Category Archives: Domestic Assignments

Dear New York City

I arrived a week ago. My eyes are tired, I see so much here. The constant raw pounding rhythm of the streets pushes me to walk just a little longer and look- wait- listen.

The energy outside keeps me outside, not wanting to miss a single moment of you.

I drink my coffee with milk while sitting on a worn bench so I don’t miss anything. Not a thing.

I am restless. At night I walk to the park, listening to people’s lives as they talk about the food they ate, the boy they like, the music they heard.

My index finger is on the shutter always looking for just something, something, something. Maybe it’s a touch, a scene, a simple beautiful face.

I take in all you have, I breathe you in like a smell I’ve never tasted… rust and perfume and loose change.


Filed under About Penny, iphoneography, New York City

Along for the Ride

iphone photograph: highway in between Puebla, Mexico and Oaxaca

I’m leaving on my journey to NYC this morning starting from my soon-to-be-old-hometown Austin, Texas.

After being a professional freelance photographer for 10 years, I realized that I need to be in a place where I will be pushed every day both creatively and professionally.

I came up with the phrase dream big and leap and I started using it on Twitter with tweets in reference to anything related to my move or anything inspirational. Other people started using the hashtag, #dreambigandleap too. In those tweets, so many of you shared your hopes and they inspired me so much.

This weekend, while on a food shoot in Minnesota I had a thought: how incredible would it be if I asked you all to state you own “dream big and leap” moments on my blog? Post them here and I will retweet them on Twitter.

By you all joining me in leaping for something in your own lives, an energy is created that will help propel all of us forward. Solidarity.

I can’t think of a better way to start this next chapter than with you all sharing your dreams: state them loud and proud, have this be a breakthrough for you, let it be something you have always wanted to do, it might even be a little scary, it should rock your life.

Put it out there. Please join me. Dream big and leap:


Filed under About Penny, New York City

“On Assignment With Penny” Video: Austin Food Trailers

On Assignment with Penny De Los Santos: Austin Food Trailers from Penny De Los Santos on Vimeo.

This week is the launch of the second on assignment video. It’s an especially personal one for me because it’s about the city I live in, Austin and how I connect with my hometown once back from an assignment.

But even larger than that I think of it as my goodbye kiss to this special city that has captivated my heart since 2003 when I moved here from San Francisco. (If you missed my earlier post, I am moving my photography business to New York City in September)

The food trailer scene here in Austin is pretty exciting, like many food progressive cities in the US some of the most interesting and unusual food happens there. But what I love most about food trailers in Austin is just how simple, casual and good they are. Serving foods that feel like home to me, when I was a little girl, scooping guacamole with diced jalapenos, onion and tomato into soft warm corn tortillas and feeling like it was the best food I’d ever eaten. That’s home, that’s my Austin.

One of my favorite things to do when I get back from a location shoot is grab my bicycle and just ride it everywhere and especially to some of my favorite taco trucks. And that’s just what we did for this video, I invited some out-of-town food obsessed blogger/twitter friends: Gaby , Georgia , Elise  and Kathleen  along for a Saturday evening biking food trailer tour. We have a blast, despite the heat, eating, drinking and just riding our bikes. For me, it’s the perfect Austin evening.

Thank you so much for watching the video and for supporting us as we journey across the country telling about food moments from people we believe have wonderful stories. A few weeks ago we premiered our  first episode of On Assignment with Penny with Boston Chef Joanne Chang of Myers + Chang, Flour Bakeries, if you haven’t seen it, check it out, you are sure to fall in love with Joanne.

Next week I head to San Diego for BlogHer where I am giving the keynote address and then I’m off to LA where I meet up with “On Assignment with Penny” co-producers Diane Cu and Todd Porter again and we continue shooting our video series. Stay tuned for the next release sometime in September. And please tell us your ideas, suggestions and comments. We love them.








Filed under Austin, Austin Food Trailers, iphoneography, Texas

Dream Big and Leap: Moving to NYC

A few weeks ago I started tweeting with this hastag #dreambigandleap. It said everything for me; I’ve continued to use it as a source of inspiration for myself.

After I did creativeLIVE in May something changed for me. I had a serious internal shift (I know this sounds crazy but I did) After opening my heart and being completely vulnerable to 200,000 people online and many of you I was forever changed. The act of opening myself up like that gave me the most incredible gift. It emboldened me; it actually made me more courageous and brave. Like Eve Ensler says, “the big door inside of me flew open.” For me it flew so open it made me brave enough to see myself and to see what my next step needed to be to reach my own dreams. But more importantly, it gave me the courage to say them out loud and actually do something about it.

We all wake up at different times and over the years some of my mentors have told me that I needed to be in New York for many reasons. I never really heard them or considered it. But when I was in Boston last month, after a serious conversation with someone I respect in the industry I finally heard it. I woke up.

I realized that if I wanted to push myself- my career- even further it was time for me to go back to New York City and throw my name in the ring again at an entirely different level.

Years ago, I started my career there after graduating from college. Full of enthusiasm, hard work, and ready to sweat I pounded the pavement as a photographer. I was at the bottom of the bottom. Assisting commercial and magazine photographers in New York. Barely making a living, squeaking by to pay my rent and bills while sharing a 2-bedroom apartment with 2 friends on the edge of Alphabet City and the East Side in Manhattan. My parents, convinced that I couldn’t get good tortillas and salsa in New York City would send me monthly care packages filled with corn and flour tortillas from their favorite tortilleria and there would always be homemade salsa. A little bit of home.

After a few years doing that I left the city and photography for a small period, maybe 6 months. I travelled to Central America, wrote a lot and thought really hard about what it was I wanted. In the end, well… we know how it turns out. I came back to photography.

And so, here I am. Having hard but beautiful conversations with my loved ones, family and friends about being inspired, creatively growing- dreams- and reaching for them.

I am moving to New York City as a professional photographer, but this time the game is different. I’m established with years of experience under my belt and working relationships with some of the top editors and publishers in the industry.

I say to all of you, whatever it is you want to do, let that big door inside of you fly open, be brave enough to hear it, see it and have the courage to actually do it.

Come with me on this journey, dream big and leap.



Filed under About Penny, New York City

Video Premiere “On Assignment with Penny” and Chef Joanne Chang

On Assignment with Penny De Los Santos: Myers and Chang, Boston, MA from Penny De Los Santos on Vimeo.

People – mainly friends- beg to come on assignment with me. While it is often fun to consider, I have been able to make it happen rarely. It usually works out when I’m in another country and can use an extra pair of hands on a particular shoot. I guess it happens out of a certain desperation paired with excellent planning.

Late one night in a quiet hotel room, after having a long day on location, I realized that maybe there was a way to actually cause this: to take people with me on assignment, give them an idea of how I work, why I love it, how interesting and engaging the subjects can be, and most importantly how I find inspiration. Or how it finds me. The subject is paramount- the story about the subject – and searching for those moments that make us think and find photographs is very important. For me it is necessary, with every subject, to bring a sense of curiosity and engagement, it’s the best place to find the photographs that transport people to exactly where I am.

But beyond all this I wanted to help people see that being a photographer isn’t about ego or location but more about being open, enthusiastic and a good person, this is where I operate.

I approached producers Diane Cu and Todd Porter (@whiteonricecouple) with this idea; through video we could take people on assignment with me. I wanted it to be gorilla style and totally organic. We would be guided by simplicity and not make it a big production… Could it all be done on iphones? “Let’s find these beautiful subjects and quietly tell their stories as a way to take people on the assignment”, I wrote Diane in a text message. On a shoestring budget we started mapping out our schedules and locations over the next few months.

In Boston a few weeks ago the three of us fell in love with Chef Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery and Myers & Chang Restaurant. After a few meals and meeting her, we decided she needed to be a subject. Our subject. We found that her energy, grace and incredible food inspired us. By the end of our shoot we didn’t want to leave. I personally wanted to spend the rest of my days in a bowl of her wok-roasted mussels. Wow!

So, without further adieu, I give you our premiere “On Assignment With Penny “ video. Special thanks to Joanne Chang and the staff at Myers & Chang for trusting us and letting us be creative and crazy for a handful of hours in June. It was an honor to photograph you.

I want to thank my friends Diane Cu and Todd Porter for believing in this project and the importance of sharing and giving and being completely transparent about the craft of photography, the art of producing it and the daily struggle to be creative. I loved working with you both and look forward to our next location.

As we continue this series I would love input on potential subjects from you all. Our next location for the “On Assignment” series is Los Angeles in August. We have some incredible subjects lined up already but are looking for more. So please, follow us on twitter (@pennydelosantos@whiteonrice and @riceonwhite) and let us know if you have a great food story that we need to explore.

Thanks so much for reading and watching.


Filed under About Penny, assignments, Domestic Assignments, photography, photography videos

Mom’s Tacos and Austin Food Trailers: My Comfort

Odd Duck Trailer, pork belly sliders

For years, I have been trying to find a crispy taco the way my mom made them when I was a kid.  Using tongs, she’d gently fold each corn tortilla in half as it fried to make the perfect taco shell. She would precisely lay each shell on a plate lined with paper towels to dry; then she would move on to the next tortilla. In advance, she’d make her famous picadillo: ground meat, diced onion, garlic, a hint of tomato and her secret weapon—a small amount of mashed potato—to make the ingredients meld and come together. The potato was her invention, or at least I thought it was. It would allow the meat to stay in place in the taco. She also would carefully dice iceberg lettuce, tomato, and onion, and grate cheddar cheese for toppings.

It was a big deal in our family when my mom made these tacos. My brother and I would hover around the kitchen watching her cook, salivating in anticipation of her filling the last taco shell so we could finally dig in.

There was an unspoken joy and love for everything that those tacos meant.

It’s hard for me to write about them without getting emotional about how special it was: the moment we sat down as a family and ate those tacos, the savory interplay of perfectly seasoned picadillo, crunchy taco shell and sharp cheese was heaven. But it was more than that. It was a first generation Mexican-American woman, who learned this recipe from her mother who learned it from her mother, and so on. It was personal history. It was love for her family and much like her using a little mashed potato in her picadillo, it was the glue that helped keep us all together. I have a lifetime of childhood memories around those tacos and they were some of the happiest times in my life.

El Naranjo, tostadas and guacamole

East Side Kings at Grackle, Ramen noodle, pork belly, poached egg, green onion and kimchee

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Filed under About Penny, Austin, Austin Food Trailers, Texas

Heart & Humility: A Recipe for Great Photographs

I have spent the weekend reviewing all thirty videos submitted for the CreativeLIVE food photography workshop I’m doing May 13-15. I was overwhelmed by how much time, energy and creativity so many people put into their videos. I had a hard time picking the six finalists; there were so many good ones. In the end I looked for people that conveyed a certain something I use everyday in the field.

I believe that heart and humility are two of the most important ingredients a photographer needs to connect with subjects and to convey emotion in a photograph. Photographers need to access that place within themselves in order to see it in the world around them. If you don’t have heart and humility, you will never be able to make photographs that emit, evoke and reveal the human condition.

So many of these video submissions had heart, soul and humility. I was honored people brought their A-game and torn I could only invite six people.

Congratulations to the six selected individuals. I expect all of you to show up Friday May 13 in Seattle with the same enthusiam and heart as you showed in your videos. To everyone else, thank you so much for submitting a video – and please, please stay with us and be part of this photography experience online.

Here are the 6 (in no particular order):

Dana Nahai @onehauteplate)

Kathleen Walsh (@KathleenMack)

Loren Root (@theleftoverchef)

Rodney Bedsole (@RodneyBedsole)

Shauna James Ahern (@glutenfreegirl)

Kathleen Flinn (@katflinn)

sample video finalist from Dana Nahai:


Filed under About Penny, Encouragement, Food Photography, Pacific Northwest, photography

Steak and Fries for Texas Monthly Magazine

In March, I did a food shoot for Texas Monthly Magazine. The story was a feature on Robert del Grande‘s newest restaurant in Houston, Ava Kitchen and Whiskey Bar. With no budget for a food stylist, it was back to the basics for me.  I relied on a few tried and true rules – things I do every time I get an editorial magazine assignment. My goal is to make sure I deliver images that capture the essence of the subject, tell a story, and evoke some sense of emotion. In this case, I’m hoping this steak looks so good that you want one. If  I’m fortunate enough and my client has a budget for a stylist, great; but regardless, I’m still responsible for every component of a shoot.

First, I did some research. I called Pat Sharpe, the magazine’e Executive Editor and Food Critic, who was writing the article. I asked her for the 2-3 dishes that she was going to write about, then I asked her about how the food looked from a visual perspective, thinking about colors, textures and how the food was plated and presented. I tried to narrow down the information I needed so I could walk into this shoot as informed as possible.

Next, I had a conversation with Robert del Grande, the Chef. I asked him to explain every step of preparing each dish so that I could get an idea of where in its progression to the plate each dish looked the best visually. From there, the rest of the information I needed would be gleaned while exploring the subject once it hit the set. The above image is the end result, and what Texas Monthly ran this month.


Filed under Food Photography, Houston, Restaurants

Street Photography in San Francisco: It’s not about the camera

single exposure, image shot entirely with iphone

Last weekend, I was conducting a hands-on photography workshop with a handful of budding photographers in SanFrancisco. I planned what I was going to bring for the all-day street and food photography excursion perfectly: one body, one lens, some pocket money, a credit card, and my iPhone. I’m all about packing light, especially when I am doing street photography; I find that if the people I’m photographing think I’m a professional photographer, it changes the entire dynamic of the frame and the image disappears. In general, my goal for this type of photograph is to blend in, disappear and quietly make my photographs.

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Filed under Inspiration, iphoneography, San Francisco, street food, travel

Pre-game in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, PA

Steelers vs Ravens

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Filed under assignments, iphoneography, photography, Pittsburgh