In the midst of all the holiday craziness I stepped away from the stove and got my hand out of the sugar to take a photography workshop with the incredibly talented, Penny De Los Santos.

Chances are you have seen Penny’s work as it graces the pages of Saveur and National Geographic. One glance at her website and blog will leave you inspired and hungry.

Since that workshop my photography has changed. You may not noticed as it is as much of a mental change as a visual one. Most of the information I heard from Penny I had heard in my previous photography classes, although I adored her relaxed and encouraging approach. What I did realize is the absolute need for natural light.


In these dark winter months I had grown accustomed to using artificial lighting. I just couldn’t seem to get my act together well enough to shoot during the nearly two hours of daylight (okay I may be exaggerating a bit – but there’s not much). I would use a number of light sources and just try to make it work. But I wasn’t happy with the results. The images were lacking life, light and the quality that just makes you want to reach in and eat it.

I came home from my time with Penny and immediately set out to rearrange our house. We moved the couch so that the large open floor to ceiling window could let the light pour in. Our dining table now sits just off of the window. I now make sure that if I am planning on photographing that day it happens when it’s light out or it waits until tomorrow (or the next day).


Thanks to Penny I am now more intentional with the photography. I plan ahead and anticipate the image before the food is prepared. While I still get most of my favorite images from inspiration that occurs during the shoot, I can now get to that place much quicker by planning ahead.

I still have much to learn and I am so excited to figure it out. Where as practicing piano as a child seemed like torture, practicing taking beautiful pictures is rewarding and so fulfilling.



35 Responses to “A lesson in photography”

  1. Kylie of Thin Crust Deep Dish

    This was just the post I needed to read. There isn’t a ton of natural light in my apartment (even though we get much more than some of my other NYC friends), and I think I need to focus on really taking advantage of those few morning and midday hours of sun. I’d love to hear more of what you learned with Penny, or even if you have any tips on maximizing natural light for those of us who don’t have a whole lot.

  2. Mélanie

    I love the styling of you last photography, the colors of the wood and background set the perfect mood for this dish.
    I know how important daylight is, but I will have to learn to do without it, because I leave for work at 8am and come back at 10pm… Even summer won’t be the solution for me! :-S

  3. Jessica

    I’d love to go to a photography workshop–your photos certainly seem to show the benefits. I struggle with taking pictures. My heart lies with cooking food and writing about it, but a picture is worth 1000 words, isn’t it? Nice post.

  4. Michelle

    This is definitely something that I am trying to work on-much easier to just shoot outside but when it’s cold well then that’s a problem!

    I love the shot with the spoon and the reflection in the spoon, I think it’s beautiful!

  5. laura

    I’ve been reading about Penny’s workshops and tips on several blogs recently and I hope I am able to attend one at some point. I am in the process of developing my photography style and I, too, am finding that natural light gives photos depth and soul. Thanks for the tips. Your blog is lovely.

  6. Julia

    Such inspiration– because I thought your photography was amazing to begin with and here you are getting better!

  7. nita

    I LOVE that photo of the spoon in midair! The lighting and crispness of the spoon covered in the chopped herbs is perfect!

  8. Artazza

    Wonderful for you to share not only your amazing culinary skills but your photog experience with your audience. Nice work! Would be great if for a *few* select shots (maybe your favorites?) you could include details such as lens, F-stop, shutter speed. Q: do you filter the natural light to reduce harsh shadows?

    • Ashley Rodriguez

      Artazza – This is a great point! I will try and do this in the future. Also, I upload all my photos to flickr and they give you all the details. Thanks for the tip!

  9. Hélène

    I could spend hours looking at her blog. I do wish I had nice sunny days. Since the 1st of January we have rainy days. So hard to take good pictures. You always amaze me with your photos.

  10. Megan Gordon

    Ah yes…I heard about this workshop on twitter and it was yet another moment when I wished I lived in Seattle! Sounds great. It is always a funny dance of pre-planning and trying to let a little inspiration slip in amidst the process isn’t it?

  11. Noerah

    What a beautiful post! The pictures look great. I am am also going to take a food photography class this summer here in New York. And yes.. natural light is a must!

  12. Stephanie Manley

    I loved reading your article and your struggle with photography. I struggle with trying to make my food pretty, and how to photograph it. I have limited light, and find it frustrating that I am often pulling out light sources for when I can shoot photography. Your photos are lucious and engaging. I am going to plan better!

  13. Suzanne

    I’ve tried for years to get good pictures in unnatural light and it just doesn’t work. I couldn’t agree with you more about needing natural light for awesome pictures!

  14. heidileon

    As my photography teacher says:
    Sin luz no hay foto – there is no picture without light-

    … he also teached me to appreciate natural light as it is; and not as I want it to be (bright, perfect sunny no clouds in the horizon…), the key he says is to learn to *listen* to her (the light) and know how she wants to be interpreted in the picture…

    lovely isn’t?

  15. molly

    And I thought I was the only one who had re-arranged their living room to get better shots! I have leagues to go (and am having a ball on the journey), but appreciate greatly your tips and experience.

  16. Trissa

    How lucky that you managed a food photography class! I’ve also purchased lowel lights to compensate for the fact that I can’t take pictures during the day however have also been contemplating just rearranging my schedule so that I can actually shoot when there is light as well. It does make a difference.

  17. Alexandra Zeevy

    My house has very few sources of natural light, but I quickly figured that it was also the only way to really get perfect pictures (it’s pretty obvious in my blog, which were taken with and without). I’d love to take a photography class, sounds really interesting! Keep sharing with us!

  18. Aron

    So cool that you took a class! I’ve been really thinking about what could take my photography to the next level. Actually getting more serious about blogging has helped–its like a series of mini projects. Keep up the good posts!

  19. Kimberly Taylor

    I am so envious – after seeing her website I too would find her incredibly inspirational to learn from! Thanks for sharing her links – she is wonderful~

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