Monday, March 11

Penny De Los Santos: All in a Day's Work

Food and travel photographer Penny De Los Santos blogs for us about her sources of inspiration, her travels, and her favorite bites and sips along the way. You can follow Penny on Twitter at @pennydelosantos. 

One of the greatest things about my job is how diverse it can be from week to week.

Some weeks have me traveling across the globe to photograph a food tradition in a faraway land, and at other times I’m closer to home, in a studio, photographing an advertising campaign or a cookbook.

By taking a range of projects my work stays fresh, my images get published and the creative juices flow.

The first assignment I did this year took me to Ecuador to photograph a feature in the Amazon. There I was, deep in the jungle with a group of female hunters from a nearby village, with machetes in hand they were on the move, me photographing all the action while massive mosquitos attacked every inch of my skin they could find.

The following week had me in a photo studio in NYC’s Soho neighborhood, with pristine white walls, high ceilings, assistants, and an overflowing craft food table.

Five days later I boarded a 16-hour flight to India for a magazine feature. In the next ten days, I would barely miss a bomb blast in Hyderabad and become seriously ill from a water-borne bacteria, all while trying to photograph a story.

And last week, I was on set in the famous 601 building in Chelsea. This building houses hundreds of production companies, photo studios, and Martha Stewart's magazines. I was shooting an ad campaign for Target using a rented camera that retails for approximately the sticker price of a brand-new Volvo.

The contrast in all these projects allows me the privilege of witnessing and documenting all aspects of the food world, from the farmer who grew it, to the woman in India who cooks with it, and the advertising executive who markets it.

It's an honest, occasionally sexy, education in food today—and for that, I feel tremendously fortunate.

All photos by Penny De Los Santos. Click to enlarge.

[Above:] My view while enjoying morning coffee at an eco-lodge in Ecuador, before setting out to photograph a section of the Amazon Basin.

Nearly eaten alive by mosquitoes in the Amazon Jungle, Ecuador. 

Back in New York, shooting a cookbook at a studio in Soho. At right, my digital assistant.

Katy Sparks (l) and Maneet Chauhan prep for the cookbook shoot. Sparks began her career at New York's late, beloved Quilted Giraffe restaurant and is now executive chef at Tavern on the Green. Chauhan is a judge on the Food Network's Chopped and was a contestant on The Next Iron Chef.

The food stylist browns a pizza with a heat gun to get the perfect, golden, slightly charred look.

My bedside table in Hyderabad, India. I was bedridden for two days after contracting a water-borne bacteria.

 My guide in India takes me to a remote island. She was an incredible cook, too! More on this trip in next week's post.
Back on set in NYC, shooting an advertising campaign. Here the food stylist makes everything look beautiful for the camera. An iPad on the right wirelessly shows the last photograph shot so she can adjust the food on set fast before the food dies and everything has to be replaced. Up top is the camera I mentioned. It doesn't look like much here, but don't be fooled: That baby is a dream. It would make any professional photographer weep.