiac Kitchen Witch.

I was up at 10am today to watch Penny’s class, expecting to take notes on lighting setups, cameras, lenses, etc. but got something else entirely. Something pretty damned wonderful.

Penny spent the first part of day one mostly speaking about her journey as a photographer and almost a cultural anthropologist – both as it relates to food and not even involving food. She’s offered insights and a true, palpable passion around what she does and how.  Some people were disappointed by this but I am, at this moment, listing to the replay again and will be buying this class.  After the first few hours, we did go into tips and best practices and we could look at photos Penny had taken and I went to taking furious notes as I’d originally planned.

The first part of my personal epiphany is that I’ve been taking pictures – but I should be making pictures. I can and should do with pictures what I do with words. Tell a story that I love and am passionate about in a way to draw others into it and make it live for them. That should always be my goal. I don’t take this to mean that I have to give up my addiction with flower close-ups but I can give more purpose to the pictures I take.

The second part of my epiphany is that my taking up food photography for my blog should be more than paying lip-service to a quick snapshot of a dinner. I really think that anyone on a limited diet or who has dietary restrictions has many moments of feeling they are deprived or what they can eat pales in comparison to what they used to be able to eat or just wish they could eat. I miss a lot of foods with gluten in them. There is a story right there that the food I can eat is my own reality and it deserves to be appreciated, presented well and enjoyed for what it is. There’s a story even in photos on that blog – a story of regaining health and regaining a love of food and cooking.

Don’t get me wrong, I need to learn and practice the techniques of food photography in order to tell this story. I spent years learning how to tell stories in words and this deserves just as much care and education. I’m excited to see tomorrow’s lessons on this class but I’ve already received a wonderful gift courtesy of CreativeLive and Penny de los Santos. I’ve received a personal epiphany for free. Penny – you have inspired me.

  • Frieda - May 14, 2011 - 9:25 pm

    I had the same expectation, as well, hoping to get more of a tutorial on food photography and came away with something totally different and even better. If you are passionate about what you do, it will come through your photos.

    A friend of mine, just diagnosed with CD, taught me how to make GF bread and it amazed me just how good it could taste. You have a story, and the skills you learned today can only enhance your story.

    Looking forward to tomorrow!ReplyCancel

  • Maura - May 14, 2011 - 10:53 pm


    I’m also looking forward to tomorrow! Despite Penny’s unease, she’s doing a wonderful job and certainly her wish to inspire those of us watching is very much fruition.

    Day 2 I did learn a lot about how to approach the idea of food photography itself and a big thing (though it should have been obvious) was that my prior theory of making the food look perfect is perhaps not what I need to be doing, especially in my own situation. Maybe perfection won’t actually inspire someone to make the dish but will, instead, scare them away from it? Many things to ponder.

    I like your blog! It does make me miss bread but I asked my husband for a bread machine for my birthday that will be able to stand up to the heavier GF bread dough and I’m looking forward to playing with it!

    I do miss breadmaking a lot. I learned from my grandmother and we made bread by hand whenever we got together. Maybe I can come up with a GF bread that evokes that same memory in me with the yeasty smell, the way its baking scent permeates the kitchen, etc.

    I am truly inspired.

    – MauraReplyCancel

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